Therapy Changes the Brain, Reduces Anxiety


After undergoing a nine-week cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) treatment for social anxiety, patients show changes to both the physical structure of their brain and its activity, according to a new study published in Translational Psychiatry. The amygdala is most closely associated with the experience of fear and this study found that patients receiving CBT with reduced social anxiety had significant changes to this section of the brain.

Open Access

A structure in the brain called the amygdala is associated with the fear response and may be involved in the experience of social anxiety.

This study is unique in that it attempts to look at both structural changes to the brain and changes in brain activity. The active group in the randomized control trial included twenty-six individual treated for nine-week with CBT. Structural changes were assessed through changes in grey matter volume and functional changes were investigated by examining changes in brain activity (via fMRI) while participants respond to sentences that are self-critical or critical of others. (See BOLD-fMRI for more details on this method)

“Using a multimodal neuroimaging RCT design, we demonstrate interrelated structural plasticity and altered neural responsivity, within the amygdala, after CBT for social anxiety,” they write. “Both GM volume and neural responsivity in the bilateral amygdala diminished after effective treatment.”

In addition, the data analysis indicated that decreases in social anxiety resulting from treatment were mirrored by reductions in both the volume of the amygdala and its measured response to self-referential criticism.

In conclusion, the researchers summarized their results:

“We demonstrate compelling evidence that CBT for a common anxiety disorder simultaneously changes the physical structure and neurofunctional response of the amygdala. While our results support that amygdala neuroplasticity is directly related to improved social anxiety symptoms with CBT, these results should be replicated and further tested in other anxiety disorders and with other anxiolytic treatments.”



Månsson, K. N., Salami, A., Frick, A., Carlbring, P., Andersson, G., Furmark, T., & Boraxbekk, C. J. (2015). Neuroplasticity in Response to Cognitive Behavior Therapy for Social Anxiety Disorder. In 7th Swedish Congress on internet interventions (SWEsrii), 6-7 November 2015, Stockholm, Sweden. (pp. 13-13). Linköping University Press. (Full Text)


  1. “Patients with anxiety disorders exhibit excessive neural reactivity in the amygdala, which can be normalized by effective treatment…”
    Normalized? By who’s definition of normal? Maybe the better approach would be to not label it as a “disorder” for which pharma will come to the rescue ( and shore up their profit margins).

    All of this brain imaging is being done because there are tons of funding (free money) for it and pharma is trying to shore up the medical model to increase it’s propaganda of “prevention” and “treatment”.

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  2. Death has been proven to eliminate every single mental health problem every identified. How about “death therapy” for all. “It’s a sure cure, Bob,” for those who have seen the movie, “What About Bob?” for those who haven’t, you really, really should watch it!

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  3. Sure, anything to treat depression or any mental illness is better than being drugged to death, however, after I withdrew from ALL psychiatric drugs I enrolled in ACT (assertive community treatment) through InterAct in my hometown, funded in part by Kalamazoo Community Mental Health & Substance Abuse Services in which to partake in these services, it’s required that you work with an Act therapist. But after my therapist misjudged my walking out of her office as possibly ‘suicidal’, unbeknownst to me she called a Police Officer to do a home check. I was not suicidal. Nor was I home when he came but had I been he too, could very well as misjudged me and taken me against my will to a psychiatric hospital if he deemed necessary. And only just 2 years ago I was force fed (court ordered) multiple psychiatric drugs I begged them to treat me without using them. And while in a ‘court ordered’ drugs haze my house burns to the ground when I had neither house insurance or a savings account and left homeless for 8 months. So be weary when even signing up for CBT or ACT therapy. I finally had to cut ALL ties to anything that had to do with Mental Health as I don’t seem to be safe from any of it. Psychiatry and psychiatric drugs have completely ruined my life, and it’s sad that I now feel I have no where to go when feeling ‘distressed’, even suicidal. It’s not even safe to utter the word ‘suicidal feelings’ for fear of being locked up, heavily drugged, and once again having my life stolen from me. I am more than mad in america that there is no where else we can go for help anymore.

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