Together with neurobiologist and neurofeedback expert Meike Wiedemann, we conducted an interview on the topic of alpha-theta training. She explains what Alpha-Theta-Training actually is, how she uses it in her everyday practice and why it is a method of self-care.
BEE Medic: Dear Meike, thank you very much for taking time for us today. Can you start by describing what Alpha-Theta-Training actually is?
Meike: Alpha-Theta-Training is a component of the so-called Othmer Method. With Alpha-Theta, we basically resort to frequency band training. In contrast to awake training, we also speak of deep state training with alpha-theta training, because the state you want to achieve with it is a kind of trance state. In Alpha-Theta-Training, patients sit on a comfortable chair with their eyes closed. Patients should keep their eyes closed throughout the process in order to have better access to processing psychological issues in these deep state areas. ILF awake training is mainly used for physiological regulation. Alpha-Theta-Training goes one layer deeper to address psychodynamic processes and also access unconscious processing. The idea behind Alpha-Theta-Training is to create an access between the conscious and the unconscious level. Alpha-Theta-Training therefore aims more at psychodynamics and less at physical regulation. Whereby it must be said that inner-psychic processes that shape our behavior are also closely connected to physical sensations and vice versa. In Alpha-Theta-Training one opens the pipeline so that the conscious and unconscious systems can be "connected" and thus the resources in the unconscious can also be used.
BEE Medic: What does alpha actually stand for and what does theta stand for?
Meike: These are the classic frequency bands. Alpha is a frequency band around ten hertz and theta is lower, between four and seven hertz. The state in alpha is a slight relaxation, you can speak of a relaxed focus. In comparison, theta is even lower. When we talk about the whole spectrum of waking states, there is this relaxed focus and then when you "go inward" more and more and withdraw into yourself, then we are more in the theta range and the subconscious states.
BEE Medic: How do you use the Alpha-Theta-Training in your practice?
Meike: The Alpha-Theta-Training is always an addition to the ILF-Training, to the so-called awake training. With ILF Neurofeedback, a basis is first created over several sessions, there is no fixed number. That is, you first have many sessions of awake training to reduce symptoms and stabilize the person to be treated. Then you can work with it for topics that involve psychodynamic processes. For example, changing beliefs, letting go of old habits, or even in processing traumatic content. The next step is to dive one layer deeper to resolve things as well. In the further course of an alpha-theta session, neurofeedback promotes both alpha and theta waves. In the beginning, patients feel a slight relaxation in the alpha range. After five to ten minutes, the patients usually go one step deeper into these trance-like states. As a rule, they then switch between alpha and theta, or sometimes have longer states in theta. This is the area in which one has access to the unconscious areas. The application of Alpha-Theta-Training differs between patients. For some it is advisable to do Alpha-Theta-Training every second session, for others it may be necessary to work with it every three, four, five sessions first, in order to maintain the symptom reduction achieved in the waking training and not to cause any regression. But what the patients experience in Alpha-Theta-Training are dream-like states. Things come together and they find solutions that they would never have thought of with conscious thought. However, it is not always consciously that things "click". It often happens on an unconscious level.
BEE Medic: Why is it so important to prepare for Alpha-Theta-Training with ILF Neurofeedback?
Meike: You want patients to experience Alpha-Theta-Training from a safe position, and that needs preparation and physiological regulation through ILF-HD training first. Patients who are very loaded, whether it's emotional problems or neurological instabilities, something like migraine attacks or headache symptoms, can be re-triggered by alpha-theta training. Or if I do Alpha-Theta-Training without ILF Training with people who have had traumatic experiences, they may find themselves with their whole experience in that trauma. If someone is still extremely anxious and controlled, then he or she will not be able to engage in Alpha-Theta-Training either. What might happen then is that the patient:inside opens their eyes and says "I'm not doing that!" because they feel that they are losing control. The letting go and the relaxed state is then perceived as dangerous and too overwhelming, thus unnecessary fears can be triggered.
Therefore, a good preparation is needed, on the one hand with the ILF training and on the other hand, of course, a correspondingly good relationship with the therapist.
BEE Medic: With which patients do you do the Alpha-Theta-Training?
Meike: Alpha-Theta-Training can really consolidate the effects of ILF-HD-Training. For patients who are "not yet ready" after ILF training, Alpha-Theta-Training can give another boost to their further development. The person should only tolerate it well or be sufficiently prepared by ILF training or other self-regulation methods. I have had patients in training where I have said "Great, the headaches are gone, now we can phase out the training". And the patients have then said: "No, now we are really starting. I never thought I would get this far in my life and now I have this and that wish." Alpha-Theta-Training is also often used in peak performance. For example, an skier may go through certain stretches or an actor/ actress or singer may prepare for performance or exam in this state.
BEE Medic: What advantage does the Alpha-Theta-Training offer to your patients?
Meike: The Alpha-Theta-Training can give a further push in the change work, in the whole therapy process and allows a processing on a deeper level. When I train the Alpha-Theta, then I also train for the future: How can I get involved in such states? One can then create much more access to resources that lie in the subconscious and use more of them.
BEE Medic: Why do you do Alpha-Theta-Training with your eyes closed? And how does the feedback actually work?
Meike: In Alpha-Theta-Training it is important to close your eyes so that you can get into this deep state at all. In this state, Alpha-Theta-Training makes it possible to experience things again in a kind of dissociation. That is, it allows you to feel yourself in a safe state to be able to process things again from a different perspective. It's like an "inward look." You turn your focus away from the outside world and into the inside world. And that is of course difficult when you are distracted by images from the outside. Only with closed eyes do the alpha waves emerge to the extent that you can look inside yourself. The tricky thing about neurofeedback is that all the feedback you need, i.e. how the alpha amplitudes, theta amplitudes, steep rises in amplitudes are behaving, is all fed back auditorily. You don't have to worry about missing any feedback with your eyes closed. Nevertheless, we have the possibility to give visual feedback at the beginning of the software module Alpha-Theta-Reflections. This often makes it easier for the patient to get started. These are so-called guided imagery, which can be switched on in different languages, so that the patients are supported in reaching such a state.
BEE Medic: What are your previous experiences with Alpha-Theta-Training?
Meike: I have also worked with alpha-theta training in earlier times at the university. The experience is that patients get into such trance states relatively quickly without needing much guidance. In a therapeutic sense it is a fantastic opportunity for patients to support psychodynamic processes on an unconscious level, to process, to re-learn and to really use this deep state, just like you do with other methods. I also work with hypnotherapy. There are relatively many parallels to that.
BEE Medic: As a therapist, can you also use Alpha-Theta-Training on yourself?
Meike: I would recommend it to every therapist to train him/herself and to use these tools. And not only in the sense that one makes a self-awareness, but so that one knows what the patients experience during the process. For myself, the most profitable ones are Synchrony and Alpha-Theta-Training. There are different methods for self-care, but when I do neurofeedback, Synchrony and Alpha-Theta are my favorites. It really brings you down from the day-to-day, to another level, like a nice deep meditation. And it's super simple. You don't have to do anything except stick on the electrodes, start the program, and then let yourself be sprinkled, so to speak. I can then really dive into this deep state. I find that very beneficial and the rest of the day is completely different, much more relaxed and calm. From that point of view, if you have a Neurofeedback system available, I find Alpha-Theta-Training a relatively simple way of self-care.