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Treating Fibromyalgia with Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

CBT

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Fibromyalgia is a chronic disorder that causes pain and tenderness throughout the body, fatigue and sleeping difficulties. Scientists do not fully understand what causes it. In a randomized, controlled study published in Arthritis & Rheumatology involving 114 women, researchers found that cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) was superior to educational materials alone in reducing catastrophic negative thinking associated with fibromyalgia.  

CBT is a form of psychological treatment that usually involves efforts to change thinking and behavioral patterns. Strategies include facing fears instead of avoiding them, using role play to prepare for potentially problematic interactions and learning to calm the mind and relax the body.

To measure the participants’ responses to CBT, researchers used various assessment tools alongside functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), which measures the small changes in blood flow that occur with brain activity. The participants that received eight weeks of CBT experienced a reduction on the Pain Catastrophizing Scale, compared to a smaller drop in the group that received only educational materials. Furthermore, fMRI scans indicated changes in brain patterns following CBT, suggesting its effectiveness in addressing catastrophic thoughts. By providing evidence of tangible brain changes, this research can help validate the reality of chronic pain, which is often dismissed as being “all in one's head.” 

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