An integrative medicine study examines how the brain is activated when a neuro-emotional technique (NET) is used to help cancer patients process traumatic memories.
Investigators explain that patients diagnosed and treated for a long-term potentially fatal disease, such as cancer, can accumulate distressing and traumatic experiences along the way. For some cancer survivors, the memories and physical effects of their experience can last long after their final treatments.
The neuro-emotional technique (NET), is a mind-body therapy which uses exposure techniques along with nervous system feedback. This biofeedback combination allows therapists to gauge the patient’s subjective distress and how the body is reacting to it.
In a prior study, researchers found that in just four to five brief sessions, patients who received NET reported much less distress, their overall emotional state improved significantly and the way their brains reacted to stress cues normalized.
The new study discovered NET activates the cerebellum, an area of the brain known to be responsible for balance, movement, and coordination.
Researchers from the Marcus Institute of Integrative Health at Thomas Jefferson University in Philadephia say their findings add to the basic understanding of the pathophysiology of traumatic stress.
Moreover, the investigators believe the new findings will help inform both providers and patients on the underlying mechanisms involved with resolving traumatic stress.
The research appears in the Journal of Cancer Survivorship.
“The results of this study are a breakthrough in understanding how an intervention like NET works, particularly in regard to the cerebellum’s role in the regulation of emotional experiences, said Daniel Monti, M.D., M.B.A.
“We now understand that the cerebellum does much more than coordinate motor activity.”
This provides information that is not usually part of standard interventions, and is what potentially makes NET an especially efficient and efficacious therapeutic solution for traumatic stress.
By showing the link between the cerebellum, limbic (emotional) centers, and autonomic nervous system, the present study expands current understanding of traumatic memories and how and intervention like NET can significantly alleviate the suffering associated with them.
“This is the first study that offers a demonstrable solution for cancer patients with traumatic stress symptoms. It also expands our understanding of the importance of the cerebellum in coordinating traumatic emotions, and the body’s response to them,” said Monti.
This new data suggests that a brief therapeutic course of the NET intervention substantially alters the brain’s response to traumatic memories. The results show the potential importance of the cerebellum in regulating the brain and body’s response to traumatic stress.
“Just four to five brief NET sessions result in significantly less emotional and physical distress, and these improvements are associated with connectivity changes throughout the brain,” said Monti.
“Patients, even those who were skeptical at first, have reported the NET intervention as ‘defusing a bomb’ on ‘the worst anxiety ever.’”