Veterans can use their brainwaves to play a video game to alleviate PTSD symptoms through a treatment program offered at no cost for up to 20 sessions.
Homecoming For Veterans, a national outreach program, provides free innovative treatment for veterans living with post-traumatic stress disorder through a network of clinicians across the United States. The PTSD program, in partnership with EEG Info, a professional training and clinical services company based in California, uses neurofeedback sessions to regulate brain behavior.
As a network of clinical providers, the Homecoming For Veterans program is available in several West Michigan practices, including the private practice of Monica Michael at 4701 Plainfield Ave. NE. Michael, a licensed counselor and health care professional, said her participation in the program was a result of completing her certification in the Othmer Method of Neurofeedback at EEG Info.
“They are the ones that actually started the program,” said Michael. “I really appreciate what they do — what service they provide, and when they started this, it just made sense. We are offering a quality of life to these veterans.”
According to the United States Department of Veteran Affairs, experts believe PTSD occurs in roughly 11 percent to 20 percent of veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, in approximately 10 percent of Desert Storm or Gulf War veterans, and about 30 percent of Vietnam veterans.
Through the Homecoming For Veterans outreach program, participating providers offer up to 20 hours of sessions at no cost for the veterans. According to the program’s website, the training not only relieves PTSD symptoms such as sleep problems, irritability and pain, but also assists veterans in recovering from alcohol and drug dependency.
“Our brain controls everything. It controls our behavior, it controls our emotions, and it controls how we think,” said Michael. “If our brain is behaving in a state (of) arousal that is much too high for the circumstance, or if it is behaving in a disregulated way, then we are going to come up with disregulated thoughts, disregulated emotions and disregulated behavior.”
She said neurofeedback training uses computer technology to train the brain to function differently on an electrical level through a noninvasive process. The computer software reads brain activity of an individual who is watching a video simulation, which corresponds to how the brain is reacting to the stimuli.
For example, one simulation depicts a spaceship traveling through a tunnel with background music; the individual sits in a chair holding a stuffed animal that vibrates in correspondence with the video. As brain waves change during the video, the spaceship, music and stuffed animal fluctuate in concert with the shifts in behavior.
“It is never adding electricity to the brain,” said Michael. “Once (the brain) knows it has control, when it sees the ship slowing down or the exhaust is going away, then it plays the game with itself. It subliminally plays the game and says, ‘I can make that do what it is supposed to do.’”
According to EEG Info, simply identifying how the brain is reacting to certain situations allows the brain to be trained for enhanced stability and improved functioning by rewarding certain wave frequencies.
“If we can train the brain to come back to the set point, come back to that baseline where you are comfortable and you are not in high arousal or emergency mode when there is no emergency, then we are giving that veteran an opportunity to live in a state of peace and calm and focus,” said Michael.
“This is a learning experience for the brain. It is not jerking the brain or manipulating the brain against its will; it is learning because it has practiced over and over how to regulate itself.”
Michael said the majority of individuals have a heavy dose of skepticism at the first session.
“After the first couple of sessions when they are noticing significant change, they are surprised. I think the thing that is exciting to me when I help those veterans is not just when they talk about feeling calmer. … It’s when it goes further — when they feel like they can get back to their creative side again, or they can relate to their family members again.”
Michael said the number of sessions a veteran may require depends on a number of factors such as traumatic brain injury, alcoholism and drug dependency that may complicate the PTSD.
“It’s our way to give back to people who have given their lives for our protection and welfare, and we also know that population is often underserved,” said Michael.
After completing the 20 hours of free treatment, veterans can elect to pay out of pocket to continue with the sessions.
Homecoming For Veterans is headquartered in California and does not require veterans to have an official diagnosis of PTSD, nor have insurance to cover the treatment.