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Dr. Schechter's Blog Blog 12: Therapy vs Medication for Depression, what do we learn from brain imaging?

Discussion in 'Mindbody Blogs (was Practitioner's Corner)' started by Think Away Your Pain Blog, Feb 2, 2015.

  1. Think Away Your Pain Blog

    Think Away Your Pain Blog Automated blog by David Schechter, MD

    Originally posted: January 25, 2015

    Richard Friedman MD reviewed in the New York Times an article by Helen Mayberg, MD fromJAMA Psychiatry . Dr. Mayberg started with the known premise that some patients do better with medication for depression, others do better with therapy (cognitive-behavioral therapy-- CBT). The patient got 12 weeks of escitalopram (lexapro) or 12 weeks of CBT. Only about 40% responded to either.

    But there was a brain difference in the patients who responded to CBT vs. those for whom medication worked. As Dr. Friedman summarizes, "Patients who had low activity in a brain region called the anterior insula (PET scans) measured before treatment responded quite well to C.B.T. but poorly to Lexapro; conversely, those with high activity in this region had an excellent response to Lexapro, but did poorly with C.B.T."

    Why might this be so? Here we move into the range of speculation, or educated guess. However, Friedman writes, "the insula is centrally involved in the capacity for emotional self-awareness, cognitive control and decision making, all of which are impaired by depression. Perhaps cognitive behavior therapy has a more powerful effect than an antidepressant in patients with an underactive insula because it teaches patients to control their emotionally disturbing thoughts in a way that an antidepressant cannot."

    I might go on to suggest that overactivity in the insula responds more quickly to a chemical treatment, but underactivity requires stimulation such as thought and CBT to improve.

    How does this relate to chronic pain and TMS? The insula and related structures appear to be involved in attention processes and cognitive control. The TMS mind-body healing model involves study, education, journaling, psychology and in so doing, may help strengthen the insula. Perhaps this explains, indirectly, the effectiveness of the treatment model.

    More studies would be necessary and specifically, it would be fascinating to find 38 patients (65 were initially in the protocol) or even 20 and do a randomized trial of TMS treatment vs. a "placebo" (e.g. reading self-help books on stress, taking an active or inactive medication, pain-killers, etc.) and see what that study would show. Again, the challenge here is that patients must be willing to be randomized and therefore postpone TMS treatment while the protocol was proceeding... this could be 12 weeks as in this study or even 6. But, in my experience, TMS/chronic pain patients are not real willing to wait.

    Anyway, this study presents more food for thought on the subject of individualized treatment for depression, based upon initial PET scan or f-MRI imaging. It also presents both the promises and challenges of doing TMS research with randomization and deferral of treatment for 1/2 the subjects. Finally it shows the important effects of both medication and CBT (therapy) on brain regions and clinical improvement.
    donavanf, Lavender, Forest and 2 others like this.
  2. Walt Oleksy (RIP 2021)

    Walt Oleksy (RIP 2021) Beloved Grand Eagle

    A vry interesting analysis of treatments for depression.
    I find that if I am depressed, I can quickly lift my spirits by distracting myself with pleasant thoughts
    such as times spent walking or in a park with my dog, swimming and playing Frisbee with a friend,
    dinner and wine with a friend. They're my visual tranquilizers.
  3. Alan Gordon LCSW

    Alan Gordon LCSW TMS Therapist

    Interesting! Is possible for people to get an fMRI of their anterior insula to determine the best course of treatment?
  4. DocDave

    DocDave TMS Physician and Author

    A, others,
    Unfortunately this has not reached the clinical level yet.
    I believe it will in the next ten years, maybe sooner.
    Issues are cost, skill in interpreting these results and facilities.
    The "holy grail" of TMS/PPD is also the ability to show a patient a scan and say... this HELPS confirms my clinical impression that your pain is mind/brain (TMS/PPD), not originating primarily in structural/nociceptive issues. We're not there yet.... but soon...?
    Forest likes this.
  5. Forest

    Forest Beloved Grand Eagle

    A very interesting article. I clicked through to the NYTimes article and thought it was interesting how medications are just as effective for people who didn't have bad experiences in their past, but less effective for people who did. Carefully collected data like this is an essential part of the scientific method.

    For anyone who is interested, the insula has come up a number of times on our forum. I tend to like the threads where it comes up:

    One of the reasons it comes up often is because we use the way that our bodies feel in order to figure out what our emotions are. For example, when I'm feeling bad, I often feel it in my gut or my chest. Well, if I remember correctly, the insula is involved in those body sensations. This might be why it pops up so frequently.
    Barb M. and IrishSceptic like this.
  6. Boston Redsox

    Boston Redsox Well Known Member

    For myself, I have done both treatments …I find Lexapro and a combination of CBT therapy helps. Neither one by themselves had any progress on thee own.
  7. Forest

    Forest Beloved Grand Eagle

    Indeed, I've had a couple of people whose lives have been changed (perhaps saved) by taking antidepressants. I believe they can really help.

    And mixing therapy with medications definitely seems like the best way to go. It's like you're hitting the problem from two angles, with the medication helping you keep things in perspective (which is super important) and the therapy teaching you long term skills.

    For those who don't know CBT, one way to think of it is just talking to your brain and using logic to overcome thoughts that are harming you. The C in CBT stands for cognitive, meaning that you are using cognitions from the rational brain to change the way that you feel about things (again, I'm simplifying). The B stands for changing our behaviors, like the way that resuming physical activity is a behavior that helps us learn that our bodies are strong. The T just stands for therapy. Obviously, the real thing is more complicated than that, but if you want a super-simplified description, that's where to start.

    If you want to learn about CBT, the most famous book is Feeling Good by David Burns:
    The book is so well known that there have been scientific studies that have shown that just giving people the book can provide measurable benefit to depression (they refer to this as "bibliotherapy," or "therapy via book").

    Alternatively, if you don't want to purchase the book, you can just watch the following TED talk. In it, the author lays out the major ideas of the book:
  8. Lavender

    Lavender Well known member

    Based on the recommendation by Dr. Hanscom, I am re-reading the book by David Burns and using the Feeling Good Handbook as well. I cannot report any results because I have not been consistent, jumping from one TMS book to the next.
  9. Boston Redsox

    Boston Redsox Well Known Member


    That is the worse thing you can do, believe I did that myself. The only book you need for tms healing is Steve O book. Its a glossary of information and what Steve himself went threw. I would put away all other books, including Dr Sarno books.
    Markus likes this.

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