Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) Can Treat Neurological Conditions

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Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) was developed in the late 1990s by Zindel Segal, Mark Williams, and John Teasdale. MBCT was well-known for helping with psychological conditions, especially in preventing depression relapse. It combines cognitive therapy with mindfulness practices to help people break negative thought patterns and develop greater awareness and acceptance. 

Recently, researchers have started exploring its benefits not just for psychological conditions but for various neurological conditions, including Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, Fibromyalgia, and recently Visual Snow Syndrome (VSS).

MBCT and Neurological Conditions

While MBCT was initially developed for psychological treatment, it has shown promise in treating neurological conditions as well. The underlying reason is that mindfulness can help individuals manage symptoms by altering their perception and response to the condition. Research and objective functional MRI scans taken before and after MBCT indicate that MBCT can effectively address neurological conditions like VSS by influencing neurotransmitters, physiological mechanisms, and promoting neuroplasticity. 

Neuroplasticity is a key concept here. MBCT encourages structural and functional changes in the brain, promoting the growth of new neural connections and rewiring existing ones, enhancing areas involved in attention, emotional regulation, and sensory processing. These changes can be advantageous for neurological conditions, where maladaptive neural pathways may contribute to symptoms. MBCT can help reduce the activation of the body’s stress response system, leading to lower levels of stress hormones, such as cortisol, which have been implicated in neurodegenerative processes and cognitive decline. MBCT may also aid in limbic system functioning and affect the activation of the body’s endogenous opioid system. This can enable individuals to process sensations without becoming overwhelmed by them, an important consideration when managing neurological or sensory-processing disorders, such as VSS.

The Role of MBCT in Managing Visual Snow Syndrome

Given the distressing symptoms of VSS, MBCT offers a new promising approach to symptom management. Dr. Wong’s MBCT-vision protocol marks a groundbreaking adaptation of MBCT specifically tailored for VSS. This represents the first time MBCT has been modified to address VSS and the first systematic study of MBCT in the VSS patient population.

New research, neuroimaging, measurable data, and patient testimonials show the efficacy of MBCT in managing VSS, where it has helped with both visual and non-visual symptoms of VSS. VSS is associated with functional connectivity dysregulation of visual networks, meaning that there is a disruption in the brain networks that involve the visual pathway. This results in a constant “noise-like” perception. In addition to the visual networks, this neurological dysfunction also affects the attentional and salience networks. Objective functional MRI scans of the brain taken before and after MBCT, show a distinct material change in the underlying condition. Post MBCT results have revealed that MBCT is capable of targeting and modulating these dysfunctional visual and extravisual networks within the brain, inducing neuroplasticity, and impacting neurotransmitters like serotonin (a crucial brain chemical associated with the biological basis of VSS). Measurable differences in brain activity have been observed before and after MBCT intervention. 

While there is currently no cure for VSS, MBCT is a noninvasive intervention that has the potential to target the dysfunctional brain pathways associated with VSS and help modulate them to reduce visual and non-visual symptoms. Essentially, it acts like a form of brain training to modify brain pathways with the potential to help reduce the impact and severity of symptoms.

As we learn more about VSS and MBCT-vision it is possible that Dr. Wong’s methods can be replicated and implemented globally in the future. 

In conclusion, while Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) was initially developed to address psychological conditions, its scope has expanded to help treat neurological conditions such as Visual Snow Syndrome (VSS). 

For more information, please visit the MBCT-vision website or contact Dr. Wong and her research team at: [email protected].

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