The brain is programmed to always seek homeostasis – a place of rest and normalcy. For that reason, our mind is always seeking to calm us down when we’re angry or trying to break through sadness and feel joy. This is a particularly difficult trial for a first responder, having been regularly exposed to some of the greatest threats or horrors in their mission as modern-day heroes. Having seen such shocking things, getting the images out of one’s head can be challenging. It can even be hard to view reality in a positive, non-threatening light when you’re used to being in the midst of danger. All of this can build up, and first responders find themselves unable to achieve homeostasis.
Addictions and mental health disorders often exacerbate these issues. Substance abuse or mental health disorders can even reprogram what homeostasis means to the afflicted individual. Fortunately, neurofeedback is a relatively new process based on advanced studies of the brain. Neurofeedback aims to affect and stimulate specific receptors in the brain, allowing a return to that ever-elusive homeostasis. Measuring the brainwaves alongside audio and visual stimuli creates the basis for neurofeedback treatment and is often used alongside other therapies.
How It’s Done
This experience can be intimidating, but you shouldn’t let that discourage you. Neurofeedback is individually tailored to each person and adjusted through subsequent treatments. This real-time customization allows people to address the particular parts of the brain that are having trouble. This includes opening up dopamine receptors or boosting serotonin production. Typically, the therapy begins with an intake screening. Patients fill out an initial questionnaire to set up a unique setting for each patient. Throughout the session, sensors are placed around the ears and scalp to measure the electrical activity and impulses occurring in the brain. This information allows the therapist to understand or monitor the way the brain is processing information. The audio and visual stimuli work in tandem to create a more relaxed, dreamlike state. In this state, a patient will feel comfortable and become more receptive to therapy’s suggestions and practices. Over time, this process redefines the brain’s homeostasis as a state of relaxation, providing relief from fear, panic, anxiety, or depression.
Effect on the Brain
Anxiety, depression, ADHD, insomnia, PTSD, and panic all prevent people from finding a relaxed state on their own. These mental health issues overload the brain with sadness or fear, continually triggering the fight or flight response. The mind always thinks that it is at war. It shuts down its own ability to perceive the world and reality around it. Instead, the brain is continuously preparing to respond to danger, even in the absence of an active threat. By measuring the brain and addressing the chemical response that the brain is having beneath the surface, the program can mitigate these impulses and replace them with a more relaxed, positive connotation, and atmosphere.
Addressing the Root
Neurofeedback, then, is most effective in dealing with co-occurring disorders and dual diagnoses. This process can address addiction by getting at the root of a person’s addictive behaviors. As therapists further fine-tune the program, patients become able to relax and find a place of happiness within themselves.
This relaxation provides one additional, but especially important service – making one more receptive to all of the support and treatments around them. By addressing daily anxieties and replacing them with a calm and relaxed state, people’s inhibitions disappear. People who were previously resistant to treatment or therapy can finally start to open up. They become more willing to speak in group therapy or to continuously engage with meditation practices. Neurofeedback can also aid in the process of creating new and positive interpersonal connections, and allowing one to be more outgoing with new experiences. All of this serves that original purpose: redefining and establishing homeostasis outside of addiction and mental health disorders.
Dealing with emotions and healthcare is an exhausting, trying process, especially when coupled with mental health issues like anxiety, PTSD, and addiction. The unique trials that face a first responder are not easy to overcome. However, therapists may have found a way to make the process of healing easier by studying the brain. By monitoring and getting feedback from one’s brain in a relaxed state, people can process these feelings in a safe environment. Finally, the brain is allowed to move through and past the trauma of their lives, and all other disorders that surface along the way in the path to recovery.
While recovery is not immediate, continued use of neurofeedback alongside contemporary therapeutic programs increases the effectiveness of the recovery process. With this compelling combination, people can address the root of their issues from a holistic, science, and humanities-based care. Healing is a complicated process, but there are always options available for each unique individual. This goal for recovering a safe space for the mind to occupy will take time. From beginning to end, neurofeedback programs are available to augment the experiences in therapy while making one more relaxed, thus gaining some much needed agency in their pathway towards a sober and mentally healthy new lifestyle.