What Exactly is Tinnitus Retraining Therapy and What Types of People is it Appropriate For?

It has been projected that 50 million people in the U.S. over 50 are afflicted with tinnitus. Tinnitus causes those who have it to hear continuous sounds “in their heads” that people surrounding them can’t hear – buzzing or roaring sounds, high-pitched whistling or ringing, or rapid clicking similar to the sound of crickets. For many tinnitus sufferers, this persistent onslaught of noise is more of a nuisance than an illness, but for many people it is a source of intense distress, bringing about symptoms such as fatigue, anxiety, sleep disorders, and depression.

Tinnitus can be treated technologically, using electronic hearing aids that filter out or suppress the ringing or buzzing sounds, but another form of counseling known as Tinnitus Retraining Therapy approaches the condition from a different angle. The concept behind TRT is to retrain the brain to reduce sensitivity to the tinnitus noises. The idea is to lower the perceptions of the sounds and reduce negative reactions to the sounds.

Created by Austrian neuroscientist Pawel Jastreboff in the 1980s, Tinnitus Retraining Therapy is a radically different approach to tinnitus treatment. It challenges the assumption among most audiologists that tinnitus is the result of physical ear damage which cannot be reversed. Jastreboff has proposed an alternate model for tinnitus based on his background in behavioral neuroscience. Firmly believing that the condition could be fixed, he focused his efforts on developing behavior modification techniques.

According to Jastreboff’s model, tinnitus is not a disease or condition in itself, but a function of hyperacusis – the ability of some people to become aware of normal sounds generated by the auditory system that most people filter out or are unaware of. In his theory, it is not the buzzing sounds themselves that are a problem, and the distress they cause some people is due to an over reaction to the sounds. Tinnitus Retraining Therapy is a form of individualized counseling perform by people with special training and qualifications. The sessions are very precise to each individual’s needs and aim to teach tinnitus sufferers to mentally curb their reactions to undesirable sounds by focusing on the desirable ones.

TRT counselors have had remarkable success over the years in enabling patients to overcome their conditioned negative responses to tinnitus, thus enabling them to eliminate the distress that they feel.

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