Recent advances in neuroimaging techniques (MRI and PET scans) have enabled cognitive behavioral scientists to better understand how and why CBT is so effective in treating all of the anxiety disorders. We have suspected for at least the past decade, that the anxiety disorders result from faulty brain functioning in areas of the brain that alert us to danger and that help us accurately assess danger in various situations. For people with anxiety disorders, these areas of the brain seem hypersensitive and slow to turn off, relative to people who do not have significant anxiety symptoms. A recent analysis of all of the most recent studies in this area has demonstrated that for Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, Simple Phobias, Panic Disorder and Generalized Anxiety Disorder, Cognitive Behavioral Interventions change dysfunctions in the nervous system.
In other words, CBT can change your brain so that it functions in a more healthy way than it did before CBT intervention. In all of the studies reviewed, a basic pre-post test experimental model was used. This means that brain scans of individuals suffering from these various anxiety disorders were taken before CBT intervention and then after a specific course of CBT intervention (usually a 10-12 week weekly program that includes homework assignments between sessions, as good CBT is practiced in the real world). The pre- and post-intervention brain scans were then compared. Universally, all of the studies reviewed showed positive changes in brain functioning after CBT intervention. Often these changes were so profound that the brains of individuals who suffered anxiety disorders pre CBT treatment looked just like the brains of non anxiety disorder sufferers. Additionally, it is worth noting that most of these studies compared both CBT and medications in terms of comparative brain changes. Results indicated that CBT consistently affected as much or more positive brain change as medications.
Over the past several days I have attended numerous presentations at the annual Association for Behavioral and Cognitive Therapies (ABCT) conference. This conference convenes all of the best scientists in the field to share their new findings and to teach those of us who practice CBT what they have learned. I am happy to report that every session that I attended that involved the use of neuroimaging techniques (there are many now because it produces such compelling and robust data) evidenced positive changes in brain functioning after CBT treatment. These are studies that are not even published yet, for the most part. Thus I feel confident and very excited to report these findings to you and hope you enjoy the information.