Neurofeedback is a little like exercising or doing physical therapy with the brain, enhancing cognitive flexibility and control. Whether symptoms stem from ADD/ADHD, a learning disability, a stroke, head injury, deficits following neurosurgery, uncontrolled epilepsy, cognitive dysfunction associated with aging, depression, anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder, autism, or other brain-related conditions, neurofeedback training offers additional opportunities for rehabilitation through directly retraining the activity patterns in the brain. The exciting part is that even when a problem is biological in nature, this provides a treatment alternative to simply relying on medication. Neurofeedback is also being used increasingly to facilitate peak performance in individuals, executives and athletes.
A neurofeedback cap, containing 19 small sensors, is placed on your head. The sensors register brainwaves, which can be seen on a computer monitor. These brainwave patterns help therapists understand which areas of the brain need training in order to perform at an optimal level. Brain training is conducted through the use of earphