Can Neurofeedback Help With PTSD?

PTSD can be extremely debilitating, but research shows that neurofeedback may be able to help ease symptoms. Here's how.

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is an anxiety-based condition caused by exposure to a traumatic event. People can experience PTSD differently, but typically the condition involves re-living aspects of what happened, constantly feeling on edge, wanting to avoid triggering feelings and memories and feeling overwhelmed by difficult emotions such as guilt, anger, or shame. PTSD can be extremely debilitating, but research shows that neurofeedback may be able to help ease symptoms, desensitize intense and disturbing emotions, “teach” the brain how to relax, and strengthen brain regions that activate the parasympathetic nervous system, which promotes calm and relaxation.

Understanding Neurofeedback

Neurofeedback, also called EEG biofeedback or Neurotherapy, is an all-natural, non-invasive way to improve brain functionality. Although neurofeedback may sound complicated, the process is simple. Advanced technology monitors your brainwaves, records their activity, and uses audio and visual feedback to retrain and rebalance your brain. All you have to do is sit back, relax, and watch a movie or video or listen to music.

What Happens During Neurofeedback?

As you enjoy the video you’re watching or music you’re listening to, a computer measures your brain wave output via tiny sensors placed on your head at the beginning of the session. The sensors monitor brainwave levels. When your brainwaves are balanced, the computer “rewards” the positive brain activity with cheerful sounds. When your brainwaves get too high, the video you’re watching dims or the sound of the music decreases. Your brain recognizes both types of feedback and begins to crave the rewarding, positive feedback rather than the negative. As a result, your brain strives to stay in balance. The training and positive rewards “teach” your brain to function more optimally, which in turn, makes you less vulnerable to anxiety and depression.

In short, neurofeedback uses the brain’s natural ability to learn new things, change, and grow to help you heal. Other benefits of neurofeedback include:

  • Improved memory
  • Enhanced focus
  • Better mental clarity
  • More restful sleep
  • Improved mood
  • Decreased impulsivity

By decreasing anxiety, encouraging mental clarity, and helping the brain relax, neuroscientists have concluded that neurofeedback can, in fact, help heal some of the more debilitating aspects of post-traumatic stress disorder.

How Does Neurofeedback Help PTSD?

Neurofeedback helps relieve PTSD by supplying information to the brain that helps regulate the body’s autonomic stress response. When you feel scared and threatened or experience physical, emotional, or psychological pain, the body activates the sympathetic nervous system, which triggers a stress response known as the “flight or fight mode.” Experiencing multiple traumatic events “teaches” the brain to remain in a perpetual state of arousal or to shut down.

If you have PTSD, living in a continued state of arousal can trigger symptoms such as:

  • Agitation
  • Irritability
  • Hostility
  • Hypervigilance
  • Flashbacks
  • Severe anxiety
  • Mistrust
  • Insomnia
  • Obsessive, unwanted thoughts

In contrast, living with PTSD can shut down your parasympathetic response, leaving you to experience symptoms that include:

  • Loneliness
  • Depression
  • Emotional detachment
  • Loss of interest or pleasure in activities

Luckily, neurofeedback can help balance brainwaves and stop the brain’s reliance on the “fight or flight” mode. Here’s how.

Neurofeedback Helps The Brain Regulate Emotions

Dealing with overwhelming emotions can be one of the most debilitating aspects of PTSD. Often, people with PTSD battle vivid flashbacks, intrusive thoughts, chronic nightmares, and intense distress. Sometimes, the emotional overwhelm is so great that the emotional and psychological symptoms trigger physical sensations such as pain, sweating, nausea, and trembling. Neurofeedback combats this by teaching the brain to better regulate emotions.

As the sensors “listen” to your brainwaves, they provide both positive and negative feedback. The negative feedback (i.e. dim video or low music sound) “tells” the brain that your brainwaves have lost their balance. The brain responds by calming down.

