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  • Writer's pictureWil Librizzi

The Benefits of Psychotherapy

Psychotherapy has been studied in a variety of clinical and real-life settings, most commonly by assessing changes in symptoms and cognition from pre- to post-therapy (Kwon & Oei 2003).

Freud is generally credited with establishing psychotherapy as an autonomous branch and his psychoanalytic approach assumed that humans have an unconscious mind where feelings that are too painful to face are often hidden (NICE Clinical Guidelines, 2014).

At the end of the First World War, Freud conversed with soldiers who had been traumatized by their experiences: these dialogues served as a precursor to contemporary psychodynamic psychotherapy (Gaztambide, 2012).

During the Second World War, psychiatrists and psychologists drew on ideas from psychoanalysis and social psychology in order to return battle casualties to active duty, or at the very least to productive employment as civilians (Jones, 2004).

The introduction of clinical services during wartime was a significant catalyst for change and innovation, creating opportunities to develop and advance a number of group and individual therapies.

The decades that followed saw an increase in the number and quality of studies used to evaluate the outcome of psychotherapy. Meta-analytic reviews of research undertaken during the 1970s and 1980s indicated that patients who underwent treatment fared substantially better than untreated individuals (Lambert & Barley, 2001).

By the 1990s – the decade of the brain – the clinical interest in psychotherapeutic interventions and brain research led to rapid advances in neuroimaging. This technology allowed researchers to examine the relationship between psychotherapeutic interventions and changes in brain function post-therapy.

A number of studies have shown that psychotherapy induces structural changes to the brain and can alter activity in areas involved in self-referential thoughts, executive control, emotion, and fear (Luders et al., 2011).

For instance, CBT treatment of psychosis was assessed using a threatening facial expression task (Kumari et al., 2011). After treatment, patients exhibited decreased activation of the inferior frontal, insula, thalamus, putamen, and occipital – the network of brain regions involved in processing negative facial expressions.

Positron emission tomography studies indicated that psychotherapy can cause changes to the frontal-subcortical brain circuitry and assist in the mediation of obsessive-compulsive disorder. Porto et al, (2009) suggested that psychotherapy allows patients to experience a change in the affective value that they assign to stimuli, thus extinguishing responses to stimuli that had previously brought on compulsive behavior. (article taken from

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