Was Freud Right? Is Intensive Psychotherapy Needed to Harness the Brain’s Natural Plasticity?

Bradley, Ruth
Appel, Stephen
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Master of Health Science
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Auckland University of Technology

Is intensive psychotherapy needed to harness the brain’s natural plasticity? In order to throw light on this evidence-based question this dissertation conducts reviews of three bodies of literature:

First it conducts an overview of the neuroscience literature pertaining to the concept of neuroplasticity associated with intensive learning, as psychotherapy is considered an emotional learning experience, to address the question, does intensive learning alter neural structure? The findings from this review indicate that intensive learning does indeed result in significant neural change.

Second, it carries out a systematic review of the neuroimaging literature to answer the following question: What is known about the neural effects of psychotherapy? The neuroimaging studies in this review clearly demonstrate that plastic changes occur not only within brain systems but also at a molecular level and these changes, in response to psychotherapy, are similar to those observed in psychopharmacotherapy treatments.

The third review carries out a systematic review of the psychotherapy/psychoanalytic literature to investigate the question; do more frequent psychotherapy sessions or intensive psychotherapy produce better outcomes? The results of this search draws convincing evidence that demonstrate that intensive therapy produces better outcome, especially in the long term, i.e. lasting changes.

The clinical hypothesis derived from all of these results - a supposition which needs testing - is: intensive psychotherapy (frequent psychotherapy sessions) is more effective in harnessing the brain’s plasticity in order to maximise change.

Neuroscience , Neuropsychology , Neuropsychotherapy , Psychotherapy , Session frequency , Freud , Neuroimaging
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