Imaging Study Tracks Psychotherapy Changes In Borderline Patients

A new study suggests a specialized psychotherapy is associated with changes in activation patterns in certain areas of the brain in patients with borderline personality disorder (BPD).

Although the study sample was small, the finding suggests the impact of psychotherapy may go deeper than symptom change.

Dr. Mark F. Lenzenweger, a professor of psychology at Binghamton University, and his team recruited ten women with BPD from the New York Presbyterian Hospital/Weill Cornell Medical College. Researchers then used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) methods to analyze the neurological impact of the specialized cognitive therapy.

For the study, transference-focused psychotherapy (TFP), an evidence-based treatment proven to reduce symptoms across multiple cognitive-emotional domains in BPD, was administered to test participants for one year.

As detected by the fMRI, treatment with TFP was associated with relative activation increases in cognitive control areas and relative decreases in areas associated with emotional reactivity.

According to researchers, these findings suggest that TFP may facilitate symptom improvement in BPD.

“These findings represent the genuine frontier of clinical science in understanding the effects of psychotherapy,” said Lenzenweger.

“Think of it —┬átalk therapy that impacts neural or brain functioning.”

“These results advance our currently limited understanding of neural mechanisms associated with psychodynamically oriented psychotherapy,” wrote the researchers.

“Activation in [certain parts of the brain] was associated with improvements in behavioral constraint, emotional regulation and/or aggression in patients with BPD.”

The study is published online in Psychiatry and Clinical Neurosciences.

Source: Binghamton University
Brain scan photo by shutterstock.