25 October 2013

Neurotherapy for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder

Dr. Paul G. Swingle is a Vancouver based psychologist and an expert in the field of neurotherapy. He is the author of the ClinicalQ and BrainDryvr software suite published by the BFE and will be presenting an upcoming webinar on Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. We recently spoke to him about his work in this area.

What are the advantages of using neurotherapy as part of the treatment for PTSD?
Neurotherapy can normalize or improve the brainwave architecture - that is, the way the brain is functioning - and then we typically combine that with some other psychological process for helping the person deal efficiently with the overwhelming emotions associated with the exposure to the traumatic event.  It marries well with other kinds of therapy whether its experiential, EMDR, cognitive behaviour and so forth. Once the brain is functioning more efficiently, then it just markedly enhances the efficacy of these other procedures.

When exposed to the same traumatic experience, why do some experience PTSD, while others do not?
 When I was treating combat veterans at Harvard Medical School McLean Hospital, we had situations in which we would have 3 or 4 veterans, one of whom was hospitalized with PTSD. He was disabled by the event whereas although all of the other people experienced the same thing and might have such problems such as bad dreams, they  weren't disabled by the event. The difference with the person who was disabled was his neurological condition prior to walking into the combat theatre. So, we know one of the areas that we can work with in terms or increasing stress tolerance, but what about the damage that's been done - namely the post traumatic stress disorder - and that is a marked impact on the ability to regulate emotional reactivity. The flashbacks, and all of the rest of it, are associated directly with neurological conditions that we can identify when we do EEG assessments. And if we can identify it, then we know where to go to help correct the problem. 

How does the ClinicalQ assessment work?
The ClinicalQ is an EEG assessment that measures brain activity at five critical locations. The results of the assessment are then compared to a clinical database that is remarkably accurate in terms of indicating why a person is coming to see us. I saw a client the other day - a young man who had been exposed to a recent severe emotional stressor that triggered a predisposition to depressed mood states. When I explained this to him, his  jaw dropped to the floor. How could I possibly know that from looking at brainwave activity? Well, the brain tells us everything. If you've been exposed to a severe emotional stressor recently, it is very likely that the brain is going to show the effects.  And if you have a predisposition for a certain disorder such as depression, exposure to severe emotional stressors may likely trigger that condition. 

Do you think that combat veterans - most of which are young men - are hesitant to seek treatment for PTSD because of stigmas that exist?
That's really a crucial point. Decades ago, when we were dealing with PTSD there was a presumption of a weakness of character and that an individual that was disabled by the exposure to this severe emotional stress had some kind of deficit. We know now that there are neurological conditions that render us more susceptible to one type of disorder than another. With regard to post traumatic stress disorder, there's a very specific area of the brain that's associated with this vulnerability. So, if the client was a police cadet,  prior to going into the policing theatre we would have a look and see if he was neurologically vulnerable and we would do some preventative neurotherapy to better prepare him for the severe stresses of police duty. The focus is on brain functioning - it's exactly what we would do for an Olympic level athlete, exactly what we would do for a CEO of a large company. It's just making the brain more efficient to deal with severe stress. It has absolutely nothing to do with strength of character or mental illness or anything of that nature. 

Are there other therapies that are effective with post traumatic stress disorder?
As I said before, all therapies marry perfectly with neurotherapy.  I do a lot of hypnosis for these kinds of conditions. Once you get the brain so it's functioning efficiently you can use hypnosis for trying to modify the core emotional belief that gets triggered in these post traumatic stress disorder conditions. A good example is the feeling that you're not safe. One of the situations that we get with get severe stress...automobile accidents are a good example of this. When you're driving through an intersection and you have the green light, somebody t-bones you there's a situation where something came right out of the blue. So, after you get all of the physical things sorted out you still have this angst about the world not being a safe place and that's a core emotional belief - its beyond the arena of words. So hypnosis is often an extremely efficient way of having the person reorganize that emotional belief.  

Do you have advice for PTSD sufferers that might not have access to neurotherapy?

A lot of it depends on extent of disability. If you're dealing with somebody who has full blown flashbacks where they become absolutely incapacitated and they're not present, then the notion of giving them advice or home treatment is completely misguided because you need somebody to be able to shepherd the person through all of that. For lesser conditions, we use things like my sweep harmonic,  for example,  which is something akin to EMDR, but it uses sound. If you listen to that sound while you are trying to make the fear as intense as possible, you'll find that it blows it away. So any situation in which the individual is trying to feel, what every cell in their body is telling them to avoid, under conditions in which it is manageable is a positive treatment. For military veterans, it is best to inquire with their case worker who should be familiar with these options.

The BCIA (BiofeedbackCertification International Alliance) website provides a list of practitioners that have been certified in neurofeedback.

You can learn more about Dr. Swingle and his methods on the BFE Website or by visiting the Swingle Clinic website.

In an upcoming webinar, Dr. Swingle will discuss his approach to treating PTSD.

Presented by: Dr. Paul G. Swingle
Date: November 12, 2013
Time: 3:00-4:00 pm Eastern Time (US & Canada)

Any questions can be directed to Dr. Swingle's BFE Team at blueswingle@gmail.com.


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