Does psychotherapy have a biological basis?

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Does Psychotherapy Have a Biological Basis?

            Psychotherapy is also known as talk therapy. It refers to treatment techniques which help a client to identify and change troubling behavior, thoughts and emotions (National Institute on Mental Health, 2018). Sigmund Freud started the use of psychotherapy or talk therapy in psychiatry in the late 1800s (Laureate Education, 2016). Psychotherapy has been used by practitioners as the first line of treatment and practitioners are encouraged to use it as the first line of treatment especially with clients who have mood disorders (Laureate Education, 2016). Psychotherapy is so useful that it does not have the adverse or side effects, and drug interactions found in the use of drugs. In addition, it has little possibilities of negative reactions when compared to psychopharmacological agents (Laureate Education, 2016). In pediatric psychiatry, It is the first line of treatment (Stahl, 2013). Psychotherapy is also helpful with mood disorders and OCD and when used in combination with psychopharmacological agents there is a great outcome (Laureate Education, 2015). The etiology of psychiatric disorders is thought to be multifactorial and it results from interactions between neurobiological, genetic, psychosocial, and environmental factors (Ahn, Proctor, & Flanagan, 2009). The development of psychiatric disorders involves many brain neurobiological pathway malfunctions (Stahl, 2013).  Psychotherapy has been effective in treating psychiatric disorders, and this makes it safe for practitioners to agree that psychotherapy has an effect on the neurobiological pathways and therefore has a biological basis.

            According to Aboujaoude, (2009), some psychoactive medication enthusiasts are quick to reject psychotherapy as a dubious intervention. They argue that they are not necessarily more beneficial or more transformative than talking to a good friend. Psychopharmacological options have been on the increase over the last decade as can be seen in commercial advertisements which promote them. People have erroneously thought of therapy as ineffective, time-consuming and expensive. As a result, many clients whose psychological and psychiatric problems might well benefit from psychotherapy are not considering it as an option of treatment. Yet it has been known that in brain imaging research, cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) has produced changes in the brain similar to those produced by medications (Fournier & Price, 2014). It means that a client’s brain can be transformed by psychotherapy.  It gives weight to what therapists and many patients have long acknowledged that psychological interventions like psychotherapy can profoundly change a person’s symptoms. This is a great support that there is a biological basis of psychotherapy.

            A client’s culture, religion, and socioeconomic status affect their belief in the value and effectiveness of psychotherapy.  When looking at how psychotherapy works, it is particularly important to know that cultures vary around the world and what might be considered acceptable and normal in one culture may be deemed abnormal in another culture. Psychotherapy may be considered valuable in western cultures. In other cultures, it may be deemed invaluable and expensive and may equate it to talking to a good friend as stated before. The same goes for religion. Some people believe in the biology link of mental illness whereas others might attribute symptoms like hallucinations to a spiritual etiology. Socioeconomic status has an effect on access to care and psychotherapy. According to Napier et al. (2014), people with a low socioeconomic status might not have insurance, live in remote areas, lack good transportation means, and so might not be able to access, afford, and utilize mental health services.  The Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner must stay abreast of cultural competence and practice cultural sensitivity.


Aboujaoude, E. (July10, 2009). The biology of psychotherapy: Therapy is a biological treatment.  Psychology Today. Retrieved from

Ahn, W., Proctor, C. C., & Flanagan, E. H. (2009). Mental health clinicians’ beliefs about the biological, psychological, and environmental bases of mental disorders.

Cognitive Science33(2), 147-182.

Fournier, J. C., & Price, R. B. (2014). Psychotherapy and neuroimaging. Focus, The Journal Of Lifelong Learning in Psychiatry, 12(3), 290–298.

Laureate Education (Producer). (2016). Introduction to psychotherapy with individuals [Video file]. Baltimore, MD: Author.

Laureate Education (Producer). (2015e). Therapies are helpful: Dodo bird conjecture [Video file]. Baltimore, MD: Author.

Napier, A. D., Ancarno, C., Butler, B., Calabrese, J., Chater, A., Chatterjee, H., . . .Woolf, K. (2014). Culture and health. The Lancet, 384(9954), 1607-1639.

National Institute of Mental Health. (2018).  Psychotherapies. Retrieved from

Stahl, S. M. (2013). Stahl’s essential psychopharmacology: Neuroscientific basis and practical applications (4th ed.). New York, NY: Cambridge University Press *Preface, pp. ix–x

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