ON EPILEPSY AND PSYCHOSOMATICS
Emerging neuroscience recognizes that the brain organizes itself through its rhythmic electrical oscillations (Rhythms of the Brain-Buzsaki). Epilepsy in any form and from any cause disrupts this rhythmic organization. It’s neither psychological or physical- it’s always both.
I work in the field of developmental trauma and EEG. People with these histories rarely if ever have normal EEG’s. Ruth Lanius, the well respected fMRI trauma researcher is now looking deeply into the EEG signature of trauma. The question then becomes can we help these brains learn how to regulate themselves in this electrical domain, can we reach these fundamental mechanisms? We can. And we learned we can over 50 years ago with the research of Barry Sterman at UCLA who took people who were waitlisted for psychosurgery due to uncontrollable seizures and provided them with computerized biofeedback to this electrical domain. Not one of these patients required the surgery and most didn’t require medication either. With feedback they could learn to regulate their own brains.
This past year Bessel van der Kolk published the results of his RCT using neurofeedback (the name given to biofeedback to the brain) with treatment resistant PTSD. These patients showed a 40% increase in executive function with 24 sessions of neurofeedback (A Randomized Controlled Study of Neurofeedback for Chronic PTSD- Plos One 2016).
In my experience of almost twenty years using neurofeedback integrated with psychotherapy, it has become clear to me that it is easier to reach the mind through the brain- not always easy- than it is is to reach the brain through the mind. This is particularly true for brains never regulated due to histories of neglect and abuse. It’s an important and fascinating new direction in our field.
Sebern Fisher, “Neurofeedback in the Treatment of Developmental Trauma: Calming the Fear-Driven Brain. (Norton 2014).