Applied Psychology

Cognitive Therapy can Heal Mental Disorders Long-term

Feb 02, 2022
Cognitive Therapy can Heal Mental Disorders Long-term - SACAP
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New research has proven unequivocally that psychotherapy, such as cognitive behavioral therapy, can lead to changes in the actual mechanics of the brain.

This has led to the finding of common ground between the convictions of the Psychiatric and Psychological Fraternities. For many years, before this finding, they had been at odds with each other when it came to causes and treatments of mental illnesses. Those in the psychiatric camp put forward that physical brain differences are to blame for mental-health disorders. Therefore, the correct treatment care pathway involves medication and sometimes surgery. On the other side, the psychological school maintained that recovery lay in psychological treatments, such as talk therapy.

What is Psychotherapy?

Psychotherapy is the treatment of mental illnesses through psychological approaches rather than medical. It does not disregard the importance or role of medical intervention. Rather that long-term healing is more effective and likely when it includes psychotherapy or when it is the focus of a treatment plan.  The purpose of talk therapy is to assist people to eliminate or control the symptoms of their mental illness. Thereby, improve their wellbeing, functionality and set them on a path of long-term healing.

Why does Psychotherapy work?

1. Retrain Your Brain

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is a type of talk therapy. It involves changing the way people think about and respond to their thoughts and experiences. It also involves developing strategies to reduce distress and improve wellbeing. For those experiencing psychotic symptoms which occur in a number of psychiatric disorders, such as schizophrenia, a focus is on learning to think differently. Particularly about unusual experiences such as distressing beliefs, for example, that others are “out to get them”.

For many years CBT therapists have insisted that talk therapy can provide lasting results, especially for milder psychological disorders. For example, anxiety, depression, anger and even childhood trauma. They maintain that when you address the root of the problem, i.e. the learned unhealthy behaviour, the problem and its symptoms disappear. Research now supports this claim. This is possible because talk therapy causes the brain to change in healthy ways. Furthermore, these changes can be lasting.

“CBT can cause the brain to change in healthy ways that last.”

2. Already Wired for Change

The brain is a remarkably adaptive organ. Neuroscience has shown that it is possible to train your brain and thereby rewire it for purposeful change.

A study by a group of Swedish researchers demonstrated the impact of nine weeks of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). During the course of their therapy, parts of the brains of patients suffering from anxiety disorders decreased in both volume and activity. This was accompanied by a marked reduction in the anxiety levels of socially anxious individuals.

This is significant because those with anxiety disorders tend to exhibit excessive neural reactivity in the amygdala. This is an almond-shaped mass of grey matter inside each cerebral hemisphere. It is involved with the experiencing of emotions. Linköping University’s Kristoffer Månsson was the Swedish study’s lead author. He explains that the greater the improvement seen in a patient, the smaller the size their amygdalae had become. Thus, concluding that it is possible to rewire the brain by using CBT.

Rewiring the brain does not only have a link to emotional responses. It extends to physical and sensory systems too. For example, eight months after receiving cochlear implants, profoundly deaf adults have been found to form auditory processing abilities that closely match those of non-deaf people.

3. Mind over Matter

Psychologists at King’s College London, proved that CBT strengthens certain healthy brain connections in patients with psychosis. It also heightened connectivity, which is associated with long-term reduction of symptoms. The result in many cases is complete recovery.

This study tracked the health of 15 participants suffering from psychosis over an 8-year period. Ahead of this, they received six-months of CBT. The results showed that connections between key regions of the brain, involving processing social threats accurately, had been strengthened. Moreover, the impact of the CBT continued years after the therapy sessions had been completed.

“CBT can enable better processing abilities of the brain.”

A Changed Approach to Mental Health Care

Thus, research challenged the notion that the existence of physical brain differences meant that talk therapies are less important than medical interventions. These are important findings given the traditional brain bias and opposing views conventionally found in Psychiatric and Psychological Fraternities. Historically, only one in ten patients with psychosis are offered psychotherapy. However, this proves that talk therapies, such as CBT, should form an important part of their mental-health care pathway.

Importantly, the studies confirm what CBT therapists have known for decades. Not only does talk therapy work, but that it can provide lasting results. Researchers being able to understand and explain why psychological therapies work, allows better tailoring of treatments for mental-health disorders. Ultimately, this means that, in the long run, the positive results of therapy are sustainable. Thus, for those with mental-disorders these findings can be life-changing through better enabling well-being.

“Evidence proves that talk therapy is an important part of treating mental health disorders.”

Be part of the Change

Do the weird and wonderful workings of the brain fascinate you? If so, why not learn more about it by studying Applied Psychology at SACAP? The South African College of Applied Psychology (SACAP) offers a range of courses in psychology. For more information, enquire today.

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