Tinnitus is sadly a widespread problem, affecting an estimated 50 million Americans over 50. Tinnitus sufferers hear continuous sounds in their heads that others can’t hear such as clicking, buzzing, ringing, humming or whistling. Tinnitus is often known by its slang name – ringing-in-the-ears. For some tinnitus sufferers, this constant onslaught of noise is more of a distraction than an illness, but for many others it is a cause of extreme distress, bringing about symptoms such as fatigue, anxiety, 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. 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.

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. 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.

Over the years, TRT counselors have had success with helping people to overcome their conditioned negative responses to the sounds they hear, and thus eliminate the distress they feel at hearing them.