Of veterans returning from war in Iraq and Afghanistan, 20% report symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. PTSD symptoms can include emotional detachment, intrusive thoughts, hypervigilance, flashbacks, insomnia, severe anxiety, and depressive symptoms. Many veterans also experience co-occurring mental health concerns such as depression, attention deficits, and substance abuse. Slightly more than half of the veterans with PTSD are receiving treatment, but even among those who are seeking help, only about half receive treatment that researchers consider “minimally adequate” (PTSD; RAND,
2008). The traditional treatments have been pharmacotherapy and/or talk therapy, particularly prolonged exposure. While these therapies work for some veterans, others may experience medication side effects or emotional reactions when recalling their trauma. Emotional reactions often stem from the increased activation of the brain’s limbic system when recalling the traumatic event. Neurofeedback does not require veterans to retell their trauma, which often makes it a more appealing treatment modality. It helps veterans decondition their brain’s emotional responses to triggers by decreasing the activation of the limbic system. This allows the individual to process incoming stimuli using their frontal lobes rather than the fight/flight response of the limbic system. A recent study found that 78% of military veterans experiencing severe to moderate levels of distress related to PTSD symptoms improved their general feelings of well-being with neurofeedback. In addition, 80% of them achieved clinically relevant improvements to their auditory and visual attention. The veteran’s scores on the General Well-Being Scale (GWBS) and Integrated Visual and Auditory Continuous Performance Test Version 2(IVA-2) were measured after 20 and 40 half-hour sessions. At the 20 and 40 session markers, improvements were seen on all measures for most of the sampled veterans. The results of the study concluded that neurofeedback improved both auditory and visual attention, as well as a general sense of well-being. Another study found that in a group of 28 individuals with Chronic PTSD, 73% no longer met diagnostic criteria compared to the control group after participating in neurofeedback. More specifically, training two times a week for 12 weeks, significantly improved their affect regulation capacities. These studies support the notion that neurofeedback could be effective in improving PTSD symptomology. As a less invasive therapy, it may be a gentler approach for those who are not ready to reexperience their trauma or who are seeking an alternative path.
Rand (2008, April 17). One in Five Iraq and Afganistan Veterans Suffer from PTSD or Major Depression.
Retrieved from http://www.rand.org/news/press/2008/04/17.html
McReynolds et. al (2017) Neurofeedback: A Noninvasive Treatment for Symptoms of Posttraumatic
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van der Kolk BA, Hodgdon H, Gapen M, Musicaro R, Suvak MK, Hamlin E, et al. (2016) A Randomized
Controlled Study of Neurofeedback for Chronic PTSD. PLoS ONE 11(12): e0166752.
By Madison DeLeon BS, BCN, QEEG-T and Dr. Caroline Spearman, Psy. D.