Over the past decades, researchers have developed a technique to help improve the brain’s ability to regulate and take care of itself. When we are depressed, angry, frustrated, anxious or stressed, evidence of this shows up in our electroencephalogram. By challenging the brain, much as you challenge your body in physical exercise, neurofeedback can help your brain learn or re-learn to engage in the tasks of living with greater mindfulness, better concentration and relaxed focus.
Neurofeedback is used in the management of a large variety of disorders. It can be particularly helpful in attentional and behavioral disorders, specific learning disabilities and cognitive deficits, traumatic brain injury and stroke, the epilepsies, PMS, and migraines. Training does not so much get rid of the problem as help the patient organize to function better in the context of whatever injury or loss exists. It can also help manage problematic emotions. Foremost among these are the disorders on the anxiety-depression spectrum and syndromes like migraine or chronic pain. Patients report improvements in sleeping patterns, school or work performance, social relationships and self-esteem as well as decreased irritability and anger. Neurofeedback is often helpful when other treatment approaches have failed. Including traditional psychotherapy and medication. Successful intervention can lead to a reduction of medication to manage emotional or behavioral difficulties.
HOW IS IT DONE?
The therapist places sensors on the scalp and earlobes: they measure the electrical frequencies produced by your brain, just as a heart monitor measures heart activity. The brain waves are displayed on a computer; the computer feeds information back to you about patterns of activity in your brain, while you are engaged in a simple task, like playing a video game, watching a movie or slide shows. The frequencies that your brain uses to do these tasks are the same ones you use on a regular basis to break free from any maladjustment related to brain function.
During neurofeedback, you are learning to monitor and adjust your brainwave patterns. Your goal will be to keep things moving smoothly by modulating your functioning in certain wavelengths. When you are in a relaxed, well-focused state, the game or images proceed smoothly, and the sounds and images from the computer tell if you are on the right track. If you are feeling anxious, angry or experiencing learning difficulties, the computer may remain silent or the images stop. Although you register these signals at a very subtle level, brain activity will respond to the sense of success or failure. Brain patterns gradually shift. The shifts are accompanied by subtle or dramatic changes in the way you feel or process information.
HOW DOES IT WORK?
Neurofeedback provides information.
The brain and nervous system has internal pathways to keep itself informed about our cognitive and emotional states.
We don’t ordinarily have a conscious awareness of the electrical activity in our brains at any given time. Neurofeedback helps us become aware of changes in our cognitive, emotional or physical functioning. Even subtle changes in heartbeat, breathing, and muscular tension signal to us the presence of stress, and of the body’s normal maneuver to respond to stress. For various reasons we may have become frozen in a particular response-pattern, with dysfunctional effects on cognitive processing, affect and emotions.
In neurofeedback, the therapist supports internal attentiveness pathways with information from electrical brainwave activity (EEG). The person responds to this information in an attempt to move toward better-controlled function. This response is a normal part of our nervous system self-optimizing. Neurofeedback is a way to help along the process if it has been affected by stresses of various kinds
Neurofeedback is like a mirror
It reflects how efficiently our brain is working at any given instant. Whereas medication attempts to restore efficient regulation by drug intervention, neurofeedback does so through the twin processes of learning through practice and of increasing awareness of the state of self-regulation.
Neurofeedback is a self-help discipline
Neurofeedback endeavors to train the body/mind to recover its natural self-regulatory capacity through a learning, or re-learning, process. The therapist selects the appropriate therapeutic modality, establishes a training regimen, sets up the instrumentation, teaches awareness skills, and follows up with the client. But the benefits come through one’s own efforts —even though it is sometimes tempting to give credit to the instrumentation when the observed changes are dramatic.
The training brings you closer to who you really are.
Once you accept the possibility that this training might be effective for you, the question may arise: Will this training change who I am? If a child known for his temper outbursts does the training and the rages fall away, he is certainly different but the parents would say, we have our real son now. Their worst features should not define a person. As this training allows your true self to emerge, others may notice the changes in you even before you do.
HOW LONG DOES IT TAKE?
The frequencies that your brain uses to play these games are the same ones you use on a regular basis to break free from any maladjustment in your ability to process stressful experiences. During session, you are learning to monitor and adjust your brainwave patterns. The speed of progress varies from person to person. Initially, the new patterns may be transitory: many people report increased relaxation, reduced stress, a heightened sense of control over their body, their thoughts or their feelings during a session and immediately afterwards. Some people experience noticeable effects after just ten sessions. Some conditions will take longer. In any case, you will normally do enough sessions to ensure that treatment has lasting effects. As with anything else, the more your brain uses positive patterns, the more habitual they will become. Later on, you or others will notice that shifts happen outside of therapy, that you are becoming more resilient.
Therapists and patients report that neurofeedback seems to jump start the therapeutic process by clearing obstacles that were slowing down the psychotherapy.