Navigating the Aftermath of Trauma: EMDR and Neurofeedback for PTSD

Navigating the Aftermath of Trauma: EMDR and Neurofeedback for PTSD

The aftermath of a traumatic event can affect our lives leading to physical and mental health consequences. For some, trauma can lead to Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). PTSD is a complex mental health condition that affects nearly 9 million adults in the United States. According to NAMI, the National Alliance on Mental Illness, more than one-third of those diagnosed with PTSD are classified as having severe symptoms, affecting their thoughts, emotions, and daily experiences.

Navigating the path to healing from PTSD is possible. Two evidence-based treatment options have emerged for treating PTSD: Neurofeedback and EMDR therapy. Here, we’ll explore both, allowing you to make informed decisions to get back to well-being.

Causes and Symptoms of PTSD

PTSD takes root after exposure to a traumatic event, leaving the nervous system in a state of hypervigilance. It’s not a sign of weakness but a natural response gone awry.

Common causes of PTSD include:

  • Military combat: Witnessing or experiencing violence in war zones.
  • Physical or sexual assault: Experiencing violence or sexual abuse.
  • Accidents or disasters: Being involved in car crashes, natural disasters, or fires.
  • Severe medical situations: Witnessing or undergoing life-threatening medical procedures.

The symptoms of PTSD can vary greatly, but some common symptoms include:

  • Intrusive memories: Flashbacks, nightmares, or persistent thoughts about the trauma.
  • Avoidance: Avoiding places, people, or situations that remind you of the trauma.
  • Negative thoughts and beliefs: Feeling isolated, guilty, or ashamed; difficulty trusting others.
  • Hyperarousal: Feeling constantly on edge, easily startled, and jumpy.
  • Changes in mood and sleep: Difficulty concentrating, irritability, anger outbursts, sleep disturbances.
Breaking the Cycle: Exploring Treatment for PTSD

Breaking the Cycle: Exploring Treatment for PTSD

If you’re struggling with PTSD, know that you’re not alone. Two evidence-based therapies offer effective treatment for PTSD: Neurofeedback and EMDR therapy.

1. Neurofeedback: Retraining Your Brainwaves

Imagine your brain as an orchestra, where different sections communicate to create harmony. In PTSD, this communication can get disrupted, leading to symptoms like anxiety and emotional dysregulation. Neurofeedback acts like a conductor, using real-time brainwave monitoring to provide feedback and train your brain to return to a state of balanced regulation. Here’s how it works:

  • Sensors placed on your scalp monitor brainwave activity. (Nothing goes into your brain; the sensors are to read your EEG and feed it back to your brain like a mirror)
  • When your brain exhibits specific patterns associated with symptoms, audio or visual cues are provided to help guide your brain back to its natural state.
  • Over time, your brain learns to adjust its activity towards healthier patterns, reducing symptoms.

Benefits of Neurofeedback for PTSD:

  • Reduced anxiety and emotional reactivity: Neurofeedback can help regulate brain activity associated with anxiety and/or emotional reactivity, helping one achieve a calmer state.
  • Improved sleep quality: By optimizing brainwaves, Neurofeedback often promotes improvements in sleep, crucial for healing and mental clarity.
  • Enhanced emotional regulation: With improved regulation of brain activity, you may experience greater control/mindfulness over emotions and less reactivity to triggers allowing for you to respond vs react to situations.
  • Non-invasive and drug-free: Unlike medication, Neurofeedback offers a safe and non-invasive approach, appealing to many patients.
  • Requires NO detailed descriptions of events: With Neurofeedback training, we are training your brain, not your mind, therefore you do not need to talk about any of the events contributing to your symptoms.
  • Limited Time Commitment: Neurofeedback requires a finite number of feedback sessions to treat PTSD symptoms, within 20-30 sessions most clients have completed their feedback and never need to come back. These sessions can be done in a short period of time or spread out over a few months.
  • Brain Learning = Long Lasting/Permanent Improvements: With neurofeedback, your brain has learned something and once you have completed the training, you are done. There is typically no need for a return for more treatment for the same symptoms.
EMDR: Rewiring Emotional Responses

2. EMDR: Rewiring Emotional Responses

  • EMDR, short for Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing, offers a different approach. As a form of psychotherapy, EMDR works with the brain and mind to process events causing distressing symptoms, the emotional impact of events and negative beliefs associated with them.
  • You’ll work with a trained therapist to identify targets (events from your life) that are contributing to your symptoms, along with their associated beliefs, emotions, and sensations.
  • Together you and the therapist will decide on which events to ‘re-process’. The therapist will also then introduce some form of DAS (dual attention stimulation).  This can be in the form of eye movements, auditory tones, or tactile stimulation such as buzzing pads in each hand. These eye movements or other forms of DAS help your brain reprocess the event and restore the brain back to its natural state.
  • Processing the appropriate events to reduce symptoms and create cognitive restructuring (you see things differently, from your own healthier perspective) The events still occurred, but your brain has now processed them to the most adaptive resolution under the circumstances. When the therapy has been successful, these events no longer dominate your thoughts and take over your life.

 Benefits of EMDR for PTSD:

  • Reduced intensity of traumatic memories: EMDR can help reduce the emotional impact of memories, making them less intrusive and distressing.
  • Improved self-perception: As the negative impact of the memory fades, you may develop a more adaptive outlook about yourself and your abilities.
  • Enhanced coping mechanisms: EMDR can equip you with better tools to manage triggers and difficult emotions associated with the trauma.
  • Time-efficient: Compared to some traditional therapies, EMDR can often achieve effective results in fewer sessions.
  • Detailed descriptions of Events are not needed: when comparing EMDR to other forms of psychotherapy, EMDR does not require reliving events, exposure therapy or going over detailed descriptions of events.
  • No homework is requited: EMDR is a neuro-biological psychotherapy that borrows from the brain and mind’s natural ability to move towards well-being by reprocessing ‘stuck’ material, therefore, homework is not typically required between sessions.
Choosing Your Path: Weighing the Options for Treatment of PTSD

Choosing Your Path: Weighing the Options for Treatment of PTSD

Ultimately, the best approach to healing from PTSD is the one that resonates most with you and your individual needs. Both Neurofeedback and EMDR offer unique benefits, and sometimes, combining the two therapies can be particularly effective in treating PTSD.

Here are some factors to consider in your treatment of PTSD:

  • Your personal preferences: Do you prefer a method that focuses on changing brainwave patterns that can then change your symptoms and perspectives (a bottom up and more indirect approach); or a method that directly addresses disturbing experiences and works indirectly to impact brain patterns?
  • Severity of symptoms:  Many clients with severe symptoms of PTSD benefit from neurofeedback therapy before or in conjunction with EMDR therapy. Some clients no longer have symptoms and may not require EMDR therapy once they have completed neurofeedback therapy.
  • Availability of providers: Finding qualified practitioners experienced in each therapy is crucial. Ask about provider experience in the field and experience in working with your concerns.

It is important to understand that PTSD is not a defect but a signal from the brain that information has not processed fully. There are many therapies that take different approaches to treatment. In this article we have addressed two of the leading therapies for PTSD.

Ultimately, the kind of therapy you choose depends on your individual needs. Both Neurofeedback and EMDR offer powerful tools with distinct benefits. Exploring both options with a qualified professional can help you to make informed decisions. At Emerald Coast NeuroFeedback, we believe in providing comprehensive support for individuals struggling with PTSD. Contact us today to learn more about how Neurofeedback, EMDR, or other evidence-based therapies can help you on your path to healing.