The healing power of psychotherapy

Some people approach the whole notion of psychotherapy with skepticism, which may be down to a number of factors. But for those of us who have experienced life-changing results from an ongoing commitment to psychotherapy (specially with a gifted practitioner who has overcome similar challenges), the findings of a recent study will come as no surprise.

Published in the journal Psychotherapy and Psychosomatics, the research team, from universities in Germany and Switzerland, showed an association between post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and DNA damage and, also, psychotherapy and DNA repair.

In the first leg of the study, 34 individuals with PTSD and 31 controls were assessed for levels of DNA breakage, by taking peripheral blood mononuclear cells and measuring the cellular capacity to repair breaks after exposure to ionising radiation. The results showed higher levels of DNA breakage among the PTSD group than among the controls, suggesting that traumatic stress is associated with DNA breakage.

In the second leg, 38 individuals with PTSD were randomly assigned to either psychotherapy or a wait-list control condition and the effect on DNA breakage and repair was measured. The results showed that psychotherapy reversed not only PTSD symptoms, but also DNA strand break accumulation.

These are remarkable findings, which may shed additional light on previous research which has revealed an association between traumatic stress and numerous diseases, including cancer. Stress may increase carcinogenesis at the molecular level by causing damage to DNA and impairing DNA repair mechanisms.

We shouldn’t be surprised at the very real possibility that psychotherapy is operating at the molecular level, given the intimate relationship between mind, body and soul. Sometimes, though, it’s just nice to see it so starkly supported.


Written by Jacqui Hogan