Eventually, after about 3 or 4 weeks of sessions, the brain learns to stay balanced, helping you feel calmer and more in control. The effects are long-lasting because unlike some medication that provides temporary relief, neurofeedback actually changes the way your brain functions. So, instead of feeling completely overwhelmed by negative and distressing emotions, neurofeedback can help people with PTSD regain control of their emotions.

Neurofeedback Teaches The Brain To Relax

People with PTSD live in a constant state of anxiety and have a hard time relaxing. As a result of perpetually reliving their exposure to trauma, their brains are constantly aroused. Fortunately, neurofeedback can “teach” the brain to relax. Neurofeedback combats the repetitive negative thoughts associated with PTSD by helping overactive brain cells calm down and by reversing stress-induced hyperactive responses.

The information provided in neurofeedback can help practitioners identify and control hyperactivity. You can think of the feedback as a parent or teacher politely telling a young student running around to “sit down.” Every time the feedback is followed, the brain “learns” that calmness elicits a positive response. Subsequently, the brain relaxes.

Scientists have also discovered that neurofeedback can enhance the connectivity between the ventrolateral prefrontal cortex (vlPFC) and the amygdala. The vlPFC helps you respond to situations appropriately. The amygdala processes emotions and can trigger fight or flight mode. Anxiety weakens the connection between these two areas of the brain, making you hypervigilant, paranoid, and overactive. As neurofeedback training restores their connection, the ventrolateral prefrontal cortex partners with the amygdala, helping you respond rationally to your situation.

Neurofeedback Can Help Improve Sleeping Patterns

People with PTSD often struggle with insomnia. Between the invasive flashbacks, distressing memories, and terrifying nightmares, many people with PTSD avoid sleep or have a habit of not sleeping well. But neurofeedback calms brainwave activity and relaxes the mind. This allows people with PTSD to fall asleep faster and improve the quality of their sleep.

Sleeping well can also help relieve other PTSD symptoms such as:

  • Irritability
  • Anger
  • Hostility
  • Anxiety
  • Depression

Other Ways Neurofeedback Helps PTSD

Neurofeedback can also help people with PTSD:

  • Improve their mood
  • Overcome guilt and shame
  • Rebuild their self-esteem
  • Combat nightmares and flashbacks
  • Learn to desensitize intense, disturbing emotions
  • Strengthen brain regions that promote cognitive health

Let Us Help You Take Charge of Your Mental Health

Here at StoneRidge Centers, we combine expert brain science with compassionate clinical support. We know that living with PTSD can be overwhelming, frustrating, and tiresome. But we also know that neurofeedback can help change the way your brain functions. There’s hope. We can help you take charge of your mental health. Contact us today if you’re interested in learning more.

Innovative, Evidence-Based Therapies

Because mental health and addiction concerns are so often interconnected, we utilize research-based approaches with evidence-based outcomes that promote overall healing and recovery.

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Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS)
This low-impact magnetic stimulation activates neurons inside the brain, relieving symptoms associated with depression and anxiety.

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qEEG/Brain Mapping
Using brain scanning and readings, we create a map of our patients' brains, helping us develop more targeted and effective treatments.

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Neurofeedback
This process assists patients in visualizing their own brain functionality through continuous EEG readings.

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Spravato Therapy
We use carefully monitored doses of Spravato to help patients struggling with complex mental health disorders, including severe depression.

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Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
Patients use this practice to help reframe intrusive or negative thought patterns and develop coping techniques for long-term recovery.

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Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT)
This practice helps patients learn to regulate emotions, communicate more effectively, and process their own thoughts and feelings..

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Eye Movement Desensitization (EMDR)
Licensed and trained therapists guide patients through this technique for managing stress and anxiety on an ongoing basis.

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Patients experience one-on-one therapy sessions with a licensed therapist to provide a safe and private place to recover and heal.

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Patients can practice the skills and techniques they have learned in treatment with others in a safe, therapist-guided space. .
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