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Part 2; Alpha-Theta Neurotherapy As a Multi-Level Matrix of Intervention

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Part 2

Nancy E. White, Ph.D. and Karinn Martin, M.S.W.
The Enhancement Institute Houston, Texas

continued from part one of the chapter, which you can access here.

State Contexts
An explanation for the wide-ranging power of this protocol might be found in the realm of state-dependent learning and memory (Rossi & Cheek, 1988) or state-context learning and retrieval (Cowan, 1993). The predominant waking brainwave frequency of children under the age of six is in the four to eight hertz range associated with theta in adults. As we mature, our average brainwave frequencies get faster (Duffy, Iyer, & Surwillo, 1989). In adulthood these lower frequency waves are usually associated with reverie and hypnogogic imagery. They occur in the transitions from wakefulness to sleep.

"The highly emotional experiences of early childhood, and the (often mistaken) decisions which stem from them, are learned and stored as modification of the slower background frequencies that were activated at that time," Cowan (1993) states. The surfacing of memories from early childhood during the theta training fits observations of "state-dependent memory," i.e. that information learned while in one state of consciousness is more difficult to access when in another state of consciousness. The natural shift in dominant brainwave frequencies during maturation could result in dysfunctional childhood learnings being preserved in the unconscious (Beckwith, 1992). To gain access to most of these "state-bound" memories, one has to be in the state in which they were created, i.e. theta. Alpha-theta therapy induces a profound alteration in the state of consciousness of the patient. As the subconscious appears to become more accessible in this deeply altered state, traumatic memories of the past often are released and the subconscious seems more readily amenable to alteration or programming by new images. Dr. Thomas Budzynski, researcher and clinician, found that theta was the ideal state for "rescripting" or "reimprinting" the brain, eliminating destructive behaviors or attitudes that are a result of "scripts" laid down in childhood (during times when the child is in a theta state) and replacing them with positive scripts (Hutchison, 1992). This is one of the few ways in which an adult can store new information in the subconscious, which can be equated to state-contexts dominated by theta and low alpha rhythms which have well learned but state dependent connections to the limbic system and early emotional memories (Cowan, 1993).

Colin Ross
Following the theme of state-context dependent memory, we might consider what Colin Ross (1989), an authority on Multiple Personality Disorder (MPD), states about diagnoses of pathology. He writes that the DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual) should have a category for Chronic Trauma Disorder of Childhood, Childhood Onset, with and without Multiple Personality Disorder. It becomes a hierarchical diagnosis including multiple diagnoses, with the most severely abused and dissociative persons developing MPD. Those who are less severely traumatized or less gifted at dissociation, develop somatic symptoms, personality disorders including borderline, panic disorders, depression and addiction, exacerbated by any genetic predispositions (Blum, 1991). Using a metaphor from quantum mechanics, Colin Ross states that chronic trauma disorder is a single field, with distinct regions. These different regions are called affective disorder, eating disorder, substance abuse, and so on. Numerous regions of the field can be activated simultaneously in a given patient. These subregions can occur in different combinations in different patients. From this point of view, could we perhaps collapse our horizontal axis to a single diagnostic entity that we term Chronic Trauma Disorder.

Figure 11. The Core Issue (Chronic Trauma Disorder), hiding in the Unconscious, permeates all levels of the Self - Physical, Mental, Emotional and Spiritual. Childhood trauma becomes the source out of which the multiple symptoms and disorders flow.

Stanislav Grof
When our patients experience abreactions and flashbacks, we are encountering their psychodynamic realm. The experiences belonging to this category are associated with and derived from biographical material from the subject's life, particularly from emotionally highly-relevant events, situations, and circumstances. They are related to important memories, problems, and unresolved conflicts from various periods of the individual's life since early childhood. This can take the form of reliving memories of traumas that were accessible in normal states of consciousness or can emerge from the realms of the individual unconscious where the traumas have been repressed. These memories can take the form of a variety of experiences that contain unconscious material in the form of symbolic disguises, distortions and metaphorical allusions, often presenting as hypnagogic imagery, imagery that seems to spring into the mind from unconscious sources. This concept leads us to the writings of Stanislav Grof (1976, 1980, 1985, 1988) and his work with the National Institute of Mental Health in LSD psychotherapy, another consciousness-altering type of therapy used in the 1950's and 1960's until the drug was scheduled by the federal government. Grof offers the principle of specific memory constellations, for which he has used the name COEX systems (systems of condensed experience).

A COEX system can be defined as a specific constellation of memories from different life periods of the individual. The memories belonging to a particular COEX system have a similar basic theme or contain similar elements, and are accompanied by a strong emotional charge of the same quality. The deepest layers of this system are represented by vivid memories of experiences from the period of birth, infancy and early childhood and seems to represent a summation of the emotions belonging to all the constituent memories of a particular kind. This is in basic agreement with Freud's psychodynamic theory with the new element being the organizing dynamic system. A given individual can have several COEX systems. The psychodynamic level of the unconscious, and thus the role of the COEX systems, is much less significant in individuals whose childhood was not particularly traumatic (Grof, 1985), hence an explanation of why some of our patients have strong life changing experiences of memories and abreactions and others do not.

In a complicated interaction with the environment, these systems can selectively influence the subject's perception of himself or herself and of the world, his or her feelings and thoughts, and even somatic process. When this core experience of the system is relived and integrated, the patient's life can be transformed. In the case study of B.K., when, from a "witness consciousness" (Wuttke, 1992) and in a deeply altered state, she relived the memory of the crib abuse and was rescued by her adult Resource Self, she collapsed a COEX system and altered her life and her perceptions of herself in the world and her reaction to the world. This can also be said for the experiences of K.H. and M.F. and many other of our patients.

Bruce Perry
The broad range of effectiveness of this type of therapy might lack credibility if it were not for the fact that early childhood trauma exerts such a wide range of psychological and physiological effects. Perry (1992) states that prolonged "alarm reactions" induced by traumatic events during infancy and childhood can result in altered development of the central nervous system (CNS). He hypothesizes that with this altered development, one would predict a host of abnormalities related to catecholamine regulation of affect, anxiety, arousal/concentration, impulse control, sleep, startle, and autonomic nervous system regulation, among others. He further states that it is likely that the functional capabilities of the CNS systems mediating stress in the adult are determined by the nature of the 'stress' experiences during the development of these systems, i.e., in utero, during infancy and childhood.

Cowan (1993) states that it is hypothesized that many addicts use drugs not just to feel good, but to forget that they feel badly. With this, we return again to Colin Ross' suggested diagnosis of Chronic Trauma Disorder. Frequently this "feeling badly" is residue of earlier trauma.


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Dr. White, a licensed Clinical Psychologist in the State of Texas, is Founder and Clinical Director of The Enhancement Institute, Houston, Texas, which focuses on neurobehavioral wellness. Dr. White, past president of the International Society for (more...)

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