What is Neurofeedback?
Neurofeedback is brain exercise. The clinician observes your brain in action from moment to moment by monitoring your brain waves. You see your brain activity and the clinician helps you to change it by rewarding shifts toward a more appropriate and stable brain state. It is a gradual learning process, but with this feedback, the brain can learn to function more efficiently.
Neurofeedback is also called EEG biofeedback. The electroencephalogram (EEG) is another name for the brain wave recordings and, in this context, biofeedback refers to the process by which you learn to change your brain waves and thereby change your control of brain states.
Neurofeedback uses a brain/computer interface. Sensors adhered to the scalp detect the electrical currents and brain activity. By using operant conditioning, you get rewarded when your brain engages in more of a specified type of brain activity. By changing the EEG, changes occur in brain timing and can create a calmer brain or a more activated, alert, and stable 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 and asks it to make adjustments during training. The brain can respond rapidly. Changes in the EEG due to feedback tend to correlate with improved behavior, mood, affect regulation and attention. Change in EEG behavior is a direct reflection of changes in neuronal firing. EEG training is thought to improve activation, inhibition, and cortical stability, while impacting regulatory mechanisms.
- Anxiety Disorders
- Panic Attacks
- Cognitive Impairment (Traumatic Brain Injury)
- Migraines/headaches - Clinicians and MDs report that the incidence and intensity of migraines are often reduced – and sometimes eliminated.
- Sleep Dysregulation - One of the first changes clients typically report with Neurofeedback training is improvement in sleep. Changes often include improvement in insomnia, bruxism, poor sleep quality, difficulty waking, frequent waking and nightmares.
- Autism, PDD, and Reactive Attachment Disorder - These are the fastest growing areas of Neurofeedback. The calming effects of Neurofeedback produce noticeable results quickly in these severely affected populations. While Neurofeedback cannot directly address all symptoms related to these disorders, the overall calming influence can lead the individual to have better outcomes from other types of interventions, as well.
- Epilepsy - Multiple research studies show a reduction in seizures that are non-responsive to medications – and that the training effect holds long after neurofeedback sessions have ended.
Neurofeedback Frequently Asked Questions
"How is Neurofeedback done?"
Sensors are attached to the scalp with EEG paste which then pickup brain waves. It is painless and is entirely non-invasive. The current only goes from the brain to the computer (no application of any voltage or current goes to the brain). A computer processes the brain waves and extracts certain information from them. The clinician shows you the ebb and flow of your brain waves, and the specific information obtained from them, in the form of a video game. You will be instructed how to play the video game using only your brain waves. The specific brain wave frequencies rewarded and the sensor locations on the scale are unique to each individual and tailored to your specific brainwave profile.
"Who can benefit from Neurofeedback?"
Anyone can! Neurofeedback is training in self-regulation. Good self-regulation is necessary for optimal brain function. Self-regulation training enhances the function of the central nervous system and thereby improves mental performance, emotional control and physiological stability. Excessive fast or slow activity is associated with brain dysregulation and a variety of clinical symptoms. Training changes in that activity toward more effective patterns which helps improve self-regulation.
With Neurofeedback, the target is bioelectrical functioning of the brain, the brain’s internal regulatory networks. Neurofeedback trains the brain’s functional dysregulation. Simply by detecting the brain going off track through the EEG, it is possible to train the brain toward enhanced stability and improved functioning. In other respects, Neurofeedback is somewhat like putting the brain on a tread mill to exercise certain regulatory functions continuously. Neurofeedback can help anyone maintain good brain function no matter what age they are.
"How long does the effect of training last?"
The benefits of training maintain long after training is completed, if the client has done enough training and the right type of training. However, there are many sites to train on the brain and many different frequencies to choose from. Results may vary depending on the expertise or skill of the professional – just as physicians vary in their success of using medications.
Certain individuals may experience a relapse at some point, if they experience an injury, trauma or extreme stress. There may be underlying neurological issues or genetic vulnerabilities, or other factors that lead the brain to be more vulnerable. It varies by client – some will hold and never need “maintenance” sessions. For others, ongoing training may be appropriate in the future depending on stress and if symptoms reoccur. Once someone has successfully completed thorough intensive training, occasional “maintenance” sessions can be sufficient to get them back on track. The intensive training is seldom needed again, but occasional “tune-ups” can work quite well. It’s as if, once the brain has “gotten it,” it doesn’t take much to get back to that place. The brain is devoted to its own regulation. Once it learns how to do so, it tends to retain the information.
"When do you stop training?"
The safest way to approach training is to “over learn” or “over train.” Don’t stop as soon as symptoms begin to resolve. Keep training for at least 5-10 more sessions, so your brain learns the changes more permanently. Discuss with the clinician reducing the Neurofeedback training gradually – going to once every two weeks, once a month, and see if the symptom improvement holds.
Let’s say you quit Neurofeedback right after your symptoms improve. If 3 months from now or 9 months from now the symptoms reappear, you’ll probably say Neurofeedback didn’t work. But Neurofeedback is fundamental learning. Don’t quit till you’ve over-learned otherwise you could end up throwing your money and time away. Repeated practice is needed for the learning to stick.
"Can Neurofeedback training be done while a client is on medication?"
Yes. Many clients start Neurofeedback while on one or more medications.
After a number of Neurofeedback sessions, a reduction in medications is not unusual. (It’s very important that your doctor be alerted if signs of over-medication occur). The brain is dynamic; changes in the electrical system affects the chemical system and vice versa. The theory is that, as the brain becomes more activated during training (increased blood flow), the brain works more efficiently. A regulated brain uses all substance more efficiently.
"How does training transfer to everyday situations?"
When an individual notes their attention has improved, or they are less angry or anxious, they don’t have to remember what they did in Neurofeedback training. The training generalizes, and the brain – under a high demand situation – seems to have learned to manage itself better. The brain is being training for better self-regulation, which improves its functioning in any setting or situation.
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See Links and Resources for Neurofeedback Research Article Summaries