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A Closer Look At: Developments in the Mental Health Field

A Closer Look At: Developments in the Mental Health Field
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By Ashley Inks, LPC

mental-health-puzzleEach year, advances in the field of technology change the way we work, interact, and live. Some of these advances are also showing promise for behavioral health research and treatment.  For example, results from some of these studies are being used to formulate new, and possibly more effective, interventions that can reduce the amount of time between the onset of a therapeutic intervention and the time an individual can expect relief from symptoms.

Differences shown in brain responses to fear: A study published by Duke University in 2015 used new and advanced brain imaging techniques to explore differences in how people’s brains respond to fear.  The results showed a distinguishable difference in responses between individuals who had a diagnosis of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and those who did not.  In another study with military veterans, MRI results showed heightened brain activity, confirming that individuals with PTSD generalized fear to objects/situations that resemble the feared object or situation (Nauert, 2015). This information has important practical implications for treatment as it can help inform treatment interventions and increase the chances of positive outcomes for the many individuals who experience the symptoms of PTSD on a daily basis.

New approach to treatment of phobias can reduce distress and time spent on treatment to reduce or extinguish specific phobia: A study published in Biological Psychiatry (Soeter & Kindt, 2015) expanded research on an approach called “reconsolidation” where a beta-blocker (a type of medication typically used for heart related issues such as high blood pressure) is combined with exposure therapy for people with a specific phobia of spiders (arachnophobia).  The results showed an accelerated and sustained decrease in fear response to spiders in participants who had the combined treatment intervention (i.e. reconsolidation and exposure therapy). Researchers noted that additional studies should be conducted to further confirm results for other phobias and for possible application in exposure therapy for individuals with PTSD. 

Increased focus on executive functioning skills in ADHD treatment – A shift in focus from the observable behaviors and symptoms of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) to the executive functioning areas in the brain that control these behaviors has shown promise in improving strategies for symptom management in individuals with this diagnosis.  ADHD is a complex diagnosis that involves issues with executive functioning - a set of cognitive skills that has far-reaching effects (Tartakovsky, 2015).  Researchers noted that focusing on how ADHD specifically impacts the individual through the lens of particular skill deficits can yield a much better outlook and prognosis. In short, individuals seem to experience decreased symptom intrusion and frustration when interventions focus on specific executive skill difficulties and impact on the individual instead of focusing on increasing the individual’s ability to “try harder.”

Research studies that support new treatment approaches to mental illnesses are constantly being pursued.  For more information on new mental health research, therapies, and interventions, talk to your mental health professional or check out resources such as PsychCentral, American Psychological Association, or American Counseling Association.

 

References:

Duke University Medical Center.  (2015). Brain regions of PTSD patients show differences during fear responses.  Available at http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2015-12/dumc-bro121415.php.

Nauert PhD, R. (2015). PTSD patients have different brain response to Fear.  Psych Central. Retrieved on December 16, 2015, from http://psychcentral.com/news/2015/12/16/ptsd-patients-have-different-brain-response-to-fear/96304.html.

Soeter, M. & Kindt, M.  (2015). An abrupt transformation of phobic behavior after a post-retrieval amnesic agent. Biological Psychiatry, 78(12).  doi: 10.1016/j.biopsych.2015.04.006.

Tartakovsky, M. (2015). ADHD isn’t a disorder of attention.   Psych Central. Retrieved on December 16, 2015 from http://psychcentral.com/blog/archives/2015/12/12/adhd-isnt-a-disorder-of-attention/.

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