Functional imaging in psychiatry: From bench to bedside
Recent advances in non-invasive brain imaging techniques have equipped us with tools that allow us to investigate brain processes online, as patients are experiencing symptoms. This approach has, for example, revealed that the auditory region of the brain is active when patients experience voices (so-called auditory hallucinations). Moreover, we can assess how the brain changes when symptoms improve under medication or indeed psychotherapy. Finally, we can dissociate brain changes that may contribute to a mental disorder from those that may occur as a result of the stress and lifestyle changes associated with the disorder. Although we are still far away from being able to infer pathological mental states from changes in the brain (and may never be able to), this research has already provided valuable insight in the brain correlates of the inner life of psychiatric patients and the amazing plasticity of the brain that enables the success of therapeutic programmes. In the future we may even be able to utilise imaging protocols enabling self-regulation of brain activity through neurofeedback to aid these plastic mechanisms.