Can neurofeedback help treat PTSD?

Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a common, yet incurable illness plaguing soldiers who have experienced the horrors of combat.

Presenting itself with a wide palette of syndromes (flashbacks, hallucinations, memory loss and depression), the disorder has yet to been cured, although some treatments do exist with varying degrees of success.

New research, however, suggests salvation could be found in the form of neurofeedback.

The (controversial) treatment regimen involves affixing EEG electrodes to the scalp of the patient, enabling electrical output readings to be taken. 

As a doctor or nurse monitors activity, the patient watches a video whose “key elements” respond to the patient’s brain activity.

Calm and focus are rewarded with on-screen stimuli, pleasant aromas and  vibrations from a handheld teddy bear.

As Siegfried Othmer, neurofeedback clinician, stated, “When the brain sees itself interacting with the world, it becomes interested in that. Likewise, when it sees the signal on-screen and realizes it’s in charge, it becomes interested. You might not notice, but the brain takes notice.”


Dr. Agustin Gomez, a 69-year-old Army psychiatrist who trained under Othmer in 2006, expressed similar sentiments.

“My patients weren’t ready to go back to battle. They were a danger to themselves and their units… In 10 sessions, they slept better, they were less irritable. And on top of that, they performed better.”

But some medical experts like  Dr. Andrew Leuchter, a professor at UCLA’s Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior, expressed skepticism over the notion of neurofeedback as a panacea for PTSD.

“The practice has gotten ahead of the science. It wouldn’t be surprising to me if much of the benefit of neurofeedback was attributable to the placebo response,” said Leuchter

“The gold standard is to compare the active treatment with a sham, fake treatment — something that lacks the active ingredient. Unfortunately, those studies have not been done.”

[Via The Daily