Enhancing Cognitive Restructuring with Concurrent Repetitive Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation: A Transdiagnostic Randomized Controlled Trial

SOURCE: Psychotherapy & Psychosomatics. 91(2):94-106, 2022.

AUTHORS: Neacsiu AD; Beynel L; Powers JP; Szabo ST; Appelbaum LG; Lisanby SH; LaBar KS

INTRODUCTION: Emotional dysregulation constitutes a serious public health problem in need of novel transdiagnostic treatments.

OBJECTIVE: To this aim, we developed and tested a one-time intervention that integrates behavioral skills training with concurrent repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation (rTMS).

METHODS: Forty-six adults who met criteria for at least one DSM-5 disorder and self-reported low use of cognitive restructuring (CR) were enrolled in a randomized, double-blind, sham-controlled trial that used a between-subjects design. Participants were taught CR and underwent active rTMS applied at 10 Hz over the right (n = 17) or left (n = 14) dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (dlPFC) or sham rTMS (n = 15) while practicing reframing and emotional distancing in response to autobiographical stressors.

RESULTS: Those who received active left or active right as opposed to sham rTMS exhibited enhanced regulation (ds = 0.21-0.62) as measured by psychophysiological indices during the intervention (higher high-frequency heart rate variability, lower regulation duration). Those who received active rTMS over the left dlPFC also self-reported reduced distress throughout the intervention (d = 0.30), higher likelihood to use CR, and lower daily distress during the week following the intervention. The procedures were acceptable and feasible with few side effects.

CONCLUSIONS: These findings show that engaging frontal circuits simultaneously with cognitive skills training and rTMS may be clinically feasible, well-tolerated and may show promise for the treatment of transdiagnostic emotional dysregulation. Larger follow-up studies are needed to confirm the efficacy of this novel therapeutic approach.