Neurofeedback Therapy is a remarkable new software technology in the field of mental health and personal wellbeing. It is a painless, non-invasive learning process that enables an individual to retrain his or her own brain activity.
Also known as EEG biofeedback, neurofeedback training utilizes an electroencephalogram, or EEG machine, that reads the electrical activity occurring in the brain and displays that information back to the patient in real-time. This type of feedback system engages the brain’s innate ability to adapt and correct itself, a skill known as self-regulation. Individuals with poor self-regulation often experience difficulties with self-discipline and self-control, both in behavior as well as emotion, often leading to impulsive choice patterns and psychological distress.
With neurofeedback therapy, one learns to be more in control of their brain and mental states over time, building stronger self-regulating skills, and achieving greater mental focus and emotional stability.
What is a neurofeedback therapy session like?
Neurofeedback is a highly personalized form of brain training therapy, but there are quite a few types of neurofeedback techniques. At Litchfield Neurofeedback we employ a unique training method known as ISF or Infraslow Fluctuation neurofeedback.
All new clients are given a thorough consultation in order to assess general background information, medical history and initial concerns/reasons for coming into the office. Once seated in a comfortable reclining chair, a clinician will attach EEG sensors to the scalp using a water-soluble paste. Similar to the sensors placed on the chest during an EKG, these small electrodes pick up on the electro-chemical activity produced by the brain as you process information, also known as brainwaves. Placement of the electrodes is determined based on the assessment of the client during the initial consultation.
The client sits comfortably in front of a computer monitor while watching and listening to a movie or cartoon as well as an audio tone. The low-register audio tone works like a task for the brain to process. As the brain detects disruptions in it’s own signal processing it will naturally and automatically readjust.
Why does neurofeedback therapy work?
All neurofeedback training is based on the theory that dysregulated behavior is correlated with dysregulated brainwaves. Therefore, if you’re able to rehabilitate brain activity, you may be able to rehabilitate behavior.
However, to understand the way in which neurofeedback works, one must first understand how the brain comes to learn. Whenever we try a new behavior or activity, the brain uses its own cellular tissue to “write down” the information into its neuronal networks. This learning process is based on the concept of neuroplasticity, a discovery that our brains constantly grow and shrink to accommodate all the experiences we have throughout our lives! Any repetitive stimuli or behavior we engage in is “recorded” (learned) in the brain and can improve over time the more we practice: riding a bike, driving a car, hitting golf balls, etc.
Based on a learning method known as operant conditioning, ISF neurofeedback communicates with the brain using audio and visual cues that “reward” the brain when healthier brainwaves are produced. In the same way a coach reinforces proper form when teaching a sport, the audio and visual feedback provide the brain with the information it needs to change and correct itself in newer and more functional ways. As neurofeedback is trained on a regular basis these changes in brainwave activity are reflected in the behavioral patterns of the client.
Is neurofeedback only for ‘problems’?
Neurofeedback therapy is not a one-dimensional approach to behavior modification. While most therapies solely subscribe to the ‘disease/medicine paradigm,’ neurofeedback has far more utility.
The overall goal of a neurofeedback session is to improve the way in which the brain processes information, both physically (between different brain regions) and cognitively (how we ultimately perceive and experience the world), regardless of the presenting symptoms/desires of the client. These processes are naturally well regulated in a healthy brain but can often become dysregulated to various degrees depending on the person and their life circumstances. Neurofeedback simply takes advantage of the brain’s innate ability to learn, adapt, self-regulate and heal. It is therefore better thought of as an intervention based on the strengthening and enhancement of function that already exists, rather than the normalizing or correcting of any problem or deficit.
The use of neurofeedback training has been applied to various non-clinical populations of people in business, athletics, the military, even international sports teams and music academies. Whether you are looking to sharpen your focus in your work, improve your concentration in high-stress situations, or refine your processing speed neurofeedback has also come to be seen as a mental fitness tool for peak performance and optimal functioning.
