A new study from King’s College London and South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust has shown for the first time that cognitive behavior therapy (CBT) strengthens specific connections in the brains of people with psychosis, and that these stronger connections are associated with long-term reduction in symptoms and recovery eight years later.
CBT involves people changing the way they think about and respond to their thoughts and experiences. For individuals experiencing psychotic symptoms, common in schizophrenia and a number of other psychiatric disorders, the therapy involves learning to think differently about unusual experiences, such as distressing beliefs that others are out to get them.
The findings, published in the journal Translational Psychiatry, follow the same researchers’ previous work which showed that people with psychosis who received CBT displayed strengthened connections between key regions of the brain involved in processing social threat accurately.
The new results show for the first time that these changes continue to have an impact years later on people’s long-term recovery.
Lead author of the study Dr Liam Mason from King’s College London, who is a clinical psychologist at the Maudsley Hospital where the research took place, said: “This research challenges the notion that the existence of physical brain differences in mental health disorders somehow makes psychological factors or treatments less important. Unfortunately, previous research has shown that this ‘brain bias’ can make clinicians more likely to recommend medication but not psychological therapies. This is especially important in psychosis, where only one in ten people who could benefit from psychological therapies are offered them.”
The researchers now hope to confirm the results in a larger sample, and to identify the changes in the brain that differentiate people who experience improvements with CBT from those who do not. Ultimately, the results could lead to better, and more tailored, treatments for psychosis, by allowing researchers to understand what determines whether psychological therapies are effective.