Mental health disorders are treated in a number of different ways, with talk therapy being one of the most prominent methods of managing anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). In 2020 alone, around 41.4 million Americans received some form of mental health treatment. One such form of treatment is called brain retraining, which can include a number of different techniques. How is brain retraining possible? Find out how neuroplasticity enables your brain to alter its thought patterns and how therapy techniques utilize this unique function.
Neuroplasticity and Brain Training: Exploring the Concept of Brain Retraining
What is neuroplasticity? Neuroplasticity is the brain’s ability to learn and adapt. Age is the biggest determinant of the brain’s ability to absorb and retain new information. This capability is usually strongest during the first 5 years of a person’s life, which is why children learn more easily than adults. The brain remains impressionable into the 20s and by age 30 has become set in its ways, making it more challenging to alter thought pathways.
Because the brain has such an incredible capacity for learning and change, the concept of brain retraining has been incorporated in treatment methods for a number of mental health conditions. For example, the premise of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is to restructure pathways in the brain by consistently altering a person’s thought patterns. Over time, practicing a different way of thinking can positively change how they respond to a situation that once triggered them. For example, if a person frequently thinks about the bad things that could happen to them when they leave their home, causing anxiety, the anxiety becomes heightened. Through brain retraining and CBT, they can alter the thought from “I might get hurt if I leave my house” to “Leaving my house is safe.” The new thought eventually becomes more familiar to the brain and changes the way the person thinks, ultimately helping them manage their anxiety.
Disorders and Brain Function: Understanding How Brain Disorders Impact Neural Pathways
Brain disorders have a direct impact on brain function and thought patterns. Neurological conditions involve the progressive loss of brain function, either gradually or quickly. Developmental pathways in the brain are most active early in life and become more dormant in adulthood. Early life brain development plays a key role in establishing the thought pathways that facilitate communication between the body and the part of the brain that controls learning and memory (the hippocampus). As a person enters adulthood, these pathways continue to moderate human behavior. If disruption or irregularities occur in these neural pathways, brain disorders can develop.
Some medical conditions, like spinal cord injuries or strokes, can impair signal transmission to the brain, resulting in loss or impairment of mobility.
Techniques and Approaches: Examining Different Methods for Retraining the Brain
When neurological disorders occur due to issues with neural pathways in the brain, mental health professionals look at techniques for retraining the brain.
Brain Wave Therapy
Brain wave therapy, also referred to as neurofeedback, is a reward-based method of brain retraining. How does neurofeedback work? It’s a real-time feedback system that rewards the individual for certain brain wave activity as a way to reinforce that type of thinking. This type of biofeedback retrains the brain over time by reinforcing positive thought patterns with rewards.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
Cognitive behavioral therapy is another method for retraining the brain. It’s a type of talk therapy that teaches coping skills to help an individual better manage conditions like anxiety. CBT focuses on identifying thought patterns and implementing intentional interruptions to these patterns through circuit breaker activities. For example, grounding and mindfulness practices force the individual to get out of their thought pattern by focusing on tangible things in the world around them, such as using progressive muscle relaxation exercises or consulting the five senses. The goal of CBT is that, over time, a person can develop new thought patterns by strengthening more desirable neural pathways in the brain. One review published in 2019 noted that CBT was particularly effective in treating anxiety-related disorders, with relapse rates of 0%-14% of patients within 3 to 12 months.
Conditions Addressed: Identifying Disorders That May Benefit From Brain Retraining
Neurofeedback training and CBT have resulted in positive progress in people living with mental health disorders ranging from ADHD to Alzheimer’s disease. Here’s how people with various mental disorders may benefit from brain retraining.
Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)
Doctors who support neurofeedback treatment for ADHD suggest that symptoms of this condition can be improved by increasing beta brain waves and reducing theta brain waves. Six studies on neurofeedback therapy for ADHD indicate it’s likely an effective treatment option.
Major Depressive Disorder
Major depressive disorder (MDD) is another mental health condition that can be treated through brain retraining. Specifically, CBT has proven to be effective in improving the symptoms of depression, especially when combined with antidepressants.
A 2019 meta-analysis on anxiety and CBT found that the treatment was associated with improvements in anxiety symptoms, feelings of depression and overall quality of life. When compared to a placebo, CBT was moderately effective at improving symptoms of anxiety disorders.
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
The primary goal of neurofeedback is to help people move from an agitated state to a calm state of mind. This allows them to feel safer and better manage distress in daily life. For this reason, neurofeedback has been shown to help people struggling with PTSD.
Surprisingly, brain retraining techniques like neurofeedback have been shown to improve motor function in people with Parkinson’s disease. One study suggests that neurofeedback therapy can improve their motor function by up to 37%.
Alzheimer’s Disease and Dementia
More than 6 million Americans are living with Alzheimer’s disease, while 7 million people ages 65+ had dementia as of 2020. If current trends continue, the number of Americans with some form of dementia is projected to reach 9 million by 2030. Fortunately, neurofeedback therapy is an effective brain retraining option that can improve memory, comprehension and verbal communication in patients with Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia. However, it’s important to note that neurofeedback therapy isn’t a solution or cure for these brain disorders. Rather, it can help slow the progression of the disease if applied in the early stages.
Collaborative Efforts: The Role of Professionals and Individuals in Brain Retraining Processes
At Sun Health Center, we have a skilled team of professionals with the tools and training to deliver treatment options like neurotherapy and CBT. Contact our team to learn about how our neurotherapy treatments can be used to manage mental health disorders and traumatic brain injuries.