Theta Brainwaves: “Miraculous Resolutions” At the Crossover Point

These findings about theta were exciting but never became widely known. Then in 1989 Dr. Eugene Peniston and Dr. Paul Kulkosky of the University of Southern Colorado (who had learned some of their techniques from the Greens at the Menninger Foundation) conducted studies in which they used EEG biofeedback to train a group of chronic alcoholics to enter first the alpha and then the theta state, while another group served as a control group. The researchers discovered that the alpha-theta group showed an extraordinary recovery rate many orders of magnitude greater than the control group. More impressively, after thirteen months members of the alpha-theta group showed “sustained prevention of relapse.” (Even more impressively, a further follow-up study three years later has shown the same sustained relapse prevention.)

And, in the most intriguing findings of all, the alpha-theta group showed a profound personality transformation. Among the extraordinary changes noted in their subjects, Peniston and Kulkosky found significant increases in such qualities as warmth, abstract thinking, stability, conscientiousness, boldness, imaginativeness, and self-control, and significant decreases not only in depression but also in anxiety and other problems.

Overcoming addiction. Transforming personality. These were magic phrases. The Peniston studies emerged just when concern with addictive behaviors and personality transformation had become subjects of urgent interest to millions of people. Millions of people were going to twelve-step programs modeled on Alcoholics Anonymous to overcome their “additions” to everything from sex, to overeating, to shopping, and were seeking to transform their current addictive personality by stripping away their false masks and communicating with their “inner child.”

With its implied message that EEG alpha-theta feedback could help individuals overcome all sorts of addictive behavior patterns and find a happier, more integrated personality, the Peniston-Kulkosky work aroused enormous interest and excitement among biofeedback researchers and clinicians.

Modifying and expanding upon this work, many workers have begun using multi channel “brain-mapping” EEGs to explore in more detail what happens in the brain as the individuals undergo the personality transformations noted by Peniston and Kulkosky. What they have found is that when a subject becomes deeply relaxed, alpha brainwave activity increases through the whole brain. As relaxation increases, the subject begins to produce more and more theta activity. As theta amplitude increases, alpha seems to recede or diminish, until theta supersedes alpha.

At that point, according to some researchers—at what they are calling the crossover point or the critical point—the subjects experience important, emotionally loaded, even life-transforming moments. These frequently consist of creative insights, vivid memories from childhood, or, in the case of theVietnamvets suffering from post traumatic stress syndrome or adults who were abused as children, the emergence of suppressed or repressed experiences. Subjects consistently report these moments as profound, moving, life transforming, even spiritual moments. One of these clinicians,Houstontherapist William Beckwith, has reported that in his clients, the crossover point is “often accompanied by spontaneous surfacing of previously inaccessible memories, often from early childhood,” as well as “the seemingly miraculous resolutions of complex psychological problems.”


  1. Brad Arnold says:

    Thank you. This explains a lot. I consciously went through a “alpha -ization” regime years ago, and now experience many of the “symptoms” of theta dominance. Frankly, it makes me perceive most people now as deficient.

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