When you witness or experience something threatening, your amygdala fires off signals to several areas of the brain, including the prefrontal cortex, indicating that you should be frightened. The prefrontal cortex responds by integrating information from other areas of the brain, like context cues or prior memories, and signals the amygdala to, essentially, calm down. This is the healthy response to a stressful event. In a period of trauma or prolonged or intense stress, however, this circuitry instinctively rewires itself to be able to cope with intense or unbearable circumstances around us.
When the brain circuits that are designed to manage stress become disrupted, it inevitably leads to maladaptive behaviours. That’s where you start to see increasing anxiety-like behaviours even in the absence of something that could be anxiety-provoking.
What can we do when we still feel a pervasive need to remain on guard, even when the trauma or stress has passed? How can we tell our emotions, thoughts and physical body that everything is OK now? Sometimes we can’t do this consciously. The inability to switch off the hypervigilant protective part of your brain is called PTSD, or c-PTSD in complex cases involving prolonged repeated trauma. c-/PTSD occurs particularly when the traumatic events are considered to be outside the range of usual human experience. It can affect people of any age and demographic.
Alhough the condition has devastating psychological effects, c-/PTSD is not solely a psychological disorder but also a significant physiological disorder. Traditional talk therapies alone cannot resolve unprocessed trauma unless they integrate some form of physiological reprocessing/retraining. As Bessel Van Der Kolk says, "The Body Keeps the Score." And it is the body, specifically the brain, that neurofeedback targets by retraining those neural circuits involved in the stress response which have become dysregulated.
Vivid flashbacks, nightmares, anxiety, insomnia, delusions and depression are all characteristics of a classic PTSD experience. Strangely however, some PTSD sufferers can have little to no recollection of the event itself.
Yet everyday sounds or experiences can trigger them to go right back into the original trauma in an instant. PTSD would have to be one of the hardest conditions to live with.
Can Neurofeedback help with PTSD/Developmental Trauma?
Multiple studies have been completed looking at the effectiveness of neurofeedback for post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in adults. A recent controlled study showed that 24 sessions of neurofeedback signficantly reduced PTSD symptoms. One study has been completed with children. These studies all suggest that neurofeedback is a very promising approach to treatment. This is especially important because existing treatments can be quite difficult to tolerate
and have limited effectiveness for many individuals with PTSD.
Our clinical experience and that of other experts in trauma shows that Neurofeedback is often very helpful for those with PTSD. Ten weeks of neurofeedback has consistently resulted in significant improvement in children and adults with stress-related disorders.
Neuroscience research is increasingly showing the neural basis for PTSD. Multiple qEEG studies have been published showing excessive cortical activation with PTSD. However, every person with PTSD does not have the same brain profile. That’s why we measure brain function with every neurofeedback client using a quantitative EEG “brain map” so that you can see the reason for your difficulties. Once we see the source of the problem, we target that area for change through neurofeedback brain training. This allows you to get to the root of the problem and reshape your brain, not just mask your symptoms.
Neurofeedback was first used to help symptoms of PTSD in the 1980’s. This study published in 1991 compared two groups of Vietnam veteran PTSD sufferers – one received Neurofeedback brain training and the other didn’t. The Neurofeedback group showed significantly greater reduction in symptoms. 2.5 years after the training, PTSD symptoms had returned in only 20% of the Neurofeedback group, compared with 100% of the control group.
This 2009 paper describes two more case studies – a Canadian veteran of the Bosnia conflict and a Marine veteran of Iraq, and includes SPECT scans of the brains of one of the clients showing changes in the brain before and after brain training.
In this 2016 randomised controlled study involving 52 individuals with chronic PTSD looked at the efficacy of neurofeedback. Compared with the control, Neurofeedback was shown to produce significant PTSD symptom improvement, as well as in affect regulation capacities. Post-treatment a significantly smaller proportion of the Neurofeedback group met criteria for PTSD than the control condition.
Let us explore how we can help you get back to living a normal life.
Contact the Brain Training Centre to discuss your options.