It’s been projected that 50 million people in the U.S. over the age of 50 suffer from tinnitus. Those who have tinnitus hear continuous sounds that no one around them can hear. These sounds vary from high-pitched ringing or whistling sounds, buzzing, or rapid clicking sounds similar to crickets chirping. For some tinnitus sufferers, this persistent onslaught of noise is more of a distraction than an illness, but for many others it is a cause of intense distress, bringing about symptoms such as anxiety, fatigue, depression, and sleep disorders.
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.
Discovered in the 1980s by neuroscientist Pawel Jastreboff, TRT challenges the assumptions of many audiologists that tinnitus is a physical disorder due to ear damage that cannot be fixed. While it is true that exposure to loud sounds can cause tinnitus, Jastreboff proposed an alternative neuro-physical model based on his training in behavioral neuroscience. Thus freed from the temptation to regard the problem as something that cannot be fixed, he set about developing behavioral modification techniques that could fix it.
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 other words, it’s not the sounds themselves that are a problem, just the distress and over reaction to hearing them. Only people who have been trained in how to administer the TRT training can lead the counseling sessions, which use precise and individually-tuned techniques of training and sound therapy to teach people to eliminate their over reactions to the sounds they don’t want to hear, and instead focus on sounds they do want to hear.
Counselors trained in TRT have had remarkable successes helping patient eliminate their negative reactions to the sounds they hear, thereby relieving distress.