Alpha to theta crossover occurs just at pre-sleep, providing a dissociative hypnogogic experience of profound relaxation. Alpha to theta crossover is at the heart of restorative sleep and the loss of a sense of time and place. It is called the healing zone or psychological dissociative state. The state of consciousness is similar to a meditative or hypnotic relaxed state. The alpha-theta crossover state is a deeply relaxed state in the alpha (8-12 hertz) and the theta (4-8 hertz) range, right on the edge of sleep. The name comes from the behavior of the brain waves. Alpha waves are usually higher in amplitude, or more powerful, than theta. When the amplitude of the alpha waves drops and the theta amplitude rises to the point where it crosses over the alpha waves, which means it has become more powerful, is called alpha-theta crossover. Alpha theta crossovers decrease with sympathetic stimulation and increase with parasympathetic stimulation.

It is a specific state that is associated with the resolution of traumatic memories. The active ingredient of the training, many believe, is the imagery of painful, repressed memories that the client has suffered with for years, which surface and are then resolved in this state.

Peniston’s Alpha-Theta Protocol

Peniston & Kulkosky used a multi-modal protocol that called for initial peripheral temperature biofeedback training, autogenic training, and breathing exercises to induce relaxation followed by approximately 30 thirty-minute sessions of EEG biofeedback. Patients learned to increase theta and alpha in occipital regions during eyes closed training to induce a hypnagogic state. Mental imagery scripts based on drug and alcohol rejection scenes, treatment goals, and lifestyle changes developed prior to neurofeedback were read to subjects during the initiation of the alpha-theta training session. The 1989 Peniston and Kulkosky study detailed positive results with this protocol after 15 sessions, and in 1990, Peniston & Kulkosky reported “…fundamental changes in alcoholic personality variables following alpha-theta EEG biofeedback”.