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Biomedical Therapy

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Biomedical Therapy

Sometimes, psychotherapy is not enough on its own to treat mental health disorders. Researchers have worked to uncover other methods used to treat disorders. Psychotherapy and biomedical treatments of disorders are a match made in heaven.

  • What is the definition of biomedical therapy?
  • What is biomedical therapy psychology?
  • What are the types of biomedical therapy?
  • What is biomedical therapy vs psychotherapy?
  • What are some examples of biomedical therapy?

Definition of Biomedical Therapy

One of the most significant discoveries in psychological treatment, especially in the treatment of severe disorders, is the use of biomedical therapy.

Biomedical therapy refers to treatments that affect the brain's chemistry to reduce psychological symptoms.

Biomedical therapies could include lifestyle changes, drugs (or psychopharmacology), neurostimulation (i.e. electroconvulsive therapy, magnetic stimulation, deep-brain stimulation), and psychosurgery

Biomedical Therapy in Psychology

It's easy to think that psychology and biology are two separate entities. However, the more appropriate perspective is that anything psychological is, in fact, biological. The neuroplasticity of our brains allows for it to be ever-changing. As psychotherapy changes the way we think or behave, it also changes our brain.

Research has revealed that successful psychological treatments do in fact show changes in the brain.

For example, PET scans of people who underwent treatment for obsessive-compulsive disorder showed a calmer brain overall (Schwartz et al., 1996).

Types of Biomedical Therapy

Let's explore the different types of biomedical therapy including lifestyle changes, drug therapies, neurostimulation therapies, and psychosurgery.

Therapeutic Lifestyle Changes as a Type of Biomedical Therapy

The mind-body connection is one that should never be ignored or downplayed. Our lifestyle choices and our social environments affect our brain and our body which affect our mental health. Humans have always been designed for physical activity and social development. That's why our ancestors hunted and gathered in groups. Biomedical treatments that involve lifestyle changes alone can do wonders for our mental health.

Biomedical Therapy, three women walking with yoga mats, StudySmarterExercise is a type of biomedical treatment, Freepik.com

For example, getting enough sleep at night will boost energy, alertness, and immunity. Taking nutritional supplements such as fish oil can improve brain functioning. Aerobic exercise alone can pump our body full of endorphins that put antidepressants a run for their money. Even the time we spend outdoors or in nature can significantly reduce stress. A good place to start when considering how to use biomedical treatment to treat mental health disorders is to assess simple, everyday changes that could promote a healthy brain and body.

Drug Therapies as a Type of Biomedical Therapy

Drug therapies have been developed through discoveries in the field of psychopharmacology.

Psychopharmacology is the study of the effect of drugs on the mind and behavior.

All drugs used in psychotherapy can come with their own side effects. Therefore, while developing drug therapies, psychopharmacologists must consider the drug's efficacy to ensure it is in fact helpful and not harmful or simply useless. They must look at how many people recover from their disorder without treatment (and how quickly).

They must also consider whether or not a person's recovery is because of the drug or because of a placebo effect. In other words, if someone receives a sugar pill (the placebo) thinking it's an antidepressant, do they show improvement simply because they believe they are being treated. Several studies would suggest yes. For example, one study found only a small difference between the effects of Zoloft, an antidepressant drug, and the placebo in reducing symptoms of depression (Wagner et al., 2003)

When psychopharmacologists are running clinical trials, they must use a double-blind procedure. A double-blind procedure is a method in which both the researcher and the participants are unaware of who received the real drug and who received the placebo.

Antipsychotic Drugs

Antipsychotic drugs are known to have the most dramatic effects in treating people with severe psychological disorders such as schizophrenia. Researchers accidentally stumbled on the use of antipsychotic drugs (originally used only for medical purposes) and their ability to reduce hallucinations and delusions.

First-generation antipsychotic drugs such as Chlorpromazine (Thorazine) mimic the neurotransmitter, dopamine, and then block the activity of dopamine in the brain by occupying the receptor sites. This supports the theory that schizophrenia may be linked to an overactive dopamine system in the brain.

