What is Neurofeedback?
Neurofeedback is a type of biofeedback. In biofeedback, information about some part of your body is fed back to you, and you are able to gain control over yourself in a way previously unavailable. Neurofeedback is a computer-assisted brain wave training process.
In neurofeedback the information that is fed back to you is EEG (electroencephalogram) data read by sensors placed on your head. Very tiny amounts of electric energy are read and processed by electronic and computer equipment to provide you with moment by moment information about your brain activity. There is no electricity administered to the brain. Sensors only read the electricity constantly generated by the brain.
Brain cells communicate with one another, in part, through a constant storm of electrical impulses. Their patterns show up on an electroencephalogram, or EEG, as brain waves with different frequencies. Neurofeedback practitioners first create a “brain map”, the initial EEG readings on their patient to serve as a guide for treatment.
Excessively fast or slow activity is associated with brain dysregulation, and a variety of clinical symptoms. For example, high Theta waves are responsible for our daydream state which can cause “zoning out” in class and daydreaming, lack of focus and poor attention. The EEG can show which areas of the brain have high or low wave frequency, or when parts of the brain are not communicating adequately with other parts. Training changes in that activity helps improve self-regulation.
This activity is shown to the neurofeedback therapist as wave patterns on a computer screen, and to patients as visual graphics – ranging from cars racing one another to rapidly changing side by side puzzles. The feedback provided to the brain helps the patient speed up or slow down areas of the brain that are out of balance. With repeated sessions, this process produces subtle shifts of brain state in the desired direction, and behaviors generally improve. The overall goal explained to the patient is to reach an optimal state of calmness and alertness, simultaneously producing stability in the brain. A sound also beeps when the brain behaves as desired, which helps learning via feedback. This is known as operant conditioning, which forms an association between a behavior and a consequence.
There are no known side effects with Neurofeedback. Neurofeedback also has been endorsed by the American Pediatric Society as an alternative to stimulant medication.
Why do neurofeedback?
When you or your child has difficulty paying attention, or has feelings of depression or anxiety, perhaps can’t stop thinking about something, experiences pain, or are unable to control behavior such as substance abuse, is it a psychological or a physiological problem?
Utilizing neurofeedback to train the brain can change these problems. This is a short list of what NFB can improve:
- emotional regulation
- cognitive function and mental flexibility
Some of the conditions neurofeedback is used to treat are:
- ADD/ADHD Click here for the latest research
- Substance Abuse
When you change the brain, it undoubtedly affects the mind. The Neurofeedback training produces a measurable physiological effect on the brain. When you give the brain information about itself, it has an enormous capacity for change. Neurofeedback makes the information available to the brain almost instantly, whereupon it responds and makes adjustments. Changes in the EEG due to feedback tend to correlate with improved behavior, mood, affect regulation and attention.
Neurofeedback is usually done in 1/2 hr sessions, one to three times per week. Approximately 30-40 sessions are the standard for optimal change in brain waves.
How Effective Is Neurofeedback?
Neurofeedback has now been studied for more than 40 years and many of its clinical applications have been identified for quite some time. As with any new treatment, the literature published about it will focus on areas in which the treatment is most successful.
Since the brain is so vital to many aspects of our lives, improving overall brain function tends to have widespread positive results. It’s not unusual for someone to report that though they came in for help with one problem, they have found help they didn’t expect in other areas.
It is clear, however, that neurofeedback has great effectiveness in some very specific areas:
ADD and ADHD: These conditions seem to be symptoms of brain dysregulation that neurofeedback addresses directly. Neurotherapists often conceptualize ADD and ADHD as the result of too much slow brainwave activity, particularly in the frontal lobes. Training the brain, and especially the frontal lobes, to be “stronger” at a more normal rate of activity will tend to reduce problems with concentration and focus. In some cases learning disabilities also benefit from neurofeedback that includes work at the location in the brain associated with the impaired area (reading, speech, etc.)
Epilepsy: Results with seizures is also an area where neurofeedback has documented effectiveness. Often those treated with neurofeedback are the more severe sufferers whose seizures could not be adequately treated by medication. Neurofeedback significantly reduces the number of seizures almost three fourths of the time. Many seizure patients will continue to need medication, but they are greatly helped by neurotherapy.
Migraine Headaches: Migraines respond very well to neurofeedback, and many neurotherapists report a high level of success the vast majority of the time. For many people the migraines go away and do not return.
Other conditions clearly associated with brain dysregulation, including those on the autistic spectrum (including Asperger’s Syndrome,) attachment disorders, sleep disorders, Tourette’s, obsessive-compulsive disorder, Tinnitus (ringing in the ears), Parkinson’s tremors, and essential tremor also find improvement with neurofeedback. In some cases the help is not as dramatic as with the situations mentioned above, but in some cases, it is. In fact, sometimes patients report a significant improvement from their very first session.
Most of what is listed above has clear neurological origins. However, in addition to the obviously neurologically related disorders listed above, more “traditional” categories of psychological problems can also find help with neurofeedback.
Anxiety: Anxiety is sometimes the result of a brain that is working too “fast” and needs to be calmed. This would certainly be the case for the types of anxiety that are more medical or genetic in origin. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, which is a type of anxiety, is sometimes also helped utilizing a special type of neurofeedback that has a strongly calming effect, allowing some patients to process traumatic memories without feeling re-traumatized by the process. Bruxism, or teeth grinding, can also be helped.
Depression: Depression often involves problems in the frontal lobes that respond to neurofeedback training. Treatment with neurofeedback may result in needing less medication.
Alcoholism and Drug Abuse: Neurofeedback has been found helpful in preventing relapse for those recovering from chemical dependency. Research on this began in the late 1980’s and continues.
Other miscellaneous problems that can find relief with neurofeedback include chronic fatigue syndrome, fibromyalgia, anger problems, oppositional behavior and stress.