What is Alpha-Theta Training?
Neurofeedback is an effective clinical intervention that is used for the treatment of a wide array of medical and psychophysiological disorders and conditions. One type of neurofeedback training that is often used to resolve psychological issues is Alpha-Theta training.
Early work in exploring Alpha-Theta training was done with patients experiencing anxiety and stress-related symptoms. Through clinical trials, it was demonstrated that anxiety could be reduced, insight could be developed into repressed psychic contents, and self -actualization could be facilitated through this type of feedback.
Alpha-Theta feedback is designed to produce higher amplitude, lower frequency (i.e. alpha and theta) brain waves which translate into stronger slower brainwaves. Slower brain waves result in subjective states of feeling relaxed but alert and aware.
For Alpha-Theta training to be successful, the clinician must be skilled at helping the client maintain a delicate balance between the different brainwaves. Brainwaves represent cortical activity and occur at various frequencies or speeds. They are described regarding several features. During most neurofeedback training, the clinician monitors brainwave frequencies, amplitudes, and wavelengths. A frequency is the number of times a wave repeats itself within a second also known as cycles per second or hertz (HZ). Some brain waves are fast, and some brain waves are slow. These brain waves are described regarding EEG or frequency bands. The classic names of these bands are Delta, Theta, Alpha, Beta, and Gamma. There are different mental states and cognitive abilities associated with each of the different frequency bands.
For Alpha-Theta training to be successful, the clinician must be skilled at helping the client maintain a delicate balance between the different brainwaves.
Alpha rhythm sensitivity threshold is set to encourage approximately 50% of alpha rhythm presence, and theta rhythm threshold is set to encourage 20-30% of theta rhythm presence. If the theta ratio settings are higher, the client may experience negative side effects, such as temporary disorientation and dissociations.
If this occurs, the clinician can return the client to a normal state of consciousness through implementation of another neurofeedback protocol.
Alpha-theta training incorporates guided imagery and constructed visualizations to enhance emotional resolution. Together, the client and the clinician may develop a script detailing areas of focus or goals the client is working towards. The client is then asked to use visualization towards those goals. Alpha-theta training is a meditative deep-state training that is done with your eyes closed. The meditative state is often referred to as an “altered state” as it is similar to hypnosis. There are lowered states of arousal in alpha-theta training which leads to an initial increase in alpha amplitude and synchronous alpha activity. Faster brain activity (i.e., beta waves) is simultaneously decreased.
After the initial increase in alpha activity, there is a decrease in the amplitude of alpha and alpha shifts to the lower frequencies (6-8 Hz). Eventually, the theta rhythm becomes a more dominant rhythm and theta synchrony increases.
Who Can Do Alpha-Theta Training?
Alpha-theta training has been used to successfully treat:
- Anxiety Disorders
- Mood Disorders -Post Traumatic Stress Disorder
- Addiction Disorders
- Optimal Performance/Performance Enhancement
- Sleep Disorders
- Emotional Disorders
- Meditation/Deep State Training
In addition to these diagnoses, there are a variety of clinical indications for Alpha-Theta training some of which include the following:
- Difficulties with sleep initiation
- Difficulties remaining asleep
- High degree of muscle tension
- Chronic pain
- Raynaud’s disease or syndrome
- Tension headaches
- Migraine headaches
- Anger control issues
- Substance abuse
General Outcomes of Alpha-Theta Training
When used appropriately by a trained clinician, Alpha-Theta training is a very positive and beneficial experience. Some of the benefits of Alpha-Theta training include:
- Increased receptiveness to suggestion, scripts, and guided imagery
- Experience of a therapeutic reverie state
- Free association and /or consciousness streaming experience
- Experiences of representational and/or symbolic, spiritual, and religious imagery
- Experiences of emotional resolution, insight, and understanding
What Is The Process and How Many Sessions Does It Take?
There are different approaches to Alpha-Theta training. Some clinicians choose to start the session with a discussion about guided imagery. The clinician may spend between 5 and 10 minutes reviewing the imagery that the client wants to focus on during the session consciously. This approach helps the client become focused and mentally clear in preparation for the training. The goal of this process is to help the client to not actively think about the image or script during the session but rather to think about the image and then release it as they sink into the Alpha-Theta state (i.e., the crossover).
Electrodes are placed on the surface of the scalp, and the ears and the client is asked to close their eyes. Many clients wear a comfortable eye mask to help maintain the eyes closed position and keep out the light.
The clinician may choose to have the client in a reclined position to facilitate a relaxed state. The clinician instructs the client to “sink down” into the theta state while keeping their mind quiet and alert but not active and to keep the body calm. The clinician may instruct the client to use breathing techniques to help them maintain a clam state.
The feedback sounds are deep, soothing instruments using selected or specifically designed tones to enhance the ethereal aspects of the experience. Initially, when the eyes close, the alpha waves increase in amplitude, but as vigilance decreases, an increase in theta amplitudes usually occurs. When this occurs, there is a simultaneous decrease in alpha or a shift in the alpha frequency. When the theta amplitude exceeds the alpha amplitude, the client passes into what is called the “crossover” state. This “crossover” state is the goal of Alpha-Theta training.
A typical Alpha-Theta session is about 30 mins. Clients will complete anywhere from 2-4 sessions per week for a total of 15-30 sessions.
Alpha-Theta For Meditation
Some clinicians use Alpha-Theta training for enhancing meditation in those who already practice, or as a stand-alone meditation training technique to assist in quicker and more efficient access to meditative states. It can also be used to increase the amount of time an individual can stay in a meditative state.
Alpha-Theta training has many of the benefits of meditation and/or hypnosis because it results in re-programming the subconscious mind. It also has the power to clear out traumatic experiences that have put the brakes on one’s ability to progress in their life. Most people have negative, life-limiting beliefs. These beliefs reside in the unconscious mind where a person may not know they exist. The brain, while working in the Alpha-Theta frequency (6-9 Hz), resolves many of these issues which reside in the unconscious mind.