Our brains are one of our most powerful tools. They’re meant to ensure our survival by protecting us from trauma but sometimes they’re too effective and we need to remind our brains to move back to functioning normally. We’ll sometimes refer to them as our smartest, dumbest organs. When we experience trauma, our brains will rewire themselves to protect us. This is a great short-term defense mechanism but over time, hinders long-term recovery. Thankfully, we have neuroplasticity, the physical malleability of our brains.
You’ve probably heard, “you’ll lose what you don’t use,” and that’s true of our brains. What we use is emphasized and what we don’t use fades away. This applies to trauma and addiction. When your brain creates a neural pathway to cope with trauma, it’s natural for this to become ingrained. We know that through consistent, positive, empathetic, and compassionate experiences, we can rewire the brain and create new, healthy neural pathways.
Neurotherapy is a therapeutic modality that takes advantage of the natural neuroplasticity of the human brain. Everyone who comes to Sabino Recovery receives an initial brain map session with Andrea Copeland, Sabino’s Neurotherapist. In this initial session, Andrea places a fitted cap with 20 different sensors on your scalp. This records electrical activity in your brain’s cortex and provides information about your brain waves.
These brain waves are delta, theta, alpha, beta, and gamma. These waves allow us and residents to see a topographic map of your brain frequencies. It’s a nice visualization of what’s going on in your brain and for some people, it can be validating. What Andrea is looking for is any dysregulation from the norm. These maps are based on colors so white is optimal, green, yellow, orange, or red are overused so those are areas where the brain is locked into that state.
This color-coded brain map provides information about what protocol is necessary for neurofeedback training and gives the entire Sabino treatment team information about where to start your treatment plan. From this brain map, we’ll start neurofeedback training with you. It’s a great tool for helping to stabilize the central nervous system. That allows you to become more regulated and get the most out of treatment. It’s a piece of the recovery puzzle that allows you to create a solid foundation for recovery.
The brain map shows everything from obsessive intrusive thoughts and sleep issues to lower moods and anxiety. It can help us detect conditions like ADHD, depression, anxiety, emotional trauma, and physical trauma like brain injuries. Because we have this stark image of your brain when you enter treatment, you’ll be able to see changes over time.
QEEG is just a tool so it’s not used as a diagnostic tool. For now, brain maps don’t reveal diagnoses such as ADHD or alcoholism through certain color coding, the colors just reveal where your brain is over or underused. We can make educated guesses from there. For example, if your brain map is very red and overreactive in certain places, we know that you’re in fight or flight mode, which shows where you’re holding trauma in your brain. Even if someone is more treatment-resistant, a QEEG brain map gives us an idea of how to guide the treatment plan.
Many people who have experienced trauma have been told that they should just get over it or meditate it away. While meditation can be hugely beneficial, it’s not necessarily the only treatment option for people who are recovering from trauma and addictions. Seeing your brain map can help you realize that addiction is not a choice and that seeking help is the right option. It’s also helpful for the treatment team at Sabino because there’s a necessary period where the team has to gain your trust and sometimes seeing your brain map helps that process.
A typical stay at Sabino is about 35 days and in that time, you will receive 10 neurofeedback sessions. When you come in for your sessions, we place sensors on your head in the areas of dysregulation that we saw on the brain map. We then use operant conditioning which is auditory information as a series of beeps through headphones and visual feedback in the form of a video game. This game is an exact mirror image of your brain.
When you’re focused, the video game is playing. If you lose focus, the game stops. This is enough information for your brain to try to remember what it was doing or thinking about and find a way to start the game again. From the point of view of Andrea, the Neurotherapist, she’s seeing the lifetime of your brain waves. She’ll often know that you’ve checked out before you do and coach you if need be. This process happens in five-minute rounds. As Angela says, “I tell people I’m kind of like their brain personal trainer and they’re the athlete.”
Harnessing your brain’s natural neuroplasticity is the first step in a lifetime of recovery. Research has shown that neuroplasticity is also affected by things like stress levels, exercise, and nutrition. We shape our programs at Sabino Recovery around this idea. This is why we provide such a broad spectrum of therapies and activities. These include equine therapy, art therapy, psychotherapy, and groups that work together to retrain the brain. Our sleep therapy program also works hand in hand with Neurotherapy to give you a full spectrum of treatment.
Neurotherapy is a complex process with incredible useful applications. At Sabino Recovery, we are grateful to have Andrea’s expertise so we can offer you a comprehensive treatment plan.