A new brain-imaging technique called neurofeedback is allowing sufferers of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) to self-regulate their own brain activity by viewing it in real time, according to the Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry.

The breakthrough process could potentially be applied to anyone with a psychological condition, making it possible for individuals to stabilize, self-manage and make adjustments to their brain states on the fly.

Neurofeedback, or neurotherapy, is a form of biofeedback that typically utilizes real time electroencephalography (EEG) or hemoencephalography (HEG) displays to illustrate brain activity. Using the displays as a baseline, patients are then able to take control of their mental states by consciously making psychological adjustments and witnessing the changes.

In a recent study by researchers at Western University, neurofeedback methodology was shown to be an effective treatment for sufferers of PTSD.

"This is the first study to show that key brain networks involved in mediating affect and cognition in PTSD can be volitionally modulated via neurofeedback, with measurable outcomes on subjective well-being," wrote lead authors Rosemarie Kluetsch and Tomas Ros.

Brain networks exhibit a great deal of plasticity, even for conditions as neurologically embedded as PTSD. In the study, patients took intentional control over their brain activity with what's called a "brain-computer interface," a system that graphically displays a live brain scan on a computer screen. The interface is non-invasive for the patient, using nothing more than electronic sensors placed on the scalp.

Patients self-reported significant feelings of calmness following the neurofeedback training and treatment, and researchers are optimistic that the technique could be applied to a variety of mental health conditions beyond PTSD.

"We are now on the threshold of being able to use this information to understand the neural mechanisms underlying certain disorders and their treatments," added senior author Dr. Ruth Lanius. "We are ... thrilled to see the first evidence of this in action, along with significant changes in subjective well-being. Our hope and vision for the future is that this approach could improve and potentially augment PTSD treatment."

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