What Is Neurofeedback?
Neurofeedback (also called Neurotherapy or EEG Biofeedback) is a computer-assisted treatment that enables you to alter your own brain waves. When you can see your own brain waves on a computer screen, you can learn to change them in a direction that improves your brain functioning. Thus, the goal of Neurofeedback is self-regulation.
Biofeedback has been used to help people control their physiological responses, such as relaxing their muscles, increasing temperature in their hands, lowering their heart rate, reducing sweating, promoting heart rate variability and normalizing breathing, to name a few. Neurofeedback, which is a form of Biofeedback, employs brain-computer interfaces and virtual reality settings to allow brainwave training.
From a behavioral viewpoint, Neurofeedback is a form of operant conditioning. Once you have conditioned your brain to increase or reduce specific brainwaves (Delta, Theta, Alpha, Beta, Gamma) or to improve the symmetry and coherence of those brainwaves, you can improve your brain functioning in areas such as attention, alertness, mental acuity, memory, flexibility, associative thinking, creativity and calmness. Such mental conditioning or “physical therapy” for the brain improves your “mental posture” and rids you of cognitive problems, just as improved physical posture and muscle tone can rid you of back pain.
What Is It Used For?
EEG Biofeedback has been shown to be particularly beneficial in ADD/ADHD, traumatic brain injury, stroke, epilepsy, depression, alcoholism, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, brain Lyme, sleep disorders, anxiety, pain control, headaches, stress reduction, autoimmune disorders and other conditions in which brain wave properties are either impaired or not at the optimal level. How can one treatment modality address so many different conditions? Because it addresses the source, by fine-tuning the central command unit - your brain.
In general, the goal of Neurofeedback is to normalize irregular brain wave patterns. For example, research shows that people with ADD or ADHD have 30% more slow (Theta) brain wave activity when performing cognitive tasks than normally found. As a result, they constantly seek out stimulation by daydreaming, fidgeting, talking a great deal and rapidly switching their attention from one activity to another. Stimulant medications, such as Ritalin, are helpful by artificially increasing their level of brain activation and temporarily relieving symptoms. Neurofeedback is a drug-free and side effect-free solution that teaches people to increase brain activity as needed, alleviating symptoms and often eliminating the need for medications.
Of course, different treatment protocols exist for different conditions and consist of selecting appropriate brain wave frequency, amplitude, synchrony, coherence, direction and location. QEEG (sometimes called "brain mapping") can significantly increase the accuracy of treatment by pinpointing the exact location of abnormal brainwave activity. Comparing pre- and post-treatment brain maps allows easy evaluation of treatment effectiveness.
How Is It Done?
Neurofeedback training is a painless, non-invasive procedure. One or more sensors (small gold-plated electrodes) are placed on the scalp, and one on each ear. The brain waves are recorded and displayed on a computer screen by means of a video game (e.g., bowling or darts) and a sound signal. The patient is asked to make the video game go… with her brain! An exciting innovation in Neurofeedback training is the ability to move actual objects, like the slot cars. As activity in the brain shifts in the desired direction, the car moves or the video game progresses and the player scores. If activity in the brain doesn’t change, or increases in an adverse direction, the game stops. Gradually, a learning of new brain wave patterns takes place. A person learns to engage the desired mental state depending on the demands of the situation. For example, when a child suffering from ADD is given a test in school, he might be able to shift into a highly attentive state (like flexing the right muscle) by recalling and engaging the mental state he has learned to capture in his training sessions. Numerous studies have demonstrated that this learning is durable and reliable years after the treatment.
Some doctors prefer to call Neurofeedback a training rather than a treatment, because the emphasis here is on developing self-regulation. Instead of relying on a “treatment” given to them in the form of pills or surgery, patients learn to gain control over their own mental states. From this perspective, Neurofeedback is similar to other disciplines of self-regulation, like Yoga, meditation and Chi-Gong, where a person learns to control his or her body and mind.
Neurofeedback training is a learning process, therefore results are seen gradually over time. For most conditions, initial progress can be seen within about ten sessions. Most patients meet their treatment goals in 20-40 sessions, depending on their condition. Each session lasts approximately 50 minutes, which includes the hook-up, homework assignments and discussion of session-to-session progress.