Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy Helps PTSD

cognitive-behavioral therapyA new study suggests that cognitive-behavioral therapy helps individuals with PTSD alleviate the biological disturbances in the brain that results from trauma.[1]

Dr. Szabolcs Kéri and colleagues from the University of Szeged in Hungary conducted a study to monitor the biological changes associated with clinical improvements among 39 individuals with PTSD.1 As a comparison, they included a group of 31 individuals who did not have PTSD.1 The individuals with PTSD received 12 weeks of cognitive-behavioral therapy, while the group without PTSD did not receive any therapy.1

Before and after the 12 weeks of cognitive-behavioral therapy, the researchers measured the volumes of certain brain regions using magnetic resonance imaging.1 They also collected blood samples to measure changes in expression of a specific gene—FKBP5—which has been shown to regulate the body’s stress hormones.1 Low gene expression reflects a risk of developing PTSD.1

Before cognitive-behavioral therapy, patients with PTSD had lower FKBP5 gene expression and smaller brain regions involved in learning, memory, and emotional regulation—the hippocampus and medial orbitofrontal cortex.1 However, at the follow-up appointment after 12 weeks of therapy, the patients with PTSD had a higher expression of FKBP5 and increased hippocampal volume.1 These positive changes were directly associated with clinical improvement among the patients.1

“The results show that structural changes in the brain, such as the shrinkage of the hippocampus, are reversible in trauma victims,” stated Dr. Kéri. “[Cognitive-behavioral therapy] may help normalize these alterations and improve symptoms. Furthermore, the regeneration of the hippocampus correlated with the expression of a gene that balances the activity of the stress hormone cortisol at the level of cells.”1

Overall, Kéri and colleagues linked the alleviation of PTSD symptoms to improvement in stress-related alterations in the body and brain.1 According to the study’s results, cognitive-behavioral therapy may modulate fundamental biological factors, such as changes in gene expression, brain structure, and psychological improvement.1 Early intervention in PTSD development and treatment is of the utmost importance for high success rates.1

[1] Nauert, R. (2013). CBT May Repair PTSD Brain Alterations. Psych Central. Retrieved on December 10, 2013, from http://psychcentral.com/news/2013/12/08/cbt-may-repair-ptsd-brain-alterations/62918.html

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