Agoraphobia and Brain Plasticity

My previous posts have been exploring the phenomenon that “neurons that fire together wire together”, which is a catchy way of talking about Freud’s ‘law of association by simultaneity‘.

Psychologists have been able to use these insights to help sufferers of various pathologies, including agoraphobia, which is one of the key terms on the EPPP.

One of the more successful treatments for sufferers of agoraphobia is known as exposure therapy. Exposure therapy systematically desensitizes a person by pairing variegated exposure to the anxiety-provoking situation with a positive coping mechanism, such as relaxation. As the object of the phobia becomes disassociated with unpleasant experiences and associated instead with pleasant experiences, the brain is able to rewire itself, breaking the harmful associations.

If it is true that neurons that fire together wire together, it is equally true that neurons that fire apart wire apart. If the sufferer of agoraphobia can be repeatedly exposed to social situations in which the part of the brain associated with anxiety does not fire up, then the association between social situations and anxiety can begin to be broken. Essentially what is happening is that the harmful connections in the brain are being re-wired and the harmful associations are being broken.

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