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How can Neurofeedback help PTSD?

Updated: Mar 20, 2023


Picture of a woman sitting and looking very stressed.

Trauma affects not just your mind; the brain also changes its biology. After a traumatic event, your brain becomes "hypervigilant" to protect you, but being constantly aware of your surroundings can be bad for you.


Any sign of danger can make some parts of your brain react quickly to stress. You risk getting stuck in intense emotional sensitivity and may find it harder to remember things and control your impulses. It's encouraging to know that these alterations in brain function are reversible.


Your brain can change and grow as a result of your experiences. Neuroplasticity refers to the brain's capacity to heal itself after experiencing trauma. Injured brain cells, known as neurons, can recover through neuroplasticity, allowing them to adapt to new situations.


How does trauma affect the brain?


If you've ever experienced a traumatic event, you know that it can stimulate your amygdala and strip you of your core sense of security. The amygdala is part of the limbic system, a deeper and more primitive part of the brain that mostly processes and reacts to signals of danger and safety. Here, memories are kept in the form of a lived experience, complete with emotional and bodily experiences that may or may not form a logical narrative.


However, while talk therapy can reach the part of the brain responsible for planning, learning, and organizing, it has less impact on the limbic system. Talk therapy may appeal to our rationality and language skills. Still, it doesn't reach the parts of the brain where traumatic memories are formed and stored.


Trauma and the body


The amygdala sends a signal to the hypothalamus during a traumatic experience, and the hypothalamus then produces stress hormones like cortisol to regulate the body's response to the traumatic event. The autonomic nervous system controls the body's automatic functions and goes into "fight or flight" mode when a person is stressed. Because of this, your heart rate increases, your breathing becomes shallower, you start to sweat, and your mind becomes clouded.


This is one manner in which trauma might alter biological processes. Even after the amygdala has processed the traumatic event and the stimulus that set it off has been taken away, our bodies can get stuck in this fight-or-flight state, with high cortisol levels and symptoms of hyperarousal.



Does Neurofeedback therapy help with PTSD?


Trauma-specific neurofeedback aims to assist people in transitioning from a highly aroused state to a more relaxed one, allowing them to feel safe and make better decisions in everyday situations.


Research shows that neurofeedback is an effective way to treat the symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Neurofeedback has been shown to improve fMRI and imaging-based measures of brain activity in people with PTSD.


Moreover, most of these studies have shown substantial improvement in symptom severity. Indeed, numerous studies have shown that neurofeedback's impact is larger than any medicine for PTSD.


Current research has a few things that could be improved, one of which is the tiny sample sizes of the studies conducted. Not surprisingly, this is because treating large groups of people with neurofeedback requires many resources in terms of time, space, trained personnel, and specialized equipment.



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