Neurofeedback And Reducing Activity In Brain's Fear Circuitry. - Childhood Trauma Recovery

Neurofeedback And Reducing Activity In Brain’s Fear Circuitry.

It is becoming increasingly recognized that overactivity in the brain’s fear circuitry may be of fundamental relevance to not only complex-PTSD and PTSD, but to many other psychiatric disorders as well and it clearly follows, therefore, that damping down the over-intensity of neuronal firing in this part of the brain may be key to effective therapy for the treatment of a whole array mental health issues. In relation to this, there is mounting excitement about how NEUROFEEDBACK can benefit many individuals who suffer from acute psychological distress.

According to Mobbs, the brain consists of two areas involved in how we experience fear as shown below :

  • the reactive-fear circuit
  • the cognitive-fear circuit

Let’s look at each of these in turn :

THE REACTIVE-FEAR CIRCUIT :

This circuit deals with threats that are IMMEDIATE and require an instant reaction (namely, activation of the ‘fight or flight’ response) ; it involves the interconnection between two areas of the brain as shown below :

  • the periaqueductal gray
  • midcingulate cortex

THE COGNITIVE-FEAR CIRCUIT :

This circuit deals with threats that DO NOT require an immediate response, allowing us time to consciously consider the risk they pose to us and how we should respond to them ; this circuit involves connections between the following brain areas :

THE SEE-SAW METAPHOR :

Mobbs asserts that the relationship between these two brain regions can be compared to the two ends of a see-saw ; in other words, as one goes up, the other comes down, which means :

  • The more activated the reactive-fear circuit becomes, the less activated the cognitive-fear circuit becomes.

And the reverse is also true, so :

  • The more activated the cognitive-fear circuit becomes, the less activated the reactive-fear circuit becomes.

Relevance To Those Who Have Suffered Childhood Trauma :

As we have seen from many other articles that I have already published on this site, if we have suffered severe and protracted childhood trauma we are at increased risk of developing various disorders as adults (such as comples PTSD and borderline personality disorder) which are underpinned by having oversensitive and overactive fear-response circuitry and, correspondingly, underactive cognitive-response circuitry.

What Is Neurofeedback ?

Neurofeedback is biofeedback for the brain and neuro-counsellors can provide their patients with such feedback simply by using special, computer software.

The neurofeedback the patients receive allow them to become aware of their brain function frequencies and how these relate to different emotional states.

How Does Neurofeedback Help Adults Suffering From The Effects Of Childhood Trauma?

Armed with this information, and by continuing to learn from the neurofeedback their brains provide them with (via the software mentioned above), the patients can then, gradually, be trained to exercise control over their brain wave activity (for example, by soothing it with visualization techniques, breathing exercises or calming thoughts etc). With enough training, the patients’ dysregulated brains can be helped to heal and to become less fear-driven.

This results in the reactive-fear circuit become less sensitive and active which, in turn, provides the cognitive-fear circuit, as it were, ‘more room to manoeuvre.’ In this way, irrational feelings of fear that were originally being driven by the (unthinking and automatic) reactive-fear circuit can now be more soberly and rationally considered by the (reflective and thinking) cognitive-fear circuit and, therefore, more easily be dismissed as unwarranted, made impotent and deprived of their power to cause us anguish.

It should also be noted, however, that whilst a lot of excitement has been generated around this method of treatment, it is still early days and more research is needed to determine the extent of its effectiveness and to which disorders its application is best suited.

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David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).

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About David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE)

Psychologist, researcher and educationalist.

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