Inter-brain plasticity as a biological mechanism of change in psychotherapy: A review and integrative model

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Recent models of psychopathology and psychotherapy highlight the importance of interpersonal factors. The current review offers a biological perspective on these interpersonal processes by examining inter-brain synchrony—the coupling of brain activity between people interacting with one another. High inter-brain synchrony is associated with better relationships in therapy and in daily life, while deficits in the ability to achieve inter-brain synchrony are associated with a variety of psychological and developmental disorders. The review suggests that therapy improves patients’ ability to achieve such synchrony through inter-brain plasticity—a process by which recurring exposure to high inter-brain synchrony leads to lasting change in a person’s overall ability to synchronize. Therapeutic sessions provide repeated situations with high inter-brain synchrony. This can lead to a long-term increase in the ability to synchronize, first with the therapist, then generalized to other interpersonal relationships, ultimately leading to symptom reduction. The proposed inter-brain plasticity model offers a novel biological framework for understanding relational change in psychotherapy and its links to various forms of psychopathology and provides testable hypotheses for future research. Understanding this mechanism may help improve existing psychotherapy methods and develop new ones.

Original languageEnglish
Article number955238
JournalFrontiers in Human Neuroscience
StatePublished - 26 Aug 2022

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
Copyright © 2022 Sened, Zilcha-Mano and Shamay-Tsoory.


  • brain-to-brain coupling
  • neuropsychology
  • psychotherapy
  • synchrony
  • therapeutic alliance

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuropsychology and Physiological Psychology
  • Neurology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health
  • Biological Psychiatry
  • Behavioral Neuroscience


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