ScienceDaily (2011-02-14) — When psychotherapy is helping someone get better, what does that change look like in the brain? This was the question a team of psychological scientists set out to investigate in patients suffering from social anxiety disorder.
“The study recruited 25 adults with social anxiety disorder from a Hamilton, Ontario clinic. The patients participated in 12 weekly sessions of group cognitive behavior therapy, a structured method that helps people identify — and challenge — the thinking patterns that perpetuate their painful and self-destructive behaviors.
Two control groups — students who tested extremely high or low for symptoms of social anxiety — underwent no psychotherapy.
The patients were given four EEGs — two before treatment, one halfway through, and one two weeks after the final session. The researchers collected EEG measures of the participants at rest, and then during a stressful exercise: a short preparation for an impromptu speech on a hot topic, such as capital punishment or same-sex marriage; participants were told the speech would be presented before two people and videotaped. In addition, comprehensive assessments were made of patients’ fear and anxiety.
When the patients’ pre- and post-therapy EEGs were compared with the control groups’, the results were revealing: Before therapy, the clinical group’s delta-beta correlations were similar to those of the high-anxiety control group and far higher than the low-anxiety group’s. Midway through, improvements in the patients’ brains paralleled clinicians’ and patients’ own reports of easing symptoms. And at the end, the patients’ tests resembled those of the low-anxiety control group.”