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Natural Awakenings Boston

Neurofeedback for Treatment of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

Apr 30, 2020 01:43PM ● By Dilshan Kevin de Silva

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a devastating emotional disorder that can have a significant impact on an individual’s mental and physical health, productivity and overall quality of life. Epidemiological data indicate that the estimated lifetime prevalence rate among adult individuals in the United States is nearly 7 percent of the whole national population and that, among war veterans this number can increase to 10 to 14 percent.

Research also shows that at least 20 percent of staff working in American intensive care units present PTSD symptoms, and this figure is certainly due to significantly increase during and in the years after the COVID-19 pandemic.

A clinical diagnosis of PTSD is made by a psychiatrist when specific symptoms are displayed for more than six months after the exposure to a stressful event. These symptoms may include nightmares, flashbacks, poor sleep, intruding thoughts, reduced ability to focus or sleep, emotional and/or sensory numbness and altered sense of reality, among others. Also, in individuals with other health conditions, PTSD can lead to poorer clinical outcomes, when compared to individuals with the same condition without PTSD.

While the combination of pharmacotherapy and psychotherapy is still considered by most psychiatrists the most effective clinical intervention, the growing number of persons with PTSD and the level of psychological suffering of those that experience treatment-resistant symptoms has led, over the last few decades, to innovative treatment methods. One of these methods is neurofeedback training, a completely non-invasive therapeutic strategy that naturally induces specific functional changes in the brain, with effects on the underlying physiology and behavior.

 Neurofeedback holds promise in alleviating overall PTSD symptoms, and although prematurely heralded as ineffective in some of the early studies, recent research employing more advanced technology and treatment protocols has shed light into the possibility of using neurofeedback either as a standalone treatment for PTSD or in combination with other therapeutic interventions. In the randomized, controlled trial with the largest sample size carried out at the Boston University Medical School, van der Kolk and colleagues (2016) showed that neurofeedback sessions lasting 12 to 30 minutes each, occurring twice per week for 12 weeks, resulted in a clinically significant, post-intervention improvement in PTSD symptom scores.

While some neurofeedback protocols require expensive equipment and highly trained clinical staff, recently developed technology based on electroencephalography (EEG) allows any mental health professional to offer neurofeedback services to clients, using relatively inexpensive equipment. Hands-on EEG neurofeedback software can be installed on a regular desktop or laptop computer and, with the right training (many affordable online certification courses are available), any therapist can use neurofeedback technology to run both before-treatment EEG-based assessments and also therapeutic interventions, creating detailed reports that integrate the therapist’s clinical evaluation with electrophysiological data.

With more and more neurofeedback studies consistently demonstrating results in rigorous experimental designs, therapists must give strong consideration to using neurofeedback technology as both a diagnostic and intervention tool to alleviate the psychological suffering of individuals with PTSD.

For more information about neurofeedback training, visit SymmetryNeuroPT.com  and schedule a free 30-minute initial phone consultation with founder Dianne Kosto via this link MeetMe.so/DianneKosto. 

Dilshan Kevin de Silva is a medical writer. Connect with him at LinkedIn.com/in/DilshanKDeSilva