From neuroscience to evidence based psychological treatments - The promise and the challenge, ECNP March 2016, Nice, France

G.M. Goodwin, E.A. Holmes, E. Andersson, M. Browning, A. Jones, J. Lass-Hennemann, K.N. Månsson, C. Moessnang, E. Salemink, A. Sanchez, L. van Zutphen, R.M. Visser

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


This ECNP meeting was designed to build bridges between different constituencies of mental illness treatment researchers from a range of backgrounds with a specific focus on enhancing the development of novel, evidence based, psychological treatments. In particular we wished to explore the potential for basic neuroscience to support the development of more effective psychological treatments, just as this approach is starting to illuminate the actions of drugs. To fulfil this aim, a selection of clinical psychologists, psychiatrists and neuroscientists were invited to sit at the same table. The starting point of the meeting was the proposition that we know certain psychological treatments work, but we have only an approximate understanding of why they work. The first task in developing a coherent mental health science would therefore be to uncover the mechanisms (at all levels of analysis) of effective psychological treatments. Delineating these mechanisms, a task that will require input from both the clinic and the laboratory, will provide a key foundation for the rational optimisation of psychological treatments. As reviewed in this paper, the speakers at the meeting reviewed recent advances in the understanding of clinical and cognitive psychology, neuroscience, experimental psychopathology, and treatment delivery technology focussed primarily on anxiety disorders and depression. We started by asking three rhetorical questions: What has psychology done for treatment? What has technology done for psychology? What has neuroscience done for psychology? We then addressed how research in five broad research areas could inform the future development of better treatments: Attention, Conditioning, Compulsions and addiction, Emotional Memory, and Reward and emotional bias. Research in all these areas (and more) can be harnessed to neuroscience since psychological therapies are a learning process with a biological basis in the brain. Because current treatment approaches are not fully satisfactory, there is an imperative to understand why not. And when psychological therapies do work we need to understand why this is the case, and how we can improve them. We may be able to improve accessibility to treatment without understanding mechanisms. But for treatment innovation and improvement, mechanistic insights may actually help. Applying neuroscience in this way will become an additional mission for ECNP.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)317-333
JournalEuropean Neuropsychopharmacology
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2018
Externally publishedYes


  • Neuroscience
  • Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT)
  • Anxiety
  • Fear conditioning
  • Research Domain Criteria (RDoC)


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