What Exactly is Tinnitus Retraining Therapy (TRT) and What Types of People Should Consider It?

Tinnitus is unfortunately a widespread condition, affecting an estimated 50 million people in the U.S. over 50. Tinnitus causes people who have it to hear constant sounds “in their heads” that those surrounding them cannot hear – buzzing or roaring sounds, high-pitched whistling or ringing, or rapid clicking similar to the sound of crickets. Many individuals “learn to live with” their tinnitus, considering it as a nuisance rather than a condition. But for other people, this constant ringing in the ears produces auxiliary symptoms of stress and distress, sleep disorders, fatigue, anxiety, and depression.

Some forms of tinnitus respond well to treatment with hearing aids which are programmed to filter and suppress the ringing or buzzing sounds. In this article, we want to introduce you to an alternative tinnitus treatment known as Tinnitus Retraining Therapy (TRT). Using a combination of mechanisms, TRT “retrains” tinnitus sufferers and gives them the ability to reduce their perceptions of the noises they hear, so they no longer react to the sounds negatively, and thus eventually cease being bothered by them.

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. Jastreboff has proposed an alternate model for tinnitus based on his background in behavioral neuroscience. Firmly believing that the condition could be fixed, he focused his efforts on developing behavior modification techniques.

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. Jastreboff reasons that the true problem for tinnitus sufferers is the over-reaction and hyper-sensitivity to the ringing or buzzing sounds, not the sounds themselves. During TRT counseling sessions – performed only by those who have been trained in the technique – a precise and individual combination of teaching and sound therapy are used to enable tinnitus sufferers to use their own cognitive functions to shut down their over reactions to the disturbing sounds, and focus more on the desirable sounds they want to hear.

TRT counselors have had remarkable success over the years in enabling patients to overcome their conditioned negative responses to tinnitus, thus enabling them to eliminate the distress that they feel.