Neurofeedback: A noninvasive treatment for symptoms of posttraumatic stress disorder in veterans
One in five veterans returning from Iraq or Afghanistan experience symptoms of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Traditional treatments for PTSD include pharmacotherapy with medications and talk therapy, but both are limited. Pharmacotherapy addresses the symptoms of PTSD but produces side effects and does not address the underlying cause of the symptoms. Talk therapy for PTSD often focuses on recalling and re-experiencing traumatic events in an effort to relieve the ongoing symptoms. This recall of traumatic events activates the brain’s limbic system, creating a strong emotional reaction. This reaction can be counter-therapeutic and potentially impair left frontal lobe functioning, impairing self and emotional regulation. Neurofeedback as a treatment for PTSD remedies many of these limitations. Neurofeedback avoids the recall and triggering of painful experiences; enhances focus, attentiveness, and awareness in the present moment; releases the painful traumas without re-experiencing them; and improves awareness of mental and emotional states by training the brain to reduce limbic activity, enhancing self-regulation abilities.
In this study, the included veterans had various diagnoses; the majority reported a primary diagnosis of PTSD, with other diagnoses including ADHD, major depression, generalized anxiety disorder, and a learning disability. Veterans received visual and auditory reinforcement in an individualized neurofeedback plan. All veterans significantly improved auditory and visual attention after 20 neurofeedback sessions, and auditory attention continued to improve with an additional 20 sessions. All veterans reported significant improvements in well-being after 40 neurofeedback sessions. This improvement in well-being is speculated to be related to improved communication and sociability associated with improved visual and auditory attention. Neurofeedback is supported as a positive intervention for improving attention and overall well-being in veterans.