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Mundo, E. (2006). Neurobiology of Dynamic Psychotherapy: An Integration Possible?. J. Amer. Acad. Psychoanal., 34(4):679-691.

(2006). Journal of American Academy of Psychoanalysis, 34(4):679-691

Neurobiology of Dynamic Psychotherapy: An Integration Possible?

Emanuela Mundo, M.D.

In the last decades, Kandel's innovative experiments have demonstrated that brain structures and synaptic connections are dynamic. Synapses can be modified by a wide variety of environmental factors, including learning and memory processes. The hypothesis that dynamic psychotherapy process involves memory and learning procesess has opened the possibility of a dialogue between neuroscience and psychoanalysis and related psychotherapy techniques.

The primary aim of the present article is to critically review the more recent data on neurobiological effects of dynamic psychotherapy in psychiatric disorders. Relevant literature has been selected using the databases currently available online (i.e., PubMed). The literature search has been limited to the past 10 years and to genetic, molecular biology, and neuroimaging studies that have addressed the issue of changes induced by psychotherapy. Most of the genetic studies on mental disorders have demonstrated that psychiatric conditions result from a complex interaction of genetic susceptibility and environmental effects. For none of the many psychiatric conditions investigated has a purely genetic background been found. Molecular biology studies have indicated that gene expression is influenced by several environmental factors, including early experiences, traumas, learning, and memory processes. Neuroimaging studies (using fMRI and PET) have found that not only cognitive but also dynamic psychotherapy has measurable effects on the brain. In addition, psychotherapy may modify brain function and metabolism in specific brain areas. Most of these studies have considered patients with major depressive disorders and compared the effects of psychotherapy with the effect of standard pharmacotherapy. In conclusion, recent results from neuroscience studies have suggested that dynamic psychotherapy has a significant impact on brain function and metabolism in specific brain areas. The possible applications and developments of this new area of research toward the conceptualization of an integrative approach to treatment of psychiatric disorders are discussed.

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