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Modulating gene expression through psychotherapy: The contribution of non-invasive somatic interventions

Citation (APA Style): Feinstein. D., & Church, D. (2010). Modulating gene expression through psychotherapy: The contribution of non-invasive somatic interventions. Review of General Psychology, 14(4), 283-295.


Mapping the relationship between gene expression and psychopathology is proving to be among the most promising new frontiers for advancing the understanding, treatment, and prevention of mental disorders. Each cell in the human body contains some 23,688 genes, yet only a tiny fraction of a cell’s genes are active or “expressed” at any given moment. The interactions of biochemical, psychological, and environmental factors influencing gene expression are complex, yet relatively accessible technologies for assessing gene expression have allowed the identification of specific genes implicated in a range of psychiatric disorders, including depression, anxiety, and schizophrenia. Moreover, successful psychotherapeutic interventions have been shown to shift patterns of gene expression. Five areas of biological change in successful psychotherapy that are dependent upon precise shifts in gene expression are identified in this paper. Psychotherapy ameliorates (a) exaggerated limbic system responses to innocuous stimuli, (b) distortions in learning and memory, (c) imbalances between sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous system activity, (d) elevated levels of cortisol and other stress hormones, and (e) impaired immune functioning. The thesis of this paper is that psychotherapies which utilize non-invasive somatic interventions may yield greater precision and power in bringing about therapeutically beneficial shifts in gene expression that control these biological markers. The paper examines the manual stimulation of acupuncture points during psychological exposure as an example of such a somatic intervention. For each of the five areas, a testable proposition is presented to encourage research that compares acupoint protocols with conventional therapies in catalyzing advantageous shifts in gene expression.

Keywords: acupuncture, DNA, epigenetics, exposure, gene expression, psychotherapy, somatic

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