Sharp Brains: Brain Fitness and Cognitive Health News

Neuroplasticity, Brain Fitness and Cognitive Health News


Cognitive therapy as brain training

Therapy Session

Cognitive therapy (CT) was founded by Dr. Aaron Beck. It is based on the idea that the way people perceive their experience influences their behaviors and emotions. The therapist teaches the patient cognitive and behavioral skills to modify his or her dysfunctional thinking and actions.

CT aims at improving specific traits, behaviors, or cognitive skills, such as planning and flexibility, which are executive functions, depression, obsessive-compulsive disorders, and phobias. It has been shown effective in many studies and contexts such as depression, high levels of anxiety, insomnia. The interview with Lee Woodruff (Chapter 1) describes the spectacular recovery of her husband who suffered a severe traumatic brain injury in Iraq. CT was part of this recovery and was used to improve speech and language skills.

Recently, Dr. Aaron Beck’s daughter, Dr. Judy Beck, has successfully used CT to help dieters acquire new skills in order to achieve their goals (see Dr. Beck’s interview at the end of this Chapter). According to Dr. Beck, the main message of CT and its application in the diet world is that problems losing weight are not the dieter’s fault. These problems reflect the lack of skills that can be acquired through training. What skills is Dr. Beck talking about? Mostly executive functions: the skills to plan in advance, to motivate oneself, to monitor one’s behavior, etc.

Recent evidence supports the efficiency of CT. For instance, Stahre and Halstrom (2005) conducted a randomized controlled study testing the effect of CT on weight loss. Nearly all 65 patients completed the program and the short-term intervention (10-week, 30-hours) showed a significant long-term weight reduction, even larger (when compared to the 40 individuals in the control group) after 18 months than right after the 10-week program.

Neuroimaging has also been used to show the results of CT on the brain. Let’s take the example of spider phobia. In 2003, Paquette and colleagues showed that before the cognitive therapy, the fear induced by viewing film clips depicting spiders was correlated with significant activation of specific brain areas, like the amygdala. After the intervention was completed (one three-hour group session per week, for four weeks), viewing the same spider films did not provoke activation of those areas. Dr. Judith Beck, explains that the adults in this study were able to “train their brains” which resulted in reducing the stress response triggered by spiders.

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This new online resource is based on the content from the book The SharpBrains Guide to Brain Fitness (May 2009, $19.95), by Alvaro Fernandez and Dr. Elkhonon Goldberg.