Is neurofeedback effective in the treatment of trauma?

Neurofeedback is a powerful somatic therapy that facilitates resolution of developmental trauma and PTSD responses. While it has been around for a number of decades, we are only now coming to appreciate how it can be used in conjunction with traditional talk therapy to help people learn to feel safe in their bodies.

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder can be very hard to treat as people cannot think our way out of trauma responses when they happen. One of the biggest challenges for people struggling with trauma disorders is that they feel trapped in their own physical and emotional states. Despite best efforts to use cognitive or relaxation strategies to feel different, the body can still feel stuck in survival mode, hypervigilant to potential dangers, whether real or perceived.

The brilliance of somatic therapies like neurofeedback is the ability to directly intervene in these automatic survival responses by developing new neural pathways that teach the body what it is like to feel safe and calm. By working with the body from the “bottom-up”, we can then shape alternative beliefs and behaviors that promote resilience and the ability to respond effectively to the present moment rather than get stuck in the past.

How Does Neurofeedback Work?

Neurofeedback is a form of biofeedback that trains the electrical activity of the brain. There are many different types of brain training and the most effective method for the treatment of trauma is called

, developed by Sue and Siegfried Othmer, which trains the slowest frequencies of the brain (less than .5Hz). These basic cortical rhythms of the brain underlie higher brain functions by organizing and shaping neural networks more efficiently. This means that brain waves at lower frequencies can impact higher resting state networks that we know are instrumental in regulating our mental health and well being. We can use the analogy of how the waves at the bottom of the ocean affect the waves at the top. A more steady, slow rhythm at the bottom will help the waves at higher levels be more regulated and come back to a resting state more easily.

The Default Mode Network and Mental Health

One of the key findings in neuroscience and mental health is a resting state network called the Default Mode Network (DMN). This is the activity of the brain when we are at rest and not actively engaged in a focused activity. The DMN is active when we are awake and is important for survival. The downside is that an overactive DMN can lead to mind wandering and the busy “monkey mind” that we experience with anxiety and stress. Meditation has been found to quiet the DMN and lead to greater ease and well being. However, many people who suffer from trauma do not feel safe enough to practice meditation and get to the experience of a quiet mind and calm body. This is where neurofeedback therapy can help.

Neurofeedback Teaches the Body and Mind to Feel Calm and Regulated

It is not unusual for trauma survivors to come to neurofeedback after years of talk therapy and still feel stuck in these automatic trauma responses. ILF neurofeedback teaches the body and mind to feel calm and focused without the usual side effects of medication. This opens up so many possibilities for people who have suffered from PTSD and anxiety for many years. Talk therapy can then shift from basic survival, to learning to thrive and build resilience from the trauma experience. Many people could benefit from doing somatic therapies like neurofeedback early in their trauma treatment so they can experience greater well being and a return to a full and satisfying life faster than they would with talk therapy alone.

To learn more about neurofeedback and how it might help you, please check out our webpage on the neurofeedback services we offer in downtown Toronto.

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