Neurofeedback is a state-of-the art therapeutic training tool also known as biofeedback for the brain or EEG biofeedback. In simplistic terms, it exercises and helps strengthen the brain, calms it, and improves its stability. It’s easy – virtually anyone can do it.
Using computerized feedback, the brain learns to increase or decrease certain brainwaves that are helpful for improved function based on principles of operant or learned conditioning. Over time, the result is a healthier and better regulated and brain. For example, if someone has excessive amounts of certain EEG frequencies (theta or alpha) in the frontal lobe, they might experience inattention, depression or OCD. By training the brain to reduce slower brainwaves and increase faster brainwave activity, symptoms are often reduced and eliminated. Over time, the new brain behavior is “learned.” The QEEG is used as a guide for the neurofeedback training.
Neurofeedback, psychotherapy and medications work hand-in-hand. As the brain stabilizes, other modalities such as speech therapy and social skills training can become more effective. It is completely medication free, painless and non-invasive.
HELPING BRAIN REGULATION
The brain helps regulate sleep, emotions, thinking, behavior, and much more. The training doesn’t directly change sleep or other problems. It helps the brain become better regulated. Since sleep, emotions and behavior are regulated by the brain, improvements are generally seen after training. Therapists report that changes can be profound.
When you give the brain information about itself, it has an enormous capacity for change. Neurofeedback makes information available to the brain almost instantly and asks it to make adjustments. This gives the brain a greater ability to self-manage or regulate. Changing the EEG helps in improved activation, inhibition, cortical stability, while impacting regulatory mechanisms.
HOW IS NEUROFEEDBACK BEING USED CLINICALLY?
The most common problems being addressed by clinicians with this tool are:
Anger and Rage
Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI, stroke)
• Improvements with TBI often occur even years after the injury – neural plasticity still exists. Emotional and behavioral improvements are significant for this group.
Autism and PDD
• These are the fastest growing areas of neurofeedback. The calming effects of neurofeedback produce noticeable results in these affected populations. Our staff has worked with hundreds of children and teenagers with Autism and pervasive developmental delays.
• One of the first areas of change typically reported by clients. Changes often include improvement in insomnia, bruxism, poor sleep quality, difficulty waking, frequent waking and nightmares
• In a recent study, sustained abstinence was 5 times greater with the group that did neurofeedback training. Most of this population is ADD/ADHD and many have mood or sleep disorders.
Migraines and Headaches
• Incidence and intensity of migraines are often reduced – and sometimes eliminated. The increased brain stability reduces the brains susceptibility to migraines.
• Multiple peer-reviewed studies show a reduction in seizures that are non-responsive to medications.
HOW DOES THE PROCESS WORK?
Assessment: First, there will be a comprehensive assessment of reported symptoms combined with a quantitative EEG (QEEG) brain mapping. This will give a unique view of the brain from an electrical perspective and inform the therapist of related dysregulations in the brain.
Training: Using special gel and paste, sensors are placed on the scalp to record the client’s brainwave activity at predetermined locations. The client is then given visual and auditory feedback with a specially designed computer game or animation. Unlike a normal videogame, the trainee does not use a joystick or a mouse but rather their brains! As certain frequencies increase or decrease, the trainee gets increased or decreased feedback from the computer program – for example, a bowling ball rolls towards the pins and music plays. When the goals of training are not met, the bowling ball stops and the music stops. Neurofeedback is not an active exercise. Neurofeedback training is accomplished by simply being relaxed and focused on the task.
A typical training session lasts 30-40 minutes in length. Client progress is tracked every 10 sessions and adjustments are made as needed. Feedback is an important part of the neurofeedback process and requires your participation – this is an integral part of the training. Repeat QEEG’s are done every 25-30 sessions to illustrate changes in brainwave activity and where to move training protocols.
As the client improves, the effects are not a conscious effort – the client may not even be aware of the effect. The training is a generalized effect. That means the client doesn’t “think about” the training to get the effect. Their brain simply learns to respond better to demands when it’s in a demanding situation (i.e paying attention in school).
HOW COME I NEVER HEARD OF NEUROFEEDBACK?
There are a few reasons you may not have heard of neurofeedback before. First, professionals are often resistant to something that either impedes on their expertise or was not taught in medical school and they do not fully understand. Second, a lack of awareness of the general public to neurofeedback’s effectiveness despite being featured on primetime news shows; Time magazine, ABC news, CBS, NBC, Fox News, and Psychology Today to name a few, has played a part. Finally, the rapid acceleration of technology has finally brought neurofeedback from the lab to the public in a greater capacity over the past 10 years than the 30 years preceding its existence. Better, faster, cheaper computers are enabling cutting-edge technology to make its way to mainstream public awareness. It is the future.
HOW MANY TRAINING SESSIONS DOES IT TAKE?
Depending on reasons for treatment, training could last upwards of 100 sessions for the most serious of disorders. The goal is to complete enough training to insure consistent and lasting effects. Like piano lessons, a lot of practice is needed for it to stick – the brain is learning a new pattern. Initially, 2 session’s minimum a week is recommended for training. Consistency is very important as well for progress and changes to occur. Often, people will continue to train their brains because it “feels good” or they may need occasional maintenance sessions when they “feel off.”
HOW LONG BEFORE CHANGES ARE NOTICED?
If you send someone to the gym, how long will it take for them to get into shape? How long before they notice? The answer varies widely. Neurofeedback is literally brain exercise and how long it takes for the brain to become better regulated can vary widely. This variation depends on symptoms, frequency of training as well as other factors. Some clients may notice changes, either subtle or dramatic, within 5-10 sessions. Other’s may have changes occurring in the brain but have not manifested in a behavioral, emotional or cognitive manner quite yet. Repeat QEEG’s are necessary for neurofeedback and can help identify changes not seen outwardly.
HOW LONG DOES THE EFFECT OF TRAINING LAST?
In general, therapists report that training does stick when done consistently and correctly. Certain individuals may experience a relapse of symptoms at some point. The trigger could be a trauma, an injury or extreme stress. Once someone has gone through intensive training, occasional “maintenance” sessions can be sufficient to get them back on track. It may require a tune-up once a month, once every 6 months or maybe once a year. It is client dependent.