Neuroimaging shows that cognitive behavioral therapy in patients with schizophrenia markedly improves the disease
A recent study by the team of Biomedical Engineering and Radiology of Hospital Quirónsalud Valencia shows that cognitive behavioral therapy produces significant changes in the way in which patients activate some brain areas and process information or certain external stimuli. "For the first time we have been able to objectify quantitatively the benefits that this type of therapies have in patients with schizophrenia and auditory hallucinations," says Dr. Gracián García, a biomedical engineer at the center.
"Changes in the functional activation of the cerebral amygdala in a patient with schizophrenia before performing cognitive behavioral therapy (left) and after (right)"
The objective of this work has been to demonstrate, through the use of quantitative techniques of functional neuroimaging, which are the effect and the utility of applying cognitive behavioral therapies in combination with the usual pharmacological treatments in patients with schizophrenia and auditory hallucinations. A total of 40 patients with schizophrenia and a group of 14 healthy subjects participated voluntarily. The patients were divided into two groups: one with patients who followed the standard pharmacological treatment and another in which, in addition to drugs, the patients underwent different sessions of cognitive behavioral therapy.
Parallel to these sessions, functional magnetic resonance scans were carried out to assess the brain's response to auditory stimuli with a high emotional load. "To date it is not possible to ensure that a patient suffers from schizophrenia only with the observation of MR images, because the affectation that occurs in the cerebral anatomical substrate is practically imperceptible. However, with advanced neuroimaging techniques of higher quality and resolution, it is possible to observe subtle changes in the structural and functional organization of the brain in these patients ", emphasizes Dr. Luís Martí Bonmatí, head of the Diagnostic Service for Imaging and Biomedical Engineering of Quirónsalud Valencia.
The study has shown that the emotional brain response of patients is much improved if traditional drug treatments are combined with therapy sessions. "This improvement occurs mainly because certain areas of the limbic system of patients, including the amygdala, behave differently. Follow-up studies on these changes in emotional regulation have shown that treatment withdrawal rates can be reduced and potential relapse prevented, especially in chronic patients, "said Dr. García.
The study was carried out in a coordinated manner with the Biomedical Research Center in Mental Health Network (CIBERSAM), the University of Valencia, the Hospital de la Santa Creu i Sant Pau in Barcelona and the Universities of Durham and Newcastle, United Kingdom. The work has recently been accepted for publication by the high-impact specialist journal Schizophrenia Research.
Schizophrenia is a serious mental disorder that affects approximately 1 in every 100 inhabitants. Nearly 21 million patients in the world have this disease. Its manifestations include hallucinations, including distortion of thoughts, emotions or language itself. In addition, in many cases this chronic psychosis usually appears in the early stages of life, so the associated social and economic costs are considerable. All this generates a remarkable social and scientific interest for the development and application of techniques that improve the diagnostic accuracy, the quality of life and the prognosis of these patients.