Deep-States and Alpha/Theta Training

brainwavesAlpha was the first brain wave to be named and trained. Alpha states are often associated with meditation and deep states of calm. In 1975 Benson’s research showed that increases in alpha resulted in increased relaxation. Research has been done into Zen monks that have found established differences in their brains due to meditation. Alpha/theta (A/T) training, alpha enhancement training, and alpha synchrony training also all have non-clinical applications in peak performance training.

Initially Kamiya, Green and Budzynski rewarded theta, alpha or both in order to facilitate twilight states of consciousness to encourage healing. Peniston and Kulkosky applied A/T training to both PTSD and alcoholism with great success. A/T training has been shown in some research to be superior to talk therapy when it comes to resolution of long-entrenched trauma and recovery from substance abuse. Nearly half the people who engage in A/T training will experience the Peniston Effect: they will have an allergic reaction to alcohol or other psychoactive substances. Training sessions can be conducted twice a day, 7 days a week.

What are Deep-states?

The learning involved in A/T occurs during twilight states. These states are a natural part of the sleep-wake cycle. When we are awake we have a lot of beta activity, which helps us stay focused and on task during the day. At night we have a high frequency of delta, the sleep wave. We transition from beta, to alpha, to theta to delta as night comes and we fall into deep sleep. The transition into sleep creates a state of mind that mixes reality with subconscious images. When there is a predominance of theta the focus is on the internal world. Alpha can therefore be seen as a bridge between the inner and outer worlds. A/T training promotes twilight states that may evoke hypnagogic imagery. Some clients report striking imagery and deep insights about their life. Traumatic events can be safely re-experienced.

A/T training rewards both theta and alpha states. Alpha reinforcement is from 50-70% and theta from 20-50%. As the patient goes into a deep state of consciousness alpha amplitude decreases and theta increases. When theta exceeds alpha it is called a cross-over.

A/T training in trauma

A/T training is not for people in crisis, and it is best to start with stabilising the patient first. It is important to also have the patient engage in talk therapy as many issues can be brought up that the patient will need to be debriefed on. It is important for the therapist to have an understanding of trauma, recovery and even addiction. Patients need coping skills, CBT skills and grounding techniques. They also need an emotional support base.

Each session begins with 3-8 minutes of constructive visualisation.  This visualisation can be an image of the ideal self , a temptation scenario (where they abstain) or scenarios of entering into conflict (and coping assertively). A/T training goes for approximately 30 minutes. Debriefing may take another 15-20 minutes. The patient is expected to keep a log of each session.

More informal A/T training may be used in conjunction with psychotherapy. Patients come in once a week, have 10-15 minutes of counselling and then train for around 20-25 minutes. This is for milder cases where A/T training is used as an adjunct to talk therapy. This type of informal A/T training can reduce the number of talk-based sessions.

Protocol selection

There are several ways to do slow-wave training:

(1) Alpha/Theta training

This is a single channel protocol that rewards both alpha and theta. It can facilitate twilight states for the purpose of opening up and resolving psychological depth issues.

(2) Alpha synchrony training

This is a multiple channel protocol that rewards alpha alone in at least two contralateral scalp locations. It has been used in peak performance training as well as psychological depth work.

(3) Alpha enhancement training (one reward and optional inhibits)

This is a single channel protocol used to improve anxiety. In some cases alpha is the only reward because theta is already too high.

Most forms of slow-wave enhancement are done in a quiet room, with eyes closed in a reclined position.

Sensor placement

Sensory placement is always posterior. Screen at P3 & P4. Compare alpha and theta levels across the hemispheres.

If P3>P4 then train to increase P4 or O2

If alpha if symmetrical but P4>P3 theta, train at O1

If P4>P3 alpha but P3=P4 theta, train at Pz


  • If there is wide-spread EEG slowing. For example, in patients with ADHD.
  • Anxious patients with excessive posterior alpha
  • Trauma patients who dissociate may need some eyes open theta suppression and practice grounding before A/T training
  • P3 sensor placements are contraindicated for depressed patients

The Peniston/Kulkosky Alpha/Theta Protocol

During the late 1980s and early 1990’s Peniston and Kulkosky developed an innovative therapeutic EEG alpha-theta neurofeedback protocol for the treatment of alcoholism and prevention of its relapse. The Peniston/Kulkosky brainwave neurofeedback therapeutic protocol combined systematic desensitization, temperature biofeedback, guided imagery, constructed visualizations, rhythmic breathing, and autogenic training (relaxation involving auto-suggestion) incorporating alpha-theta brainwave neurofeedback therapy. These investigations prompted a reexamination of EEG neurofeedback as a treatment modality for alcohol abuse. Successful outcome results included a) increased alpha and theta brainwave production; b) normalized personality measures; c) prevention of increases in beta-endorphin levels; and d) prolonged prevention of relapse. These findings were shown to be significant for experimental subjects who were compared with traditionally treated alcoholic subjects and non-alcoholic control subjects. Subjects in several studies were chronic alcoholic male veterans, some of whom also suffered from combat-related posttraumatic stress disorder. For many subjects, pharmacological treatment was not generally beneficial. Data suggested that alpha-theta brainwave neurofeedback training appeared to have potential for decreasing alcohol craving and relapse prevention.

The Menninger Alpha/Theta Protocol

The Menninger alpha-theta training sequence includes temperature, SEMG (muscle tension), alpha, and theta biofeedback. The Menninger alpha-theta protocol incorporates an ON-OFF-ON training paradigm where ON means increasing and OFF means suppressing a frequency band.

Training sessions using the Menninger alpha-theta protocol typically last 30 minutes.