These drugs have been shown to reduce the positive symptoms (i.e. hallucinations or paranoia) of schizophrenia. However, they are not as effective in treating the negative symptoms (i.e. withdrawal or apathy). They also come with potentially severe side effects. A person may develop sluggishness, twitches, and tremors that resemble Parkinson's disease. Long-term use can even produce symptoms of tardive dyskinesia.

Tardive dyskinesia is a side effect of long-term antipsychotic drug use resulting in involuntary facial, tongue, and limb movement.

In some cases, this side effect may be more debilitating than the psychotic symptoms themselves and is often irreversible. However, antipsychotic drugs have allowed people who would otherwise need to be institutionalized to leave the hospital and return to their daily lives. New drugs have also come along with less severe symptoms such as risperidone (Risperdal) and olanzapine (Zyprexa). Or, clozapine (Clozaril) does not produce tardive dyskinesia and can also reduce both positive and negative symptoms of schizophrenia. It can, however, produce fatal blood disease in 1 to 2 percent of users which can be managed.

Biomedical Therapy, woman pours pills into hands closeup, StudySmarterDrug therapy, Freepik.com

Antianxiety Drugs

Anti-anxiety drugs include Xanax, Valium, or Ativan. They are designed to reduce symptoms of anxiety without reducing concentration or alertness. They may resemble the effects of alcohol in that they depress the central nervous system activity. This is why these drugs should never be consumed with alcohol.

Antianxiety drugs as a biomedical treatment have helped reduce the symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and obsessive-compulsive disorder by reducing a person's learned fears. However, these results were if antianxiety drugs are used in combination with psychotherapy.

Some psychologists criticize antianxiety drugs for only reducing the symptoms of anxiety without actually helping the person resolve their underlying problems. Additionally, while taking antianxiety medication you can experience immediate relief. As a result, most antianxiety drugs are known to be habit-forming which leads to addiction.

Antidepressant Drugs

Although antidepressant drugs were originally developed to treat depression, they may also be used to treat anxiety, OCD, and PTSD. Depression may be related to lower levels of serotonin and norepinephrine in the brain, neurotransmitters responsible for mood, arousal, positive emotion, and motivation. Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) are among the most commonly used antidepressant drugs. They include drugs such as fluoxetine (Prozac), sertraline (Zoloft), and paroxetine (Paxil) and work by blocking the breakdown and reabsorption of serotonin and norepinephrine

While effective, they are not without side effects. They may include weight gain, dry mouth, hypertension, or dizzy spells. Also, SSRIs do not bring immediate relief and may take up to 4 weeks to start showing effects. Many psychologists feel that antidepressants should only be prescribed after psychotherapeutic attempts have been made. Even still, many treatment plans will combine antidepressants with psychotherapy or other more mild biomedical treatments such as aerobic exercise.

Mood-Stabilizing Medications

Another category of biomedical treatments that utilize drug therapy is mood-stabilizing medication. Mood-stabilizing medications may include Depakote which was originally used to treat epilepsy but is effective in treating manic episodes in Biopolar disorder. Another type of mood-stabilizing medication used to treat bipolar is Lithium. Lithium is a salt that can even be found in natural drinking waters. It is known to help level out emotional highs and lows and can reduce suicidal ideations. Lithium is a salt that can even be found in natural drinking waters.

Neurostimulation as a Type of Biomedical Therapy

Now we move into slightly more intense forms of biomedical treatments called neurostimulation or brain stimulation. For many of us, when we think of neurostimulation, we picture an evil scientist who tried to control someone's mind by shocking their brain with electricity. While it is not quite as dramatic and no longer involves convulsions, electroconvulsive therapy (ECT), does in fact use an electric shock to manipulate the brain. First introduced in 1938, ECT is conducted while the patient is awake and strapped to the table. With a jolt of electricity, a 30 to 60-second seizure is triggered. ECT has been used to treat severe psychological disorders such as severe depression that are "treatment-resistant," meaning no medication or psychotherapy has worked.

