Have you experienced trauma in your life, as a child or adult? Do you still struggle with reliving the event(s)? Do you find yourself experiencing high anxiety or anger, being on guard all the time, poor sleep, feeling distant or detached from others?
Trauma can affect anyone at any age, coming from one event (e.g., an accident or an assault) or multiple events of long duration (e.g., living in a warzone, chronic abuse and attending accident scenes). Peoples’ reactions to trauma can include a wide range of emotions, thoughts and experiences. These thoughts and emotions can be scary, especially if they develop into full PTSD, meaning that they are significantly and detrimentally impacting your life. Common symptoms of PTSD include struggling with frequent nightmares, intrusive images, having difficulties with strong emotions and physical reactions, feeling detached from others, poor sleep, agitation, or signs of your brain trying to cope with the traumatic event. It may feel like your reactions are out of control, but the truth is that they are not. Rather, PTSD is often your brain’s way of trying to regain control after a trauma. The stress reaction (aka fight, flight or freeze response) has been activated by the trauma you experienced, and your brain is finding that it cannot shut this response off. Luckily, there are many forms of treatment for PTSD that are extremely effective at helping you manage and reduce this stress response.
We have a solid foundation of research that shows that PTSD is brain-based. That is, changes occur to the fear and vigilance areas of the brain that lead it to be in a constant state of stress. Different forms of psychotherapy can be helpful at decreasing some of these reactions through desensitization strategies, including exposure, cognitive processing, and other forms of trauma-focused psychotherapy.
Neurofeedback is different from traditional forms of treatment in that it allows the practitioner to observe the exact brainwaves and locations of brainwaves that are dysregulated by the trauma reaction. With the aid of Neurofeedback, an individual is provided information so that they can retrain the specific areas of their brain that have become trapped in this stress and trauma response. What is unique about Neurofeedback is that it addresses the problem at its source, thus working to regulate the problematic brain activity that got stuck in a dysregulated pattern and is causing an individual’s painful experiences and symptoms.
Trauma rewires the brain trying to cope with and regain control following trauma. The brain becomes stuck in a state of stress, being on-guard, and vigilant. This response is automatic, meaning it is not something people voluntarily control, but rather the brain reacts in this state involuntarily and automatically. Sufferers with PTSD tend to show an overactivation of the autonomic nervous system and brain imaging has shown this overactivation in some key areas of the brain such as the amygdala (our fear and negative emotion part of the brain) and the right hemisphere in general. There also tends to be underactivation in some areas, such as the hippocampus (which is associated with memory). See the video on the right of this page to learn more about how PTSD affects brain functioning. Neurofeedback is one of very few treatments that targets PTSD at its root cause.
Clients who have completed Neurofeedback training often say that it was helpful because prior to the training, they were always taught and encouraged to “relax”, but no matter what they did they could not shut off their brain, to get to that calm, non-reactive state. With Neurofeedback, they could feel their brain and bodies finding that calm state. They could feel themselves become less reactive to situations and begin to enjoy more experiences in their life. Research has shown that Individuals who have completed Neurofeedback for PTSD often report a reduction in frequency of nightmares, flashbacks and less feelings of fear and panic (Othmer & Othmer, 2009). Individuals feel calmer, less reactive to situations and are better able to enjoy life experiences.
There has been some recent, groundbreaking research on PTSD and brain functioning, as well as the effects of Neurofeedback on improving brain functioning.
Plastic Modulation of PTSD Resting-state Networks and Subjective Wellbeing by EEG Neurofeedback.
Kleutsch, R.C., et al. (2013). Plastic Modulation of PTSD Resting-state Networks and Subjective Wellbeing by EEG Neurofeedback. Acta Psychiatrica Scandinavia, 1-14.
Recently a very exciting and innovative study from Western University has demonstrated that Neurofeedback training was associated with improvements in patients and correlations to changes in brain activity.
Post Traumatic Stress Disorder – The Neurofeedback Remedy.
Othmer, S., Othmer, S.F. (2009). Post Traumatic Stress Disorder – The Neurofeedback Remedy. Biofeedback, 37, 24-31.
Read the following description of the benefits of Neurofeedback for PTSD along with the presentation of two cases. This article is written by Siegfried and Susan Othmer, two pioneers in the field of Neurofeedback.
Neurofeedback: A noninvasive treatment for symptoms of posttraumatic stress disorder in veterans.
Mcreynolds, C., Bell, J., & Lincourt, T. (2017). Neurofeedback: A noninvasive treatment for symptoms of posttraumatic stress disorder in veterans. NeuroRegulation, 4(3-4), 114-124.
A Randomized Controlled Study of Neurofeedback for Chronic PTSD
Kolk, B. A., Hodgdon, H., Gapen, M., Musicaro, R., Suvak, M. K., Hamlin, E., & Spinazzola, J. (2016). A Randomized Controlled Study of Neurofeedback for Chronic PTSD. Plos One,11(12)