The route to insight – discovering neurobiological mechanisms of change in psychotherapy

Although the efficacy and effectiveness of psychotherapeutic interventions has been proven, we still know little about the mechanisms of change underlying these treatments. Pioneering work investigating recordings of therapy sessions qualitatively identified numerous mechanisms of change, some being common to diverse psychotherapeutic approaches and techniques. One of these general mechanisms of change is “motivational clarification” referring to the conscious reflection of (un)conscious motives of one’s own behavior. In the course of this reflection the patient ideally experiences an insight with regard to his/her own needs, expectancies and emotions (e.g., fears) that drive/underlie his/her reactive or impulsive behaviors. This is an important moment as the understanding of why one acts as one does, allows to envision and to finally realize alternative thinking, feeling and behavior leading to recovery. To date, however, insight with regard to the understanding of self-referential experiences and behaviors or the social context has not been studied experimentally as there are no paradigms available. This project aims to close this gap. We will operationalize insight with regard to the self and others in order to open up a new domain of psychotherapeutic research focusing on what is actually happening in the brain during psychotherapeutic interventions. For this purpose, an experimental paradigm will be developed that (a) comprises self and socially relevant problems in terms of dysfunctional attitudes and beliefs also present in healthy persons, (b) allows to discover and describe the critical points, where psychotherapeutic (mini-)interventions can be applied and (c) will be suitable to be used in combination with functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI).

Duration of study:
November 2014 – April 2016

Inneruniversitäre Forschungsförderung

Dr. Julia Linke (director),
B.Sc. Angelina Kuhl