Psychotherapy can stabilize the brain in social anxiety disorder

For some — possibly millions of people — social situations draw unbearable anxiety. In fact, one in ten have suffered from social anxiety at one point in their life; fear of talking in front of others is the most common form.

According to a new study by researchers from the University of Zurich, certain treatments, if successful, can alter fundamental structures of the brain associated with emotional functions.

First off, it should be noted that social phobic patients experience impaired regulation of excessive anxiety in the frontal and lateral areas of the brain. However, cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) treatment used to regulate emotions should focus on particular areas of the brain, specifically between the cortical and subcortical. CBT is a hallmark treatment for social anxiety disorder.

In the study, researchers analyzed brain changes after a ten-week course of CBT. Also, researchers examined magnetic resonance imaging scans from the participants’ brain before and after CBT.

According to Annette Brühl, one of the lead researchers, structural changes in the brain occurred, especially in areas associated with emotion regulation and self-control. Essentially, stronger brain changes were linked to success with the use of CBT, researchers found.

“Psychotherapy normalizes brain changes associated with social anxiety disorder,” Brühl suggested.

“Our findings are in line with previous cross-sectional, unimodal SAD studies and extent them by highlighting anatomical brain alterations that point toward the level of HCs in parallel with a reduction in SAD symptomatology,” she concluded.

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