Trauma – Post Traumatic Stress Disorder

Life can be difficult if you have a broken arm or a sprained ankle. You may not be able to do some of the things you want to do. But at least when people see you, they know you have a problem. They understand.

For those suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) or Complex Trauma, their life challenges aren’t immediately apparent. If you stumble when you’re wearing a cast, those around you will understand and likely offer to help, but if you react negatively to a situation, lash out because you have PTSD, chances are NO ONE around you will understand.

At BiofeedbackWORKS in Virginia we understand and can help. Our team of licensed professional counselors, combined with the newest technology, allows us to assess and employ treatment methods targeted at traumas that have led to emotional deregulation. We use a multiple modality model: neurofeedback, peripheral/general biofeedback and counseling.

  • Neurofeedback training (S-Loretta, Region of Interest (ROI), multichannel, HEG, and LENS) is effective in regulating the brain, allowing an individual to experience stimuli or triggers, but not react with uncontrolled, exaggerated reactions. For example, one of the markers for trauma is the elevated activity of beta brainwaves (bands 20-35 Hz). By training our clients’ beta brain waves to change/shift when desired, we are able to see a reduction in symptoms. Neurofeedback can improve flexibility and balance in the brain permitting the individual to shift from negative to more positive thoughts, thus producing a feeling of well-being. When balance and healing is achieved the memories of past trauma incidents are recognized and appropriately assimilated as being in the past. Although memories still remain they feel less intense and no longer disrupt daily life.
  • General/Peripheral Biofeedback consists of more traditional modalities; these include heart rate variability, hand warming, muscle relaxation, and skin conductance. The goal is to teach individuals how to activate their parasympathetic system and deactivate their sympathetic nervous system; calming their overall bodily responses to stressors. By controlling the stress response the individual is able to think more clearly and panic symptoms are reduced.
  • Counseling gives clients a place to process their thoughts and actions, guided by someone well-versed in the highly individualized symptoms of PTSD and Complex Trauma. Cognitive restructuring balances the brain’s ability to prioritize and solve problems effectively. We have found that while doing neurofeedback and biofeedback our clients gain a newfound ability to address issues that were keeping them “stuck” in the past.

These three approaches, which work on the brain, the mind and the body together, are what make our approach so unique and effective.

Because we recognize everyone is not alike, we use a Quantitative Electroencephalograph (qEEG or quantitative brain map) to assess each individual’s brain wave activity. Then we combine a variety of technologies (e.g. HEG biofeedback for thermal targeting of the prefrontal cortex, EEG neurofeedback focusing on electrical imbalances) to train the brain and body to function in better concert with each other.

The symptoms of PTSD typically include recurrent, involuntary and intrusive distressing memories of the traumatic event or events, flashbacks as well as avoidance of the stimuli associated with the traumatic event or events. Distorted cognitions about the cause and consequences of the traumatic event and negative alterations of the mood are often present. In addition, feelings of depersonalization, lack of control and extreme emotional reactivity such as crying, panic, anger, anxiety, paralysis, depression, and hyper-vigilance may also occur.

PTSD can be caused by a single event or by repeated traumas which include exposure to actual imminent death or witnessing death as well as other serious injuries. Complex trauma (a series or long period of negative experiences) can evolve into PTSD after repeated exposure to danger or loss, combined with an inability to resolve or control the situation. (Courtois, C., 2009). Daily events such as a smell, sound or a situation can trigger a flood of feelings and behaviors. The intensity of the thoughts and subsequent symptoms vary according to individual pain thresholds, fear management, coping mechanisms and resilience. Once triggered, feelings such as panic, dizziness and obsessive and irrational thoughts may be as intense as if the individual were actually experiencing a life-threatening event. As a result, the reaction to the current stimuli (situation) may be at an exaggerated or inappropriate level.

Understanding brain function is critical in the trauma cycle. This effect of trauma is due to the overstimulation of the sympathetic nervous system triggering the fight-or-flight response. During a threat, the sympathetic nervous system releases adrenalin and cortisol into the blood stream – later sensed by the brain – stimulating a reaction such as a heightened state of awareness that normally would protect us from danger. However, when the brain experiences this as part of a trauma response, the autonomic nervous system and neural pathways, ordinarily there to establish feelings of safety, security, and calm, become dysregulated. The brain cannot always assess the difference between what is “safe” and what is a “threat.” This confusion is mainly due to a miscommunication between brain structures that deal with memory and emotions, creating the feeling that the event(s) are reoccurring in real time. In addition, a destabilization of the hypothalamus and the amygdala (pituitary–adrenal axis) is also involved in this process. Both neurofeedback and general biofeedback training impact the brain and enhance self-regulation.

American Psychiatric Association. (2000). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (4th ed., text rev.). Washington, DC: Author Courtois, C. A., and Ford J.D . (2009). Treating Complex Traumatic Stress Disorders(Adults): Scientific Foundations and Therapeutic Models. New York: Guilford Pres