The electric current calms overactive areas of the brain that produces depression. It may also stimulate new synaptic connections and neurogenesis in the amygdala and hippocampus

Other forms of neurostimulation include mid-cranial electrical stimulation, magnetic stimulation, and deep-brain stimulation.

Psychosurgery as a Type of Biomedical Therapy

Finally, the most drastic and intrusive of all biomedical treatments is psychosurgery.

Psychosurgery is the surgical treatment of mental illness involving the removal or destruction of brain tissue.

A lobotomy, a common psychosurgery procedure, was originally developed by Egas Moniz in the 1930s. Monzi found that cutting the nerves connecting the frontal lobe to subcortical centers in the brain that controlled emotion calmed patients who were uncontrollably emotional or violent. While this is the least used biomedical treatment today, it was not always the case. According to Valenstein (1986), thousands of people with severe disturbances were lobotomized between 1936 and 1954 after Walter Freeman developed a 10-minute lobotomy operation. Enthusiasm for this procedure soon died down after realizing the severe side effects it caused including seizures, memory and reasoning impairments, lethargy, and lack of creativity.

Biomedical Therapy, silhouette of head with brain exposed, StudySmarterPsychosurgery requires brain surgery, Pixabay.com

Other, less drastic procedures have since been developed such as a cingulotomy. This procedure involves cutting out a small fiber bundle that connects the frontal lobe to the limbic system. While this procedure has shown success in treating severe depression and OCD, severe side effects like seizures are still likely. All in all, cutting into someone's brain is the very, very last resort in treating mental illnesses.

Biomedical Therapy vs. Psychotherapy

Biomedical therapy and psychotherapy should not be at odds with one another. Many times, a person's best treatment path is a combination of both. It's important to note that biomedical therapies that use drugs are not an automatic cure for psychological disorders. They usually cannot stand on their own. Biomedical therapies only help to reduce symptoms but do not teach a person how to coping skills or problem-solving skills. This is where psychotherapy can fill in the missing pieces.

For example, aerobic exercise may be combined with cognitive-behavioral therapy to treat anxiety and depression. The aerobic exercises can help facilitate more calm for people with anxiety and more energy for people with depression. Cognitive-behavioral therapy will help reverse negative thinking and maladaptive behaviors. Antipsychotic drugs used to treat schizophrenia may be combined with psychotherapies such as social skills training, family therapy, and group therapy.

Examples for Biomedical Therapy

Biomedical therapies are not limited to the ones previously discussed. Other examples of effective biomedical therapies are in treating substance use disorders. This mental health condition has many physiological symptoms. Drugs wreak havoc on our brain's functioning and create pathways that facilitate addiction. Quitting a highly addictive drug like heroin cold turkey can cause severe withdrawal symptoms such as abdominal pain, nausea, shaking, and muscle spasms. A person in withdrawal will often say it feels like they will die if they do not get another fix. And in fact, death can occur from heroin withdrawal due to other health complications a person may have.

Biomedical treatments can be used to manage the symptoms of withdrawal so a person can safely discontinue use. Addiction to opioids and heroin can be treated by using biomedical treatments such as methadone. Methadone is a drug that targets similar areas in the brain as heroin and other opiate drugs to suppress withdrawal symptoms and relieve cravings. Methodone is still an addictive drug and can still be abused. Therefore, the treatment requires a person to go to a clinic or hospital to receive their dose rather than administering it themselves and risking misuse. Some people have to stay on methadone forever. however, others are able to successfully become drug-free.

