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Scans may aid mental health project

Brain scans on people with personality disorders could shed new light on improving their lives, experts in Yorkshire say.
Researchers are using the scans to examine how the emotional reactions of people differ before and after taking part in programmes designed to help them deal with the disorders.

Mental health specialists from The Retreat in York want to identify if there are changes to people's brain function following therapy programmes which help them become less overwhelmed by their feelings.

In collaboration with staff at York University's NeuroImaging Centre, they are showing patients on The Retreat's Acorn programme, which gives people with complex mental health problems a range of psychological therapies, pictures of an emotionally positive, neutral or mildly distressing nature.

Brain scans before and after they take part in the programme are examined to find any differences.

Mark McFetridge, head of psychology at The Retreat, said: "We already know that people diagnosed with borderline personality disorder experience intense reactions to negative emotional stimuli but their response to positive emotional stimuli has yet to be studied.

"People in therapy have told us that they can feel equally overwhelmed and out of control with positive emotions such as love.

"It appears that certain parts of the brain are 'overactive' when cued by the world and people around them. 

"The Acorn therapy programme aims to help people to learn ways of 'soothing' these brain areas and not acting on this heightened emotion.

"Difficulty in regulating emotion is a central aspect of borderline personality disorder but previous research has not made clear precisely what these difficulties are, perhaps because it has only examined the experience of negative emotions."