What Is Neurofeedback?
At its most foundational level, neurofeedback is all about reading and working with electricity. The cells in your brain send electrical signals and we use tools like electrodes/sensors, amplifiers, sophisticated computer software, etc. to read the signals, make educated guesses (based on research) about symptom and behaviour correlations, then help you manipulate/modify the activity. Interestingly, this process results in both changes in how the brain functions, and changes in behaviour and symptoms.
The brain generates those electrical signals when neurons (brain cells) fire and the electrical signals are interpreted as brain waves. Brain waves are associated with specific brain functions and states of mind. For example:
- Delta is associated with sleep, repair, and complex problem solving
- Theta is associated with memory, emotional processing, creativity, and insight
- Alpha is associated with alertness, peacefulness, readiness, and helps the brain keep information organized
- Beta is associated with thinking, focus, sustained attention
Different combinations of waves (involving frequency (Hertz) and strength (amplitude)) can make the brain work more ‘slowly’ (decreased processing speed) or more ‘quickly’ (increased processing speed) in different regions. As may be imagined, both ends of the spectrum can have a negative impact on function. A brain that processes too slowly may result in foggy thoughts, dementia or depression. A brain that processes too quickly may result in anxiety, racing thoughts or poor attention.
Neurofeedback is a therapy that helps you to change how your brain behaves. The process of neurofeedback training teaches what ‘normal’ feels like for you, and helps you learn how to keep your brain running on your ‘normal.’
For example, if you struggle to pay attention, can’t shut off your brain, or fight depression, neurofeedback can teach you what it feels like to focus, to turn off your thoughts, or to overcome feelings of depression. Once your brain learns that ‘feeling,’ additional sessions allow you to practice in order to reinforce and retain the knowledge and to learn to apply it in your daily life.
The Biofeedback Certification International Alliance (BCIA) views neurofeedback as an intervention tool that a range of regulated healthcare providers can use as a part of their practice. BCIA elaborates, “neurofeedback is not considered a profession, but rather a tool to be used by many different practitioners.” Much like, for example, cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT), neurofeedback is a treatment approach that can be used by qualified professionals who have undergone appropriate training.
What Does Neurofeedback Help With?
Evidence supports the use of neurofeedback to promote symptom improvement in a variety of diagnostic groups. These include:
Brain Map / QEEG Assessment
A brain map (also called Quantitative Electroencephalogram, QEEG) is a picture of how your brain works. We know what an average, healthy, functioning brain looks like. This knowledge allows us to measure your brain and compare it to the norms.
Your clinician will process the recorded information and compare it to a normative database.
RENEW NEUROTHERAPY ASSESSMENT AND INTERVENTION PROCESS
Renew Neurotherapy offers both brain mapping and neurofeedback. We do not begin neurofeedback training unless we have completed both a psychosocial evaluation and a brain map. If at all possible, we wish to collaborate with your current health care team.
NEUROFEEDBACK IS A PARTNERSHIP
Neurofeedback is a partnership. Your clinician can provide the tools and teach you what your ‘normal’ feels like, but it is your responsibility to set yourself up for success and to apply the knowledge. We know that poor diet, lack of sleep, inconsistent routine and a chaotic environment can impact the way we think and function. As with every other intervention, this translates directly into the effectiveness of neurofeedback sessions.
WHERE DOES NEUROFEEDBACK TAKE PLACE?
Neurofeedback is typically completed in a clinical setting, as environmental variables are more easily controlled. The equipment, however, is portable and in some cases may be appropriately utilized in the home, school or work environment.
IS NEUROFEEDBACK PERMANENT?
Given that neurofeedback is a learning process (the brain learns how to function in alternate patterns), learning appears to be retained once it has been repeated enough times to consolidate into new patterns of function.
How Do I Do Neurofeedback?
Depending on the training you are doing, a cap or sensors are placed on your head so that we can measure your brain activity in real-time. A computer program is set up to read your brain activity and to ‘reward’ your brain when the activity falls into the target range. For example, an individual struggling with anxiety, insomnia and racing thoughts may have a brain that is running too fast in some areas. To combat this, a reward (such as a Pac-Man moving on a video game, a movie that fades in and out, or a tone sounding) is provided every time your brain slows down in the target area. As sessions progress, you will learn how to slow your brain down, even without the ‘reward.’
A re-assessment takes place approximately every fifteen sessions to ensure that recovery is progressing. During each session, your clinician will speak with you to evaluate your progress. The intervention plan will be modified as appropriate to maximize recovery and support your concurrent therapies. If there is no progress, it will be recommended that intervention be discontinued.