Biomedical Treatment of Disorders - Key takeaways

  • Biomedical therapy refers to treatments that affect the brain's chemistry to reduce psychological symptoms.
  • The different types of biomedical therapy include lifestyle changes, drug therapies, neurostimulation therapies, and psychosurgery.
  • Psychopharmacologyis the study of the effect of drugs on the mind and behavior.
    • Antipsychotic drugs are known to have the most dramatic effects in treating people with severe psychological disorders such as schizophrenia.
    • Antianxiety drugs as a biomedical treatment have helped reduce the symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and obsessive-compulsive disorder by reducing a person's learned fears.
    • Although antidepressant drugs were originally developed to treat depression, they may also be used to treat anxiety, OCD, and PTSD.
  • While it is not quite as dramatic and no longer involves convulsions, electroconvulsive therapy (ECT), uses an electric shock to manipulate the brain.
  • Psychosurgery is the surgical treatment of mental illness involving the removal or destruction of brain tissue.

References

  1. Habel, U., Koch, K., Kellerman, T., Reske, M., Frommann, N., Wolwer, W., . . . Schneider, F. (2010). Training of affect recognition in schizophrenia: Neurobiological correlates. Social Neuroscience, 5, 92–104. (p. 751)
  2. Schwartz, J. M., Stoessel, P. W., Baxter, L. R., Jr, Martin, K. M., & Phelps, M. E. (1996). Systematic changes in cerebral glucose metabolic rate after successful behavior modification treatment of obsessive-compulsive disorder. Archives of general psychiatry, 53(2), 109–113.

Frequently Asked Questions about Biomedical Therapy

Biomedical therapy refers to treatments that affect the brain's chemistry to reduce psychological symptoms.

An example of biomedical therapy are antidepressant medications which can be used to reduce the symptoms of depression, anxiety, OCD, or PTSD.

Biomedical therapy is used for psychological disorders that may need more support or do not respond to psychotherapeutic methods.

Psychotherapy focuses on changing a person's thinking, emotions, or behavior in order to reduce psychological symptoms while biomedical therapy focuses on changing the brain's chemistry to reduce symptoms. Biomedical therapy and psychotherapy should not be at odds with one another. Many times, a person's best treatment path is a combination of both.

Phobias can be treated with biomedical therapy through drugs such as benzodiazepines (antianxiety medication) and SSRIs (antidepressant medication).

Final Biomedical Therapy Quiz

Question

What is the goal of biomedical therapy?

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Treating and reworking the brain itself through medication or physical procedures.

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How are psychotherapy and biomedical therapy different?

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Psychotherapy is a go-to method to help someone overcome personal issues or attain personal growth. Biomedical therapy, on the other hand, has the goal of treating and reworking the brain itself through medication or physical procedures.

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What is psychopharmacology?

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Medications and drugs that are used to treat mental disorders.

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What are the two types of antidepressants?

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SSRI and SNRI

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Antidepressants help promote what?

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Neurogenesis

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What do anti-anxiety medication do?

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Reduce activity in the central nervous system

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What are the three main mood stabilizers?

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Lithium, anticonvulsants, antipsychotic medications

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Antipsychotic medications reduce levels of what?

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Dopamine

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Long-term antipsychotic medications can cause what condition, which shows as tremors and tics?

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Tardive Dyskinesia

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What is ECT?

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Electroconvulsive therapy

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What is rTMS?

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Repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation

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What does ECT do?

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Reduce activity in the brain and help promote neurogenesis

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What does rTMS do?

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Stimulate nerve cells that help with mood control and depression

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What is DBS?

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Deep brain stimulation

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What do the electrodes do in DBS?

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The electrodes create electrical impulses that can control abnormal brain activity, automatically adjusting for chemical imbalances in the brain. The stimulation is controlled by a little generator that is surgically placed under the skin in the upper chest. 

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What is psychosurgery?

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Surgically having part of their brain tissue removed to either alleviate symptoms or change behavior

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What is a lobotomy?

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Cutting the nerves between the frontal lobe and emotion-controlling parts of the inner brain

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What is the definition of biomedical procedures?

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Biomedical procedures are treatments for mental disorders involving physical surgeries or medication.

