The impact of therapists' words on the adolescent brain: In the context of addiction treatment

Sarah W. Feldstein Ewing, Jon M. Houck, Uma Yezhuvath, Ehsan Shokri-Kojori, Dustin Truitt, Francesca M. Filbey

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

11 Scopus citations


At this time, we still do not know how therapist behaviors influence adolescent brain response and related treatment outcomes. Therefore, we examined this question with 17 binge drinking youth (mean age = 16.62 years; 64.3% female; 42.9% Hispanic; 28.6% bi-/multi-racial). In this within-subjects design, all youth completed a baseline assessment, two therapy sessions, an fMRI scan, and were re-evaluated for behavior change at one-month post-treatment. During the fMRI session, youth were presented with two types of responses from their treating therapist: higher-skill statements prescribed in an empirically-supported addiction treatment (complex reflections) vs. language standard within addiction treatment more broadly (closed questions). In terms of behavior change, at the one-month follow-up, youth showed significant reductions in number of drinking days and binge drinking days. Further, we found main effects for complex reflections and closed questions across the superior middle temporal gyrus and middle temporal gyrus (FWE-corrected, p< .05). Greater brain response was observed for complex reflections versus closed questions within the bilateral anterior cingulate gyrus. Greater BOLD response in the parietal lobe during closed questions was significantly associated with less post-treatment drinking. Lower BOLD response during complex reflections and closed questions in the precuneus were associated with greater post-treatment ratings of importance of changing. This study represents a first step in understanding how therapist behaviors influence the developing adolescent brain and how that neural response may be associated with youth treatment outcomes.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)359-369
Number of pages11
JournalBehavioural Brain Research
StatePublished - Jan 15 2016


  • Adolescent
  • Alcohol
  • FMRI
  • Motivational interviewing
  • Therapist

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Behavioral Neuroscience


Dive into the research topics of 'The impact of therapists' words on the adolescent brain: In the context of addiction treatment'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this