Who can use neurofeedback?
People of all ages and walks of life can benefit from neurofeedback. School-aged children, adolescents, young people, and adults of every occupation and educational level can use this training process with great success.
ISF Neurofeedback therapy can be especially helpful with various types of autonomic dysregulation including chronic stress, anxiety, depression, ADHD, Autism, behavior disorders, sleep disruption, headaches and migraines, and emotional disturbances.
How many sessions does it take and how often do you do them?
Clients are typically encouraged to attend at least two training sessions per week. Like any other training regimen, real progress is only accomplished through dedicated practice. Beginning with three training sessions per week for the first month is an ideal way to jumpstart the brain into self-regulation mode. However, if you prefer to start more slowly, once-a-week sessions are a great way to introduce yourself to the training regimen.
Overall, there is no set number of sessions required, as neurofeedback is not a one-size-fits-all methodology. Each client is carefully assessed and training regimens are designed on an individualized basis determined by presenting concerns and desired outcomes.
What can I expect from neurofeedback and do the effects of training really last?
Neurofeedback therapy involves learning by the brain. What this means on a biological level is that the brain is physically and electrochemically changing itself as a result of the information fed back to the brain during training. Unlike medication, which behaves more like a temporary band-aid for symptom relief, neurofeedback addresses the irregular brainwave activity that is often the source of symptoms and mental disorders themselves.
The effects of neurofeedback will vary depending on the patient and their initial concerns/desires. Over 30 years of research and clinical use has shown that the effects brought about by neurofeedback therapy to be mostly all positive. While some immediate effects may appear, such as a headache, research shows that these responses are transient and do not continue long term. In many cases, effects that may seem negative at face value are actually far more than they appear. For example, a young boy with autism spectrum disorder who once sat withdrawn from his classmates may begin running around at recess, roughhousing with the other boys at recess and behaving in unforeseen ways. At first this may appear combative and worrisome, however, when considered in the context of young boys at recess, roughhousing with his fellow classmates is a completely normal behavior of a healthy, growing boy. These types of changes should be carefully and thoroughly realized for what they are: progress!
The vast degree of change brought about by neurofeedback training is also the main reason why this therapy is conducted by a trained clinician and often carried out in conjunction with psychotherapy: to aid the client in their transition into a new state of mental and emotional functioning. The effects of neurofeedback therapy are especially profound in children and adolescents. Their developing brains are extremely plastic allowing them to learn and train easily, build on the results and organically improve as they grow.
What if I’m taking medication?
However, because neurofeedback therapy improves self-regulation in the brain this can often shift the medical needs of the client. Reducing/eliminating medication can be an appropriate discussion after repetitive training. Nonetheless, each patient is different and is assessed on an individualized level. No adjustments to medication should be made without consulting your doctor.
Is neurofeedback training compatible with holistic health concepts and practices?
Yes! There is a growing interest in neurofeedback therapy from those working with nutrition, holistic health, and mind-body studies.
There is a growing list of physicians in varying specialties such as psychiatry, internal medicine, cardiology, progressive medicine, etc. who are either expanding their personal practices or are teaming with others into a multi-modal concept that looks beyond the cures of conventional medicine.
Anyone who looks beyond the ‘disease/medicine paradigm’ toward wellness and healthy living, will at least be curious about neurofeedback training because it is non-invasive, it utilizes the innate capacity of the brain, it enables people to exercise greater control over their own lives, and it is focused on healthier and enhanced living rather than illness.
Where can I look to find out more?
There are numerous websites that discuss neurofeedback, most of which are advertising their own services. Some of these may provide valuable information. There are also many academic sources by the way of original research papers, review articles, and Meta analyses.
A Symphony in the Brain by Jim Robbins
Affect Regulation and the Repair of the Self by Allan N. Schore
The Body Keeps The Score by Bessel A. van der Kolk
Neurofeedback in the Treatment of Developmental Trauma: Calming the Fear-
Driven Brain by Sebern F. Fisher