02. Experts Corner

Exploring the Potential of CBT with Cognitive Training

January 12, 2023

As a doctor primarily trained as a general practitioner, I’ve chosen to specialize in evidence-based CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy) for patients experiencing depression, anxiety and chronic pain through my psychotherapy practice Unity Wellness. This suits my passionate for improving wellness and overall health, which also keeps me open-minded to explore new therapies. One tool I’ve been excited to integrate into my approach is NeuroTracker. Here I’ll introduce why I have been finding that the application of this neurotechnology alongside CBT is especially promising.

About CBT

Most of my patients choose to do CBT remotely, and we start by talking about how it's defined, the goals, and how we can use it to improve mental health.

The cognitive part is in reference to our conscious and subconscious thinking processes. These influence how we feel, and therefore how we behave - for the better if they are positive, or for the worse if they are counterproductive.

Then we work on basically recreating or reframing thought processes into more realistic thought patterns and beliefs, tangibly changing associated feelings. For example, this can be transforming feelings of helplessness towards optimism and proactivity.

Then there are certain behaviors that we can restructure to help our mental health. These can be surprisingly simple yet important things like going to bed on time, eating regularly, limiting screen time, and engaging in exercise.

By also optimizing our lifestyle behaviors, we get into a better state of overall health.

These sessions take place once a week, and homework is set with clear and specific goals to achieve until the next week.

Within 12 weeks we are able to adopt beneficial thinking and behavioral patterns which lead to tangible improvements in mental health and wellness. One way of thinking about it is to help people help themselves.

Integrating NeuroTracker with CBT

I learned about NeuroTracker through one of my good friends, who I meet at weekends to have table tennis competitions with. One day I noticed improvements in his game, which didn't quite make sense as we only play when we get together. He then told me has been using this thing called NeuroTracker and that I should check it out.

Looking into it I discovered how it's been used by professional athletes with benefits in performance, yet also has compelling research conducted with many different populations, suitable with my evidence-based approach.

Within the therapy methodology just outlined, I have since been assigning NeuroTracker training as part of the CBT homework with promising results.

Discovering the Benefits

The NeuroTracker component fits in well with the overall objectives throughout the CBT program. As our CBT consultations are only once per week, it adds value in terms of a structured daily therapeutic routine. In particular, I’ve observed the following positives.

1. Seeing and Feeling the Benefits

One of the nice things about this form of cognitive training, is that as my clients work with the software, they see the improvements. This shows in the actual performance on the task through steady increases in speed threshold scores, alongside the real-world effects they see in terms of gains in mental focus and awareness.

As such this approach empowers my patients to want to work on improving their general cognitive function and pay more attention to their day-to-day mental health.

2. Monitoring Changes in Wellbeing

As a CBT practitioner, one of the challenges is relying on voluntary reports from the patient. With NeuroTracker however, I get some objective insights on their daily progress.

So if there is a decline in performance on certain days, it gives me the chance to say, ‘Hey, on Thursday, your scores were pretty low, were there any particular difficulties you had?’ Then they might answer that they had a very poor night sleeping, or they were in a bad mood because of a certain event that happened. As you can imagine, such insights are very valuable for progressing the overall therapy.

3. Encouraging Cognitive and Behavioral Introspection

One of the goals of CBT to is help people be more self-aware. The daily measure that NeuroTracker delivers encourages patients to relate how they think and behave, to their cognitive performance scores.

For instance with one client, the night after consuming alcohol his NeuroTracker scores dropped to around 33% of his current baseline. For him this was an eye opener in terms of actually discovering the delayed side effects.

Such feedback provides good stimulus for self-awareness and self-regulation, making it easier to adapt to more positive habits in a constructive way.

4. Pain Management

My patients suffering with chronic pain have given feedback that the NeuroTracker sessions provide a temporary distraction, which they probably weren’t aware could be achieved with mental effort.

Then as they benefit from working with the software they start to learn more generally how to focus their minds away from the pain and on the task at hand. This is empowering because it gives reassurance that with mental focus they have some control over what they feel, as well be more fully engaged in activities that pain would normally distract them from.

Objectively the pain hasn’t changed, but subjectively they report overall that it seems to go down a notch.

Going Forward

As I work with more patients I’m hoping to see a trend of the CBT therapy being successful in shorter timeframes, and generally better outcomes in therapy. If patients can successfully exit therapy sooner, it more than justifies the 6-minutes of training per day, because they are able to get on with their lives sooner.

From a broader perspective I’m also keen to explore the applications of this approach beyond the clinical setting. As the training is tailored for remote services, I’m very interested in exploring NeuroTracker for life coaching programs internationally.

I certainly see potential using this tool as a way to stimulate high-level cognitive functions, and how this can be of real value for lots of different types of individuals’ needs, from wellness to high-performance. I'm certainly excited to explore the potential of this neurotechnology.

You can learn more about the work I do through Unity Wellness here.

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