Therapy as a Biological Treatment

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I was reading on the Psychology Today website about a recent study that measured the effectiveness of therapy with clients.

PET (positive emission tomography) scans can differentiate the alterations in brain function between clients struggling with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) and control subjects, who do not have OCD. Scientists measured the changes in PET scans with people struggling with OCD after treatment . Some were treated only by medication (Prozac), and some were treated only by “talk therapy”. Dr. Aboujaoude reported in his blog that on follow up PET scans:

The results were essentially identical: both interventions decreased the rate of glucose metabolism to levels seen in healthy people without OCD, and the rate of the decrease seemed proportional to the degree of improvement in their OCD symptoms.

This doesn’t means that medication and counselling are interchangeable. In some cases, medication is necessary for a particular symptom or diagnosis.

However, it is compelling that counselling actually has a biological effect on a person’s brain. Counselling changes brain chemistry as people learn new tools and strategies to cope with issues they struggle with.

Reminds me of a time I can recall a time when, after a significant “light bulb moment”, a client was quiet and contemplative for some minutes, quietly staring out in the distance. Quiet uncharacteristic. I asked quietly: What’s happening? And the response: “I feel peaceful when I understand that. I feel like I just took a Valium.”

Even after all these years of being a therapist, I am still humbled by the incredible power of meaningful connection and effective dialogue in the counseling room.

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