What is Neurofeedback?
Neurofeedback (EEG biofeedback) is a non-invasive, non-pharmaceutical, collaborative training method for rebalancing and re-regulating the brain wave frequencies that determine behavior, mood, memory, performance, sensory decoding (pain or pleasure), and thought creation. Using a combination of cutting edge brain research, high-speed computer tracking, and algorithms (behavior predicting formulas), neurofeedback helps you move your brain away from old, painful, self-defeating thoughts and behaviors and creates new neural (brain) connections that are associated with focus, calmness, clarity, and motivation.
Neurofeedback is a technique in which we train the brain directly in its basic competencies. The brain not only regulates all bodily functions but also must take care of itself. In fact, most of the brain’s activity refers to itself. This activity must be organized, and we can attribute many of our problems in mental functioning to failures in such organization.
Neurofeedback begins with an assessment that helps you form 4 behavioral goals (i.e. increase length and depth of sleep, decrease anxiety or depression, increase memory and focus, decrease addictions, increase academic, sports, or vocational performance), and then asks 90 specific questions that allow that program to tailor your training for your specific brain and goals.
Training takes place in a quiet and comfortable environment. Sensors that are attached to your scalp monitor minute fluctuations in brain wave frequencies as the program coaches you towards change by giving auditory and visual feedback (in real-time) of how your brain waves are changing. This rewards the brain for the formation of new, more productive thoughts and behavior, and inhibits old, non-productive thoughts and behavior. People who experience EEG neurofeedback report that they feel relaxed, less stressed, more focused, and are responsive rather than reactive to what life presents.
EEG neurofeedback has been approved by the FDA to treat stress and has been found effective in reducing or alleviating PTSD, ADD/ADHD, Anxiety, rage and anger, pain associated with muscle tension held around an injury, increasing athletic performance, and job effectiveness.
Sessions usually take place 2 – 3 x per week for a 5 -10 week period (though they can be done as often as 5 times per week over a 4 week period). Research has shown that 50% of neurofeedback clients experience a sense of change after 2 sessions. We are looking for significant long-lasting change and this is achieved in 90% of clients after 20 sessions.
What is an EEG?
The EEG (Electroencephalogram) allows us to see the brain at work, and when the brain is not functioning well, the evidence often shows up in the EEG. We can analyze the EEG into a variety of constituents, each of which appears to be responsible for some regulatory activity. By challenging the brain, much as you challenge your body in physical exercise, your brain can learn to function better. But in contrast to physical exertion, in this particular exercise, only the brain is working hard—and you don’t feel that! What happens in practice is that we extract from the EEG the essential information on which we want you to train. Typically this means showing you how large the EEG is at particular frequencies, what we call its amplitude.
How Does the EEG and Neurofeedback Process Work?
We ask you to try to change that amplitude over time, and we reward you for succeeding. How do you succeed, you ask? We let your brain figure it out, and you have to “let” your brain do it, too. We don’t really know how learning of any kind takes place, but we know that it does so. And the brain can also learn about controlling itself better. The brain manages many things with cyclical movement between the state of activation, and the state of relaxation, and we can observe this process in the EEG.
As we ask the brain to change its own activity level, we are effectively putting it on a “stair stepper.” We ask the brain to change, it does so, and it also resists the change. We ask it again, and it resists again. In this push-pull fashion, the brain strengthens its regulatory capacities, and eventually, the brain may be able to function well without the help of neurofeedback. It will have learned better internal control.
Benefits of Neurofeedback and EEG
Where does this matter? First of all, it helps in managing our arousal level, our sleep-wake cycle. When you sleep more efficiently, you are more alert during the day. It can help with anxiety and depression, and with pain syndromes like migraine or chronic pain. Secondly, it can be helpful in managing attention–how well you can persist even at a boring task, for example. Thirdly, it can help you manage the emotions. Emotions may feel like the real you, but your brain has something to do with how you feel and react. If the emotions are out of control, that’s trainable. If they aren’t there—as in lack of empathy, for example—that, too, is trainable.
Finally, there are some specific issues where Neurofeedback training can be helpful, such as in cases of seizures, traumatic brain injury, cerebral palsy, autism, and dementia. In these instances, the training does not so much get rid of the problem as it simply organizes the brain to function better in the context of whatever injury or loss exists.
Once you accept the possibility that this training might be effective for you, the next question is: Will this training change who you are? Well, yes and no. If a child is known for his temper outbursts and he does the training, and the rages fall away, he is certainly different. But the parents would say, we have our real son now. A person should not be defined by their worst features. The training takes you closer to who you really are. That is our experience. And because this training really allows your true self to emerge, others may notice the changes in you even before you do.
You may wonder, is there a completion to the training, or does it go on and on? In order to reach a specific objective, the training generally just goes for a certain number of sessions. If there is back-sliding after that, due to stresses in your life, a few booster sessions may be recommended. However, just as concert pianists practice more than the rest of us, rather than less, EEG training can be used without limit to enhance performance. This may be of interest to professional athletes, corporate executives, and performance artists who live in a very high-stress world.
It all begins with brainwaves. What are brainwaves?
Brainwaves are the sum total of millions of neurons all firing at once. The number of neurons sparking in the brain at a certain frequency (speed) convey information that defines the amplitude (or power). Brainwaves are measured in Hertz (waves per second), and have a spectrum of frequencies. Each frequency spectrum carries a different meaning about emotions, physical movement, concentration, and creative expression. Issues happen when specific frequencies do not fire optimally for a given activity. For example, it is not optimal for beta frequency, the “go” brainwave, to be dominant at night or it causes insomnia. By the same token, delta, the “sleep” brainwave causes daytime drowsiness and insomnia if is too active during the day.
Continuing research is showing that neurofeedback is yielding positive results for many people with debilitating neurological symptoms. There are many case studies of people who have changed their lives for the better using this new technology. Research has shown people of all ages seeing dramatic improvement in ADHD, anger, mood problems, anxiety, depression, migraines, seizures, and more.