What is EEG Neurofeedback?
Neurofeedback is an advanced form of biofeedback that allows a client to see and train his/her EEG (brainwaves) in order to cultivate healthy, effective, and efficient patterns of brain activity. Because all behaviors, sensations, and emotions are based on brainwave functioning, training the EEG can help the client reduce stress and stress related symptoms, regulate emotions, improve attention, concentration, and performance, and in many cases reduce or eliminate the need for medications for a variety of disorders. Neurofeedback is essentially a form of exercise for the brain that enhances flexibility and stability of the EEG.
What is it used for?
Studies have shown neurofeedback to be effective with the following disorders:
- Attachment Disorder
- Chronif Fatigue Syndrome
- Conduct Disorder
- Chronic Pain
- Sleep Disorders
- Stroke/Brain Injury
- Tourette's Syndrome
Case studies indicate that neurofeedback is effective with many other conditions, including migraine headaches, bipolar disorder, eating disorders, memory problems, learning and developmental disorders, behavior problems, speech disorders, TMJ, and multiple other stress induced symptoms. Moreover, neurofeedback is used for peak performance training in sports, the performing arts, and business applications. Ongoing research is addressing additional ways neurofeedback can be used to optimize health and brain functioning.
How can it help so many problems?
Because the electrical activity in the brain is involved in controlling our attention, thoughts, behaviors, and the regulation of all of our bodily systems, any improvements in brainwave patterns can have a broad impact. Brain mapping with Quantitative EEG actually lets us see what specific brainwave irregularities are contributing to certain cognitive, emotional, and behavioral disorders. Neurofeedback then allows us to train the brain to correct these irregularities by teaching the brain about itself, strengthening its communications, and developing better self-regulation. Positive changes in cognitive functioning, behavior, and mood can result as well as fewer problems related to brain irritability, including seizures, headaches, and panic attacks. If and when no specific problem needs to be targeted, neurofeedback can help optimize health by increasing the brain’s ability to self-regulate, focus, relax, and become more resilient.
How is it done?
Sensors are placed on the client’s head to record the electrical activity (EEG) in that area of the brain. (Note: These sensors are merely reading a signal from the client. No electricity is being administered to the client.) The brainwaves are displayed on the therapist’s computer while the client watches a training screen on a separate monitor. As clients produce more of the desired brainwave patterns and less of the unwanted activity, they receive auditory and visual feedback reflecting their progress on the training screen. The therapist can adjust the challenge level as necessary to increase learning. This process is essentially an advanced form of operant conditioning that has been successfully used in more traditional types of biofeedback for over 30 years.
How can I do well?
This is the most frequently asked question! You cannot force your brainwaves to change, and, in fact, if you try too hard to make it happen or worry about your performance, you won’t do as well. Brainwaves naturally and constantly change. The computer catches the brain whenever it creates the desired pattern and rewards it with visual and auditory feedback. This encourages the brain to spend more time producing the desired pattern. Your brain is hard-wired to want to succeed and will do the work for you. It helps to physically relax, set the intention to learn, and then pay soft attention to the visual and auditory feedback on the training screen. In addition, good nutrition, regular sleep, exercise, and other stress-reducing techniques enhance results.
Why does this work?
Neurofeedback utilizes the same learning process that occurs whenever we acquire any new skill. The brain learns by forming connections between nerve cells, thereby making certain nerve pathways more readily and easily available for use. The more frequently these pathways are employed, the more efficient the brain becomes at performing the associated task. For example, when you’re first learning to ride a bike, you have to really concentrate on every part of the process. With enough practice, however, riding becomes easier. Eventually, you’re able to think about something else entirely while your brain effortlessly handles the details of riding the bike. Likewise, by repeatedly practicing desired brainwave patterns, your brain gets better at automatically regulating itself.
