Currently, the etiology of mental illness can be best described as being of multifactorial genesis. According to a vulnerability-stress model, many genes and environmental factors interact in a complex way to cause the development of mental illness. Environmental factors (e.g. enduring stress, life events, trauma) influence us via diverse neurobiological pathways (e.g. transmitter systems, the stress hormone axis), which might cause somatic and psychological changes. Consequently, mental illness can be treated directly via biological pathways (e.g. pharmacological treatment) or indirectly via the change of environmental factors, of our behavior, and of our experiences (e.g. by psychotherapy).
The aim of biological neuropsychotherapy is the investigation of the molecular-genetic and psychoneuroendocrine mechanisms behind behavioral and experiential changes during psychotherapy. What happens in our body during psychotherapy and how can we describe psychotherapeutic processes in our brain? Which factors predict a positive treatment outcome? How can we characterize and identify the patients who profit most? Using this approach, the effects of psychotherapeutic treatment can be neurobiologically validated, thus providing an objective, sound base. Our research aims to comprehensively broaden the neurobiological evidence on the effectiveness of psychotherapy and tries to further differentiate the present level of knowledge.
In a new study, we measure emotional, cognitive and interpersonal processes during psychotherapy using numerous neurobiological and biochemical procedures. These include physiological measurements (ECG, blood pressure, heart rate, electrodermal activity), imaging methods (MRT, cMRT, fMRT), investigation of the stress-hormone system (the dex/CRH-test), analysis of laboratory parameters, proteins, immune parameters and (epi-)genetic characteristics (DNA, RNA). These data provide insights into a complex functioning.
Our work hopes to deliver new input in the area of psychotherapy in research and practice. We would like to scientifically contribute to the development of guidelines for a neuroscience-based practice of psychotherapy.
Cognitive Deficits in Depression
In addition to emotional changes, more than 90% of depressed patients describe subjective impairments in concentration, attention, memory and diverse executive functions. In more than half of the cases, the deficits are measurable in the acute episode as well as after remission.
These deficits interfere not only with psychotherapeutic interventions, but also play an important role for persistent impairments of social and occupational abilities as well as quality of life. Therefore, the exact evaluation of deficits at the beginning and over the course of treatment has a high impact on the individualized planning of neuropsychological, behavioral- and ergotherapeutic interventions to improve cognitive functioning. Our research focuses on the investigation of the interaction between biological changes and functional cognitive impairments as well as on the development of targeted intervention procedures. In this regard, there is a close cooperation between our neuroradiologists, neuropsychologists, and psychiatrists ensuring a fast translation of findings from basic research to patient care in our clinic.