Cognitive behavioral therapy alters brain activity in children with anxiety

NIH researchers found widespread differences in the brains of children with anxiety disorders that improved after treatment

Researchers at the National Institutes of Health have found overactivation in many brain regions, including the frontal and parietal lobes and the amygdala, in unmedicated children with anxiety disorders. They also showed that treatment with cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) led to improvements in clinical symptoms and brain functioning. The findings illuminate the brain mechanisms underlying the acute effects of CBT to treat one of the most common mental disorders. The study, published in the American Journal of Psychiatry, was led by researchers at NIH’s National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH). 

“The findings can help our understanding of how and for which children CBT works, a critical first step in personalizing anxiety care and improving clinical outcomes,” said senior author Melissa Brotman, Ph.D., Chief of the Neuroscience and Novel Therapeutics Unit in the NIMH Intramural Research Program.

Sixty-nine unmedicated children diagnosed with an anxiety disorder underwent 12 weeks of CBT following an established protocol. CBT, which involves changing dysfunctional thoughts and behaviors through gradual exposure to anxiety-provoking stimuli, is the current gold standard for treating anxiety disorders in children.

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This page was last updated on Wednesday, January 24, 2024