How Neurofeedback Can Change the Way We Approach Trauma Treatment

seated men talking


Author: Craig Piaget


Traumatized clients may be living with the fear center of their brain perpetually activated. Because of this, other parts of their brain—the ones allowing for reasonable decision making, for example—may get “turned off”. This can make it difficult for traumatized people to function in and learn from the world around them.


Dr. Bessel van der Kolk believes that neurofeedback may hold the key to healing this imbalance in surprising ways. In this video, he describes how traumatized clients become stuck in their fear and make decisions that lead them into similarly traumatizing situations as a result. The outcome? They become traumatized again and again, further activating the fear center of the brain. This can lead to a downward spiral making it extremely difficult for the traumatized client to alter their decisions and behaviors for better future outcomes.


In his research, Dr. van der Kolk discovered that neurofeedback was an effective tool at interrupting this process and calming the fear center of the brain. He noticed that when he “turned off” one part of the brain, other parts “turned on”—most notably executive function. As a result, the client had an increased capacity to learn, assess situations and consequences, and think about the future.


Neurofeedback utilizes modern technology, such as an electroencephalogram (EEG), to map the electrical activity in the brain. Through the use of light and sound, music, video games, and other stimuli, a therapist monitors the activity of a client’s brain and gives the brain feedback (such as a break in the music, or an achievement or setback in the game) based on the detection of certain brainwaves. Through this therapists can train the brain to produce the desired brainwaves more regularly, resulting in reduction of various afflictions, such as anxiety, in the client.


While neurofeedback has been around for many years as a treatment for ADHD, anxiety, depression, and other conditions, Dr. van der Kolk’s research into its effectiveness with traumatized patients is groundbreaking. His use of neurofeedback as one among many tools a therapist can use with traumatized clients is paving the way for a new approach to trauma treatment that could improve the lives of millions.