Mapping Brain Changes During Addiction Treatment

By The Fix staff 09/12/18

At The Florida House Experience, qEEG scans give clinicians and patients the information they need to fine-tune recovery.

Patient and doctor discussing brain imaging results
Neurotherapy, when used along with other treatment options, can greatly help patients who are stuck in their recovery process.

The brain controls everything we do, but for such an important organ we understand surprisingly little about it. For centuries, misunderstanding about how the brain worked led to dangerous treatments that often did more harm than good.

Now, however, new understanding of the brain has led to advances in treatment for mental illness and addiction. The Florida House Experience, an addiction treatment center in Deerfield Beach that specializes in substance abuse addiction treatment, uses brain imagery and neurotherapy to improve outcomes for patients and help them sustain life-long change.

What is Neurotherapy?

Addiction and mental illness both take a toll on a person’s brain. After years of battling mental illness or abusing substances, the brain’s self-regulatory systems are askew. Neurotherapy aims to correct that, first by understanding the brain’s current functioning and then by working to improve it.

“Neurotherapy is brain training in self-regulation,” says Dr. Rachael Bishop, a licensed clinical psychologist at The Florida House Experience. “It helps to regulate the brain, helps to strengthen the brain and improves the brain’s functionality.”

Before a patient begins neurotherapy at The Florida House Experience, care providers map the brain using quantitative electroencephalography, or qEEG. By analyzing a person’s brain activity, a computer model generates quantitative data that shows where brain functioning is outside the norm and possibly affecting a person’s recovery.

“We can see where in the brain is not functioning up to capacity,” Bishop says.

Using this information, the team develops an individualized treatment plan using neurotherapy to optimize brain performance. The neurotherapy can include neurofeedback training, neuro-stimulation, or a combination of both. During neuro-stimulation sessions, small pulses of low level electrical current are given to the brain where it is lacking. During neurofeedback sessions, patients learn to self-regulate their brain activity by being rewarded for better functioning. Combining neurostimulation with neurofeedback techniques can be much faster than other forms of neurofeedback only, since we can first demonstrate to the brain what we want it to do (neurostimulation), and then reward those results when the brain can do it on its own (neurofeedback).

“Neuro-stimulation provides the brain what it needs to restore its balance,” Bishop explains. Over time, the brain learns to mimic these charges on its own, restoring function. Neuro-stimulation can also be used at the same time as therapy to help the brain reprocess events in much the same way that EMDR therapy does.

Understanding the Individual

Using the qEEG scan, providers at The Florida House Experience are able to tailor an individual’s treatment plan, since they know which areas of the brain have been most affected by mental illness or addiction.

“We can take 100 people with heroin addiction, and we will probably see some similarities in their brain mapping, but we will also see differences,” Bishop says. “As an individual, brain mapping can show how your brain is different from other people’s and how might that be affecting your functioning.”

It can also provide clues into what types of treatment will work best. For example, someone with excess beta wave activity in their brains likely experience symptoms including anxiety and restlessness. If clinicians know someone has excess beta activity, they can help the patient also learn self-regulation and relaxation techniques in order to give them some reprieve.

“What we’re really trying to do is affect the specific set of symptoms that person is coming in with,” Bishop says. However, neurotherapy in general produces better functionality of the brain – which means better sleep, better focus, and improved calmness.

Making Lasting Change

Using neurotherapy, clinicians at The Florida House Experience help clients strengthen areas of the brain that were dysregulated by mental illness or drug use. Clients undergo sessions at least 2-3 times per week, and ideally more often.

“This is a learning process, and learning involves practice and repetition,” Bishop explains.

Most people begin seeing changes within five sessions, which is also when another qEEG is conducted to show the client and providers what progress has been made in restoring brain function. By the end of 15-20 sessions, the patient has likely achieved lasting improvements in their brain, Bishop says.

“That’s why neurotherapy has a distinct advantage over medication and other traditional treatments: It’s creating lasting change in the brain,” she says. Someone might get into remission on medication, but if they stop taking medications their symptoms will often return. Neurotherapy offers a more permanent treatment option.

“Those improvements stick, with a few exceptions,” such as brain injury or significant relapse, Bishop says.

When neurotherapy is combined with other treatments — including talk therapy and medications — the outcomes for patients are very good.

“Neurotherapy is meant to be used as conjunctive treatment,” Bishop says. “Used at the same time as other types of treatment, it can help break through where a person is stuck and produce lasting change.”

The Florida House Experience is a behavioral health treatment center in Deerfield Beach, Florida. Learn more on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, or by phone at (866) 821-0196.

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