What is Alpha-Theta Training?

Neurofeedback, or brain wave therapy, aims to alter the brain’s electrical activity so that it operates in a more flexible and synchronous state.  Neurofeedback therapists prefer to use “training” when speaking about neurofeedback, as you are literally retraining the brain to operate more efficiently. Through the learning principles of operant conditioning, specifically positive reinforcement, you can “train” your brain. Like learning to ride a bike, you improve your skills over time and, eventually, don’t need any assistance. Your body automatically makes the necessary adjustments to so that riding becomes second nature.

Numerous protocols exist in neurofeedback with the advancement of equipment and years of clinical research. One of the more common approaches to neurofeedback is alpha-theta training. This is a method to encourage a shift into a lower state of arousal and is indicated for individuals suffering from addiction, PTSD and anxiety. Outcomes of alpha-theta training include:

  • Increased receptiveness to suggestion, such as hypnosis and guided imagery
  • Emotional resolution of repressed or emotionally charged memories
  • Improved memory consolidation to aid in learning
  • Increased insight and understanding
  • Reduced anxiety
  • Enhanced creativity

Alpha and theta refer to brainwave patterns as read by an electroencephalogram (EEG). Alpha waves are typically in the 8-12 hertz range and theta waves are in the 4-8 hertz range for adults. Alpha is also referred to as the “posterior basic rhythm” because this EEG pattern typically dominates when the eyes are closed. With predominate alpha waves, the brain is usually in a relaxed state.

Theta is associated with creativity, spontaneity, memory formation, and global synchronization; however, excess of theta activity can result in distractibility and inattention. Individuals with ADHD often have too much theta. The point when theta amplitudes exceed alpha amplitudes is referred to as a “crossover.”

What’s It Like Doing Alpha-Theta Training?

Sensors are attached to your scalp to monitor your EEG activity. Typically, your eyes are closed and you listen to relaxing music and other auditory cues. You may sit in a chair or recliner while your brain receives auditory feedback and learns to guide brainwave patterns into an alpha/theta state. Most people find alpha-theta training relaxing.

Some practitioners integrate alpha-theta training with psychotherapy. In fact, therapists often incorporate hypnosis or guided imagery.

Alpha-Theta for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

Individuals suffering from PTSD often experience flashbacks and other disturbing memories. During the alpha-theta protocol, an individual may access these painful memories without the physical arousal typically experienced. As one’s brainwaves are dominated by alpha and theta, traumatic memories can surface into conscious awareness without being physiologically aroused. One of the issues with PTSD treatment is that individuals cannot tolerate the hyperarousal associated with painful memories. During an alpha-theta state, memories can be experienced in a calmer state so that they are worked through. The areas of the brain required for effective memory processing, such as the pre-frontal cortex, can integrate and reprocess the memories so that they are not as emotionally charged. This reexperiencing of memories in a “witness state” allows traumatic pasts to become part of one’s normal historical narrative.

Alpha-Theta for Addiction

This protocol has been used for years in the addiction field. In successful cases, individuals have less cravings to drugs and are better able to regulate their emotions. As many individuals with an addiction suffer from emotional trauma, the alpha-theta state can facilitate a resolution of traumatic memories. Additionally, during the protocol, suggestion may facilitate abstinence and other positive behaviors. Alpha-theta can be used for all addictions, including alcohol, drug, and gambling addiction. Alpha-theta training is most effective when combined with addiction counseling and a supportive social system, such as Alcohol Anonymous.

Can It Help You?

If you are interested in alpha-theta training, Dr. Mazzei utilizes this protocol during neurofeedback. She typically integrates this modality with other therapies to improve outcomes. Dr. Mazzei will meet with you to determine if you could benefit from alpha-theta training. Please contact the office at (847) 386-8829 to schedule a consultation.

alpha theta training for addiction counseling

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