For those who experience social anxiety, even the most routine interactions can be cause for suffering. That’s why a recent article I read in the Charleston Post and Courier got me so excited about how the fields of neuroscience and psychotherapy continue to find synergy.
A young man in California, who was experiencing severe social anxiety, was treated at Stanford using a blend of mindfulness and cognitive-behavioral therapy and had a very successful outcome. That in and of itself is wonderful, and a pretty common story.
But what really got me excited was the fact that the researchers were scanning his brain to see what was different after therapy was concluded. What they found was that each respective treatment stimulated a different neural network. Mindfulness appeared to stimulate a brain network in the posterior cortical region, an area that affects attention. The brain learned to shift away from unhelpful distorted self perceptions that occur in social anxiety, like believing that everyone will laugh at you if you make a mistake. Cognitive-behavioral therapy, however, caused the prefrontal cortex, which is the home of logical thinking, to be more engaged in controlling reactions from the emotional part of our brain, the amygdala.
I hope the future of therapy is that I will be able to show clients their brains, and then help them actually see their weekly gains as they apply different therapies…can’t help but think that would be a pretty exciting motivator to keep working on feeling better, no matter what your issue!