Hi-Alpha as a Symptom Indicator for Unresolved Trauma


An alpha-theta client in session.
"One might consider the work of Dr. Bruce Perry (1992-97) who states the prolonged "alarmed reactions" induced by traumatic events during childhood can result in altered development of the central nervous system (CNS). He hypothesizes that with this altered development, one would predict a host of abnormalities related to the regulation of affect (emotions) including anxiety, arousal/concentration, impulse control, sleep, startle response and autonomic nervous system regulation".

Nancy White, PhD, from her book:

Alpha-Theta Training for Chronic Trauma Disorder

 

High Alpha and it's Relationship to the Brain

Observing the issue from an evolutionary perspective, the human brain is quite curious. Ten thousand years ago the level of information input into the brain was a small fraction of what it is today. As hunter/gatherers, we lived mostly tribal lives. Our fight-or-flight reactions were used and needed on rare occasions. When confronted with danger, the cortical, outer layer of our brains would do a pretty good job of processing any imposed trauma before it overwhelmed the whole neural network and became log-jammed within the limbic system, or our deep brain.

But as civilization grew, so did human conflict. And a brain wired for an occasional trauma now had many to contend with. This central nervous system, so beautifully designed, had to deal with the trauma equivalent to a repeated electrical power surge. Civilization, and all it carried, also overrode the brains own ability to process accrued trauma. And, by extension, started humanity on a painful journey it was never fully equipped to deal with from the beginning.

There's a walnut sized part of our brain called the amygdala that sits slightly frontal from the center of our heads. This area controls all fear, fight-or-flight as well as our emotional desire. When the outer, cortical layer is overwhelmed by too much trauma too fast, it gets stuck in the amygdala and starts causing all measure of problems.

Screenshot (22) Trauma spiking at first session.

Looking at the High Alpha Pin-Ball Effect

In the diagram above, we can see trapped trauma at work. All the unprovoked assaults, sexual traumas, tragic deaths of loved ones and self-imposed traumas behind addictions and alcoholism all show up on the screen as turquoise blue zig-zags running the length of an alpha-theta session. This alpha amplitude is desperately trying to purge itself from the amygdala, and due to something called hyper-vigilance, it gets pushed back down over and over like an endless pin-ball striking the same two bumpers.

 

What is Hyper-Vigilance?

Hyper-vigilance is a lot like extreme anxiety and panic. Everything feels like a threat, even simple non-threatening things. We react, and over-react to most of what happens around us. It's much like living a life in a perpetual state of 'scared animal'. It's also similar to what happens when someone slips a disk in their lower back: the body's design flaw is to spasm the muscle tissue around the slipped area in an attempt to protect it from further harm, but usually induces more pain than it prevents. The outer cortical layer of the brain does much the same thing when traumatized. This is why so many victims of chronic trauma can eventually fall asleep, then wake up in a panic with night terrors--covered in sweat. The brain is extremely intelligent. It knows the high alpha related to trauma isn't meant to be there. But when the brain tries to purge it, the hyper-vigilance knocks it back down. This is precisely why people suffer so badly for so long, especially from not sleeping. The lack of quality rest causes more anxiety, and the increase in panic causes more hyper-vigilance.

 

How Alpha-Theta Neurofeedback Sessions Work

One neurofeedback sensor is placed on the back of the head. This is where the brain originates alpha amplitude, so it's the most accurate location to source what's going on from the amygdala. The client reclines in a comfortable chair with his or her eyes closed. The software then uses four sounds: A pleasant bell and gong tone, a seashore with waves and a running stream. The neurofeedback system transitions and blends these sounds to gently cradle the brain into whats called the hypnogogic gateway. It's considered to be that familiar twilight space where one is not quite awake and also not yet asleep. This is the safest place for the traumatized mind to rest in. Over time, and over a number of sessions, the brain learns to feel safe in this cradling and can then start processing the trauma, bringing down the alpha turquoise spikes, which in turn, brings a normalization of sleep and quality rest.

Screenshot (9)Hi-alpha reducing itself after 11 sessions.

One of the first things clients report at this stage is feeling safe again in the world. Hyper-vigilance has a powerful effect on the mind and brain. It's like this vague threat that somewhere, somehow, something bad is going to happen. After about 20 sessions, the fear and anxiety they experienced before their sessions no longer has the control over them like before. They report feeling at ease when vulnerable, more emotionally intimate with others, and comfortable when alone by themselves.

Screenshot (26)The brain fully at rest after 20 sessions.

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