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What does electroconvulsive therapy do?

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Electroconvulsive therapy promotes neurogenesis and simulates medication effects.

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What does Repetitive Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation do?

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Repetitive Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation sends magnetic pulses through the brain to stimulate nerve cells for mood control and depression treatment.

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What is Deep Brain Stimulation?

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Deep Brain Stimulation involves electrodes implanted into the brain for automatically adjusting chemical balances.

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What is psychosurgery?

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Psychosurgery is rarely used but is used to remove brain tissue or tumors.

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What do antidepressants do?

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Antidepressants, commonly SSRIs or SNRIs, increase the amount of serotonin and norepinephrine in the brain.

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What do anti-anxiety drugs do?

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Anti-anxiety drugs reduce activity in the central nervous system.

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What do mood stabilizers do?

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Mood stabilizers can either be anti-manic or anti-depressive.

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What do antipsychotic drugs do?

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Antipsychotic drugs gradually reduce hyperactivity, mental confusion, and hallucinations.

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True or False: Biomedical waste can be disposed of just like normal trash.

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False. Biomedical waste needs to be disposed of properly because it can be hazardous.

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True or False: Client testimonials can be unreliable.

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True.

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What is Regression Towards the Mean?

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Regression towards the mean is the natural improvement and regulation of extreme distress, which may make treatments seem more effective than they actually are.

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What is the Justification of Effort Effect?

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The justification of effort effect is the subconscious belief that, if you are working towards a goal, you will get better results. 

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What is the Placebo effect?

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The placebo effect is when patients feel better because they expect to feel better.

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What are some examples of biomedical therapies?

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Lifestyle changes 

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What are some benefits of getting enough rest?

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Increased energy 

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James has been suffering from depression since he was a child and finally sought help by participating in a clinical trial studying depression. James was part of the experimental group and was given a sugar pill without his knowledge. After a week of taking the medication, James noticed an improvement in his mood and self esteem. What is the best explanation for Jame's improved mood?

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The placebo effect 

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Based on clinical trail results involving the drug Chlorpromazine, what is the most likely cause of schizophrenic symptoms?

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Schizophrenia may be linked to an overactive dopamine system

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What term refers to involuntary facial, tongue, and limb movement as the side effect of long-term antipsychotic drug use? 

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Tardive dyskinesia 

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Which of the following are anti-anxiety drugs?

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Xanax 

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How do SSRI's work to treat symptoms of depression?

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SSRI's block the breakdown and reabsorption of serotonin and norepinephrine which increases their levels in the brain

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What two drugs are used to treat episodes of Bipolar Disorder?

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Zanax

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Jordan has been suffering from depression since he was a child and has been in and out of therapy for years. Jordan has also tried many different medications for depression with little to no change in symptom severity. What form of treatment can now be considered for Jordan's case?

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Electroconvulsive therapy (ECT)

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What are some side effects of SSRI's?

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Weight gain

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What are some known severe side effects of lobotomy 

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Seizures

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What is the surgical process of cutting out a small bundle of nerve fibers that connects the frontal lobe and the limbic system called?

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Cingulotomy 

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Choose the most accurate explanation of a double blind procedure. 

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A double blind procedure is a research method where both the researcher and the participants are unaware of which group of participants are receiving the true drug or the placebo

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True or False: Biomedical procedures are treatments for mental disorders involving physical surgeries or medication.

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True 

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Fill in the blank: Neurogenesis is the promotion of __________. 

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neurons 

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Lexapro, Zoloft, and Prozac are examples of what type of drug? 

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Antidepressants 

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Fill in the blank: For disorders like schizophrenia, a good way to treat symptoms is to decrease the levels of _________ in the brain. 

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dopamine 

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True or False: Antipsychotic drugs lower dopamine but can cause tardive dyskinesia, which is tremors and twitches. 

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True 

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True or False: Mood stabilizers help keep mood swings more level, as well as reduce severe symptoms of mania or depression. 

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True 

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