A systematic review of the neural bases of psychotherapy for anxiety and related disorders

Samantha J. Brooks, Dan J. Stein

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

70 Scopus citations


Brain imaging studies over two decades have delineated the neural circuitry of anxiety and related disorders, particularly regions involved in fear processing and in obsessive-compulsive symptoms. The neural circuitry of fear processing involves the amygdala, anterior cingulate and insular cortex, while cortico-striatal-thalamic circuitry plays a key role in obsessive-compulsive disorder. More recently, neuroimaging studies have examined how psychotherapy for anxiety and related disorders impacts on these neural circuits. Here we conduct a systematic review of the findings of such work, which yielded 19 functional magnetic resonance imaging studies examining the neural bases of cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) in 509 patients with anxiety and related disorders. We conclude that, although each of these related disorders is mediated by somewhat different neural circuitry, CBT may act in a similar way to increase prefrontal control of subcortical structures. These findings are consistent with an emphasis in cognitive-affective neuroscience on the potential therapeutic value of enhancing emotional regulation in various psychiatric conditions.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)261-279
Number of pages19
JournalDialogues in Clinical Neuroscience
Issue number3
StatePublished - 2015
Externally publishedYes


  • Animal model
  • Anxiety
  • CBT
  • Neural
  • Psychotherapy
  • fMRI


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