Below is a brief history of the origins of neurofeedback and how we learned it works. In the 1960s Dr. Barry Sterman measured a particular EEG rhythm in cats. He then demonstrated that the cats could be trained to produce more of that rhythm by rewarding them with sweet, warm broth. By chance, he discovered that the cats who had learned to do this were significantly less likely to have a seizure when exposed to large doses of seizure-causing chemicals. Subsequent human studies proved that the same type of training could reduce the frequency of seizures in people as well. As it turned out, humans could be trained to produce more or less of a specific brainwave rhythm simply by rewarding them with auditory feedback (in the form ofbeeps)! Later studies showed that the same neurofeedback training process for reducing seizures also decreased symptoms of ADHD. Since these original studies were conducted, continued research has expanded the scope of neurofeedback’s applications and added to its empirical support.
Unfortunately, many physicians, including neurologists, are still unfamiliar with this specific type of biofeedback and may be somewhat skeptical about using a new approach. You may refer them to our website or other references we provide for scientific evidence. We are always happy to speak with them as well.
How will I know if this will work for me?
There is strong empirical evidence for neurofeeback’s usefulness with many different conditions; however, as is true with any medical or therapeutic intervention, it’s impossible to guarantee a positive outcome. We work hard to assess the likelihood of effectiveness in your specific case with an in depth interview, scientifically validated assessment measures, and basic brainwave recordings. In certain situations, we may also recommend that a more comprehensive brain map (qEEG) or other testing be performed before proceeding with training. Personal factors such as nutritional status or co-occurring conditions can affect outcome and may need to be addressed before an individual can truly maximize the benefits of neurofeedback.
Although neurofeedback is an effective tool for training brain pathways, it is important to realize that the best results often occur when this modality is combined with other forms of treatment and/or homework. For example, we may recommend that you consistently practice diaphragmatic breathing or muscle relaxation exercises in between sessions. Your commitment and involvement are crucial for success. Sometimes, after the initial presenting symptoms have been resolved, it may be necessary to address certain situations or issues that contributed to the development of the symptoms in the first place. This can be as simple as learning to relax instead of automatically responding to life events with muscle tension or it can involve more in depth work. We want the best possible outcome and lasting results for each of our clients.
Are there any adverse effects?
How long does training take?
After the initial one-hour interview and completion of any other necessary testing, thirty-minute neurofeedback sessions will be scheduled twice a week. (Getting a good night’s sleep between sessions allows the brain to consolidate its learning.) At certain intervals we may schedule a longer session to review progress and address other matters. In some cases we may suggest incorporating additional forms of biofeedback or other therapies to maximize positive outcomes.
The most unpredictable variable is how many training sessions it will take to achieve your goals. For uncomplicated ADD in children, the average number of sessions is 40, but this still varies widely according to individuals and the severity of their symptoms. A person’s presenting problems may be the result of a simple brainwave irregularity or the expression of a very complex situation that will require training at multiple sites around the brain. Profound disabilities, longstanding problems, or disorders secondary to brain injury may take much longer to resolve, although exceptions are always possible. In many cases, positive changes are noticed by the end of 20 sessions, so it’s helpful to begin training with a commitment to complete at least 20 sessions. (Neurofeedback is much like exercise for your brain: you wouldn’t expect to be in excellent physical shape after only 10 visits to the gym.)
Also, much like physical exercise, in many cases you would not train for 40 neurofeedback sessions and then quit cold turkey. We often wean the frequency of your visits as you put your new brain pathways to work, and then offer refresher sessions as needed. For example, some ADD children may need a few sessions as they grow and change hormonally. Some adults also return for occasional “tune-ups”.
What should I do to prepare?
Please bring any relevant medical/psychological/educational reports as well as your insurance information and form of payment to the initial one-hour intake visit. For the routine sessions it is best to come well rested, if possible, and with the intention to let your brain learn. Clean hair helps us record a better signal. If you’re sick or feel as if you’re coming down with something, it’s best to postpone your appointment until you’re feeling better. Brainwaves are affected by physical illness.