“Brain training” potential treatment strategy for post-traumatic stress


Neurofeedback may be an effective treatment for individuals with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), according to a new study published in the journal NeuroImage: Clinical.

Also called “brain training,” neurofeedback consists of exercises where individuals regulate their own brain activity. Neurofeedback uses a system called a neurofeedback loop in which a person's brain activity is measured through sensors placed on the scalp and displayed back to them using a computer interface. This allows the individual to complete exercises and visually see the results.

For the study, researchers tested neurofeedback with a total of 72 participants, including 36 participants with PTSD and 36 healthy control participants. Of those with PTSD, 18 were randomized to participate in neurofeedback treatment while the other 18 acted as a comparison group.

The trial found that the severity of PTSD symptoms decreased in participants randomized to receive neurofeedback treatment. After treatment, 61.1 percent of participants no longer met the definition for PTSD. This remission rate is comparable to gold standard therapies like trauma-focused psychotherapy.

The research team also used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) at St. Joseph's Health Care London to capture brain scans of participants both before and after participation in the trial. They found that individuals with PTSD experienced positive changes in brain connectivity in the salience network and the default mode network following neurofeedback treatment.

The study involved weekly sessions of neurofeedback over 20 weeks. Participants were asked to reduce the intensity of the brain's dominant brain wave, the alpha rhythm. Brain activity was visualized as either a still cartoon or a distorted picture. If the alpha rhythm was successfully reduced, the cartoon started playing or the picture started becoming clearer.

The researchers said the treatment could have several clinical implications following further validation.

"Neurofeedback could offer an accessible and effective treatment option for individuals with PTSD," said Ruth Lanius, MD, PhD, FRCPC, lead author of the study and scientist at the Lawson Health Research Institute, in a statement. "The treatment is easily scalable for implementation in rural areas and even at home."