Brain Based Bilateral Stimulation for Stress and Anxiety

Bilateral Stimulation is any rhythmic alternation of stimulation between the left and right hemispheres of the brain. It is typically used in a therapeutic context to assist clients in reprocessing difficult images, memories or triggers. This technique has gained attention as an effective treatment for trauma through modalities such as EMDR (Eye Movement Reprocessing and Desensitization).

Because the rhythmic, alternating activation of the brain hemispheres is theorized to be the mechanism of action, many therapists have begun using bilateral stimulation in other forms including sounds, hand tappers and butterfly hugs.

“Bilateral stimulation activates an accelerated processing effect that encourages an extraordinary free-associative process between the mind and body that causes thoughts, emotions, images, memories, body sensations, dreamlike fantasies and other aspects of perception to break out of their old patterns and move rapidly to new levels of self-awareness.”

 Laura Parnell from “Tapping In: A Step-By-Step Guide to Activating Your Healing Resources Through Bilateral Stimulation”

Based on this proposed mechanism of action, a colleague from BrainMaster Tech Inc. had an idea, could we get the same impact by directly stimulating the brain. Working with BrainMaster Technologies, we developed a bilateral stimulation protocol using their Micro Tesla, repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulator (rTMS). This particular device emits very low power (<600 milliGauss) electromagnetic pulses through magnetic coils(paddles) that can be attached to a specific cap and placed on the scalp.


Proof of Concept Case Studies:

K.,  my first volunteer, is a colleague trained in energy psychology techniques. I placed the paddles at T3, T4, P3 and P4 and ran the MicroTesla for 3, 2-minute runs at 10 hz. The MicroTesla’s would pulse on one side at a time and rotate every 1 second. While the MicroTesla’s were running I asked K. to mentally tune in to some problem or issue that was distressing to her. After each 2-minute run, I checked in to see how she was feeling and if the level of distress (measured by SUD level) had decreased.  With each 2-minute run, the SUD’s level decreased until it was at “0.” The next day she sent me an email with the following comments:

“I continue to try to think of the memory that I worked on yesterday and it continues to be neutral.”

“It’s almost difficult to even think of it. It’s very distant and doesn’t bring any intensity.”

I measured this subject’s brainwave activity before and after the session and compared the results using the z-builder function in BrainAvatar. This analysis provided z scores of change (post to pre) for every region of interest in each brainwave band.

The largest identified change was in the gamma frequency band in Brodmann 25. Interestingly, this area of the brain is associated with mood and anxiety as well as memory formation.

bilateral_case study1

Based on this initial success, I proceeded to try the technique on someone with more distress and less experience in therapy.

R. is in his mid-40’s with a history of substance dependence. His primary concerns relate to anger and resentment. He decided to focus on a difficult interaction he had with his partner earlier the same day. Rather than just think about the event, I asked him to talk about it. I provided minimal redirection during his processing to remain focused on the single event. We utilized the same MicroTesla protocol as K’s session and did a single 10 minute run.

The next day, R. sent an email with his reaction to the session:

“I started out strong with my resentment and self-righteous indignation and talking out loud with my eyes opened I think helped. After about 30 seconds I started to feel a little confused and was having a hard time REALLY channeling the resentment. It seemed to be less concentrated and I felt less tense and bringing it back was becoming increasingly difficult.”

“by the end I was feeling like my perspective had changed somewhat and I was more empathetic to the point of view of my wife and mother-in-law. It felt like the default well worn pathway was disrupted a bit. This did seem to stay with me for the rest of the day.”

“When I got home I was not tense as I had been 2 weeks ago when something similar happened. I also did not need for the interaction to go in any expected way. I was more comfortable with the conflict and no longer felt so strongly about my need to justify my actions.”

bilatera_case study 2

Similar to K., R’s pre-post brainwave analysis showed the largest changes in the gamma band, although in different areas. R’s changes occurred in Brodmann areas 9 and 10 and much more in the right hemisphere.  In fact, both areas showed changes greater than 2 standard deviations in the right hemisphere.

Based on these and a few other positive volunteer experiences, it appears that this modality may have the potential to be an effective brief treatment for a range of difficult experiences.

While I am currently working to gather more data on this therapeutic method, there are many areas of inquiry remaining including the impact of paddle placement, MicroTesla frequency and speed of bilateral stimulation.

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