Tinnitus is widespread in the United States with approximately 50 million sufferers over the age of 50. Tinnitus causes people who have it to hear continuous sounds “in their heads” that people surrounding them cannot hear – buzzing or roaring sounds, high-pitched whistling or ringing, or rapid clicking. For some tinnitus sufferers, this constant barrage of noise is more of a nuisance than a disorder, but for many people it is a source of intense distress, bringing about symptoms such as anxiety, fatigue, depression, and sleep disorders.

Although there are technological treatments for tinnitus, such as hearing aids that mask and suppress the buzzing or ringing sounds, there is also a form of counseling known as Tinnitus Retraining Therapy. 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.

Tinnitus Retraining Therapy was discovered in the 1980s by an Austrian neuroscientist named Pawel Jastreboff, and it is radical in the sense that it disputes the assumption that tinnitus is a disorder caused by physical damage that cannot be healed. While damage to the ears – for example, exposure to loud noises for long periods of time – is often a cause of tinnitus, Jastreboff drew upon his training in neuroscience to propose an alternative behavioral neuro-physical model that explained the condition. This allowed him to disregard previous notions that the condition couldn’t be fixed, and focus his attention on developing behavioral modification techniques that could, indeed, fix it.

At the core of Tinnitus Retraining Therapy is the proposition that tinnitus is not a disease in and of itself. Instead, Jastreboff believes that tinnitus is a manifestation of hyperacusis which is defined as an over-sensitivity to certain frequency ranges of sounds. A person with severe hyperacusis has difficulty tolerating everyday sounds. In other words, it’s not the sounds themselves that are a problem, just the distress and over reaction to hearing them. 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.

Counselors trained in TRT have had remarkable successes helping patient eliminate their negative reactions to the sounds they hear, thereby relieving distress.