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EEG Biofeedback Therapy as an Adjunct Treatment for PTSD

This study has been completed.
Naval Health Research Center
Information provided by (Responsible Party):
United States Naval Medical Center, San Diego Identifier:
First received: May 2, 2012
Last updated: October 27, 2016
Last verified: October 2016

The proposed study, "Placebo-controlled study of EEG biofeedback therapy as an adjunct treatment for PTSD, evaluating symptoms and EEG dynamics", will investigate the brain dynamics associated with PTSD symptom reduction associated with EEG biofeedback therapy or sham EEG biofeedback in addition to treatment as usual at the Naval Medical Center, San Diego (NMCSD) OASIS program.

EEG biofeedback treatment protocols for PTSD and other disorders have been developed and honed by private practice clinicians over the past 25 years, during which EEG biofeedback has become an increasingly popular adjunct therapy.

The reported success of EEG biofeedback as a non-drug intervention with lasting efficacy warrants a clinical study investigating not only symptom reduction, but also the underlying neurobiological mechanism. To this end, we propose a study using high density EEG recordings before and after treatment for PTSD symptoms to determine which brain activities correlate with reported symptom changes.

The proposed study could expand treatment alternatives for servicemen with PTSD. If EEG biofeedback is shown to improve symptom reduction over the placebo controlled condition, it would offer a non-pharmacological intervention that would avoid undesirable side effects, and accelerate recovery compared with the current standard of care.

Condition Intervention
Sleep Disorders
Device: EEG biofeedback

Study Type: Interventional
Study Design: Allocation: Randomized
Intervention Model: Parallel Assignment
Masking: Single Blind (Participant)
Primary Purpose: Treatment
Official Title: Placebo-controlled Study of EEG Biofeedback Therapy as an Adjunct Treatment for PTSD, Evaluating Symptoms and EEG Dynamics

Further study details as provided by United States Naval Medical Center, San Diego:

Primary Outcome Measures:
  • Improved Symptom Ratings [ Time Frame: 4 weeks ]
    Will test whether subjects receiving real EEG biofeedback report decreased anxiety and irritability relative to subjects receiving sham biofeedback. The scale for each rating was a 0-10, with 0 meaning "not at all" and 10 being "extremely" anxious/irritable.

Enrollment: 68
Study Start Date: May 2012
Study Completion Date: October 2013
Primary Completion Date: October 2013 (Final data collection date for primary outcome measure)
Arms Assigned Interventions
Experimental: EEG biofeedback
Subjects will receive EEG biofeedback according to their own brain rhythms
Device: EEG biofeedback
EEG data is collected from the scalp. Data is decomposed in real time and a portion of the signal is fed back to the subject via a vibrating stuffed animal and visual cues.
Other Name: EEG info device
Sham Comparator: sham EEG biofeedback
Subjects will receive feedback according to someone else's brain rhythms collected during a different session.
Device: EEG biofeedback
EEG data is collected from the scalp. Data is decomposed in real time and a portion of the signal is fed back to the subject via a vibrating stuffed animal and visual cues.
Other Name: EEG info device

Detailed Description:

EEG biofeedback is an emerging alternative approach to treating PTSD, for which there is still insufficient evidence to assume unequivocal clinical utility. However, a 1991 report showed PTSD symptom reduction in 14 subjects receiving EEG biofeedback, as compared to 13 subjects receiving traditional treatment (Peniston, 1991), and a recent case study of 2 PTSD patients receiving EEG biofeedback therapy also showed reduce symptom severity using a newer protocol and device (Othmer, 2009). Another recent study focused on the anxiety symptoms of PTSD and showed that EEG biofeedback significantly reduced anxiety compared to subjects not receiving treatment (Walker, 2009).

EEG biofeedback has also been explored as a treatment for non-PTSD related anxiety disorders, with results showing significant changes in reported anxiety correlated with increased or decreased alpha-frequency (~8-12 Hz) power (Hardt, 1978). Similarly, alpha-frequency EEG biofeedback has been shown to reduce anxiety and to reduce heart rate reactivity to a stressor after 8 sessions of EEG biofeedback training (Rice, 1993). While EEG biofeedback has been shown to significantly change EEG power dynamics (Egner, 2004), it is still unclear if and how EEG biofeedback can effect long-term and complex changes in cognitive and/or emotional functioning.

Some attention has been given to other types of biofeedback for the treatment for PTSD, such as heart rate variability (HRV) biofeedback, which may be relevant in understanding the background of biofeedback with respect to PTSD treatment. While one study reported no difference in symptom reduction between treatment as usual and treatment as usual plus HRV biofeedback (Lande, 2010), a handful of other studies have reported significant associations between HRV changes and PTSD symptoms. Specifically, increased HRV was significantly correlated with PTSD symptom reduction, which was more effective with respiratory sinus arrhythmia (RSA) (which affects HRV) biofeedback than with progressive muscle relaxation (Zucker, 2009). Furthermore, combat-related PTSD subjects showed lower resting HRV than controls, but training with HRV biofeedback increased PTSD subjects' HRV and simultaneously decreased their PTSD symptoms (Tan, 2011). Finally, a quantitative EEG study showed that an acute session of RSA biofeedback was associated with an increase in alpha-band power and reduced higher frequency beta-band power, suggesting a neural impact of RSA training and HRV regulation (Sherlin, 2010).

Summary The proposed study of EEG biofeedback at the OASIS program will not only address the clinical efficacy, but also the brain activations associated with specific symptoms of PTSD through collection of high-density EEG data before and after EEG biofeedback treatment. These data will help elucidate the neural correlates of PTSD symptom expression as well as address the potential efficacy of EEG biofeedback therapy as an adjunct treatment for PTSD-like symptoms.


Ages Eligible for Study:   18 Years to 40 Years   (Adult)
Sexes Eligible for Study:   Male
Accepts Healthy Volunteers:   No

Inclusion Criteria:

  • Male,
  • active military,
  • participating in PTSD program at NMCSD

Exclusion Criteria:

  • Seizure disorder.
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Please refer to this study by its identifier: NCT01591408

United States, California
OASIS PTSD program
San Diego, California, United States
Sponsors and Collaborators
United States Naval Medical Center, San Diego
Naval Health Research Center
Principal Investigator: Julie A Onton, PhD Naval Health Research Center
  More Information

Responsible Party: United States Naval Medical Center, San Diego Identifier: NCT01591408     History of Changes
Other Study ID Numbers: NMCSD.2012.0042
Study First Received: May 2, 2012
Results First Received: August 23, 2016
Last Updated: October 27, 2016
Individual Participant Data  
Plan to Share IPD: No

Keywords provided by United States Naval Medical Center, San Diego:
EEG biofeedback

Additional relevant MeSH terms:
Sleep Wake Disorders
Nervous System Diseases
Neurologic Manifestations
Signs and Symptoms
Mental Disorders processed this record on April 28, 2017