By Michael D. MeehanBERKELEY, Calif.
(Reuters) – A single day’s worth of counseling can change the trajectory of a college student’s life and save lives, according to a study by researchers at the University of California, Berkeley.
The findings, published in the journal Nature Neuroscience, are the latest in a growing body of research that links stress to neuropsychological and physical health.
A group of students were enrolled in the study for two years to understand how stress, depression and anxiety affect brain function and development.
Researchers found that a single session of intensive, cognitive-behavioral-therapy can affect a student’s brain in ways that are “significant and potentially life-saving,” said Benjamin M. Fuchs, the study’s lead author and a graduate student in the Department of Psychology at UC Berkeley.
“I’m very excited about this because the cognitive-therapists know the students better than the psychologists, and they can teach them better,” said Fuchs.
“The students know the cognitive therapists better than psychologists.”
In the study, the students participated in an intensive, one-hour session of therapy that included reading and writing exercises, focusing on their mental health, coping skills and relationships with others.
The researchers found that in the first week of the therapy, the participants experienced significant improvement in mood, memory and emotional stability, with some participants reporting “significant changes in their emotional states” as a result of the session.
Researchers then asked the students to fill out a questionnaire about their health, life stress, emotional state and coping with the stressors of their college life.
In the second week of therapy, participants were given the opportunity to discuss their experiences and share their thoughts.
The study found that the students’ self-reported psychological distress dropped by more than 50 percent, and their life stress decreased by 40 percent.
Researchers also found that, over time, the cognitive and physical benefits of counseling were significantly greater than those of the stress-reduction intervention alone.
“This study provides some of the first evidence that cognitive-behavioural-behaviorally-therapist therapy can significantly improve a person’s emotional and psychological health,” said Michael S. McAllister, the paper’s lead investigator and a UC Berkeley professor of psychology.
“It is a very promising approach for students and families, and it’s also a promising approach to reduce mental health and physical illness.”
The findings are important because it shows that cognitive behavioral therapy may have a direct impact on the mental health of a student, McAllisters said.
“Cognitive-behavior-therapeutic-theracuse, as I call it, can have an impact on how a student deals with mental health problems, and that impact is potentially life saving,” he said.
The research was supported by the National Institutes of Health and the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine.