How CBT Impacts Our Brain
The human brain is the most complex object known in the universe. Perhaps the most important element of the brain is that it is malleable, which means it can always change based on the information it perceives. Since birth, our brains are establishing pathways first created by reflexes and eventually reinforced by experiences, memories, and learning.
No matter how old the brain is, it never stops learning and developing
Yet, the pace at which it develops and its ability to change does slow down as we become adults. Now does this mean we can no longer learn how to change our mind? Of course not! This is where CBT may come in.
How Does CBT Physically Change the Brain?
Well to put it simply, cognitive behavioral therapy strives to restructure the brain by establishing new neural pathways via neutral thinking. For example, a depressed or anxious brain has typically been reinforcing negative thought pathways over some amount of time. In many cases, these well-established pathways influence the brain’s willingness to process negative information more easily than positive information, often resulting in what are known as cognitive distortions, or skewed thought patterns.
Take Sally and Paul for example: Paul receives a text message from a friend inviting him to a party and thinks to himself, “this will be fun, I can’t wait to meet new people.” This text ignited a stream of positive pathways, or memories resulting in him feeling a positive emotion, excitement.
On the other hand, when Sally receives the same text message, she thinks to herself, “This will not be fun, I don’t know anybody there and I am awkward when I meet new people.” This same text ignited a stream of negative pathways, or memories associated with negative emotional experiences.
What About Medication?
Research shows that CBT can work better than medication when the individual’s symptoms are mild to moderate. Through changing thinking patterns and behaviors, many can find relief and experience less intense negative emotions.
A severe level of depression is typically defined by a high frequency of self-defeating or suicidal thoughts. For those experiencing moderate to severe level of symptoms, research has found that a combination of medication and CBT works best. We can help connect you to a psychiatrist if you feel that you’d like to learn more about how medication may be able to help.
How come medication does not fix all of our problems, you ask?
Well, the goal of medication is to lessens symptoms through chemical changes while CBT works towards changing your internal dialogue and basic beliefs about yourself and the world around you.
For example, if Sally became depressed and therefore began to isolate herself, no longer attending any parties, classes, or work obligations, these behaviors may result in worsening depressive symptoms. Through working on changing her thought patterns, she may be able to learn to evaluate her negative thoughts, see that they may not be true, and change her behaviors to ultimately feel less depressed. Sally can practice attending parties while thinking about herself different and she may find that she enjoys them more than she thought!