Lastest Research in Neurofeedback and PTSD
Dr Shelley Hyman
Post-traumatic stress disorder is a type of anxiety disorder that is characterised by experiencing various reactions of stress following exposure to a traumatic event, like a death or serious injury.
Patients with PTSD often experience symptoms like hyperarousal, emotional numbing (difficulties experiencing positive emotions), vivid memory of those traumatic events and cognitive and behavioural avoidance.
These symptoms are thought to arise from an altered neuronal structure of the amygdala – the part of the brain where humans experience emotions. The amygdala is connected to various parts of the brain to co-ordinate the normal regulation of emotion within humans.
In a recent study by Nicholson and colleagues (2016), they found that 30 minutes of neurofeedback training was able to shift the way in which the amygdala was connected – from areas responsible for processing and remembering defensive, emotional and fear stimuli, to prefrontal emotion regulation areas.
This shift in “amygdala connectivity” was positively linked to reduced hyperarousal amongst PTSD patients and increased resting alpha synchronisation, and negatively linked with PTSD symptom severity.
This shift in amygdala connectivity, and thereby emotion regulation, provides strong implications for the use of neurofeedback in the treatment of patients with PTSD.
On the same line, a large-scale field conducted by Keynan and Hedler (2017) wished to explore the effects of providing neurofeedback training right before or immediately after exposure to a traumatic event in healthy Israeli soldiers. Compared to soldiers who did not receive neurofeedback training, those who received NF showed improved emotion regulation and lower stress vulnerability.
Additionally, these individuals also showed lower amygdala reactivity when shown materials signalling threat, and stronger functional connectivity between the amygdala and the prefrontal cortex of the brain.
The findings from these papers will provide promising insight into the use of neurofeedback as a non-invasive treatment for reducing symptom severity in PTSD patients, by regulating the way in which these individuals regulate emotion using neurofeedback techniques.
- Keynan, J., & Hendler, T. (2017). 385. Amygdala-Neurofeedback Reduces Traumatic Stress Vulnerability. Biological Psychiatry, 81(10), S157-S158. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.biopsych.2017.02.402
- Nicholson, A., Ros, T., Frewen, P., Densmore, M., Théberge, J., & Kluetsch, R. et al. (2016). Alpha oscillation neurofeedback modulates amygdala complex connectivity and arousal in posttraumatic stress disorder. Neuroimage: Clinical, 12, 506-516. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.nicl.2016.07.006