Talk Therapy changes the Brain and helps with Depression and Bipolar

by Garth Mintun, LCSW, ACSW

This week I watched the PBS special “Depression: Out of the Shadows.” Dr. Dennis Charney, the Medical Director and Dean of the medical school at Mount Sinai, presented on a panel of experts with Jean Pauley. He stated that depression “on average is 35% genetic and 65% environmental.” (This is for the average person; people with histories of depression or who are bipolar will have higher percentages of the genetic factors). He stated that medication and talk therapy access different parts the brain, thus the change these treatments produce take place in different areas of the brain. Research indicates that people who undergo both psychotherapy or talk therapy and anti-depressant or bipolar medications show more progress in lessoning their depression or bipolar symptoms than they would if they simply engaged in one method of treatment. For more information, please go to the PBS web site to see the video clip or read the transcript of the discussion with Dr. Charney, the panel of experts, and Jean Pauley at:

This report is very good news. It is excellent in its ability to help people understand bipolar and depression and it also attempts to deal with the stigma of mental illness. I suggest that psychotherapists recommend this PBS series to their clients suffering from depression. Often in my practice in Indianapolis, I find that clients on medication for depression or bipolar show improvement when participating in talk therapy/counseling. These clients tend to experience a decrease in their levels of anxiety and lessoned feelings of the inertia when they come in to psychotherapy on medication. Consequently, people are able to deal with difficult core interpersonal issues with less anxiety and vulnerability than they would if they were not on anti-depressant and or bipolar medication.

The other piece of good news is that “talk therapy “actually changes the brain as well, producing biological effects. This program shows how people who have been suffering from long-term depression can perhaps see how their “talk therapy” actually changes the way they think in profound ways and compliments the medication therapy approach.

Often people go to their family practice physicians just for medication, rather than also attending talk therapy. After reviewing the research, people suffering from depression and bipolar may want to receive more comprehensive help by adding psychotherapy to their treatment. Again, the PBS show “Out of the Shadows” is an excellent vehicle for consumers to understand depression and bipolar and learn about ways that they might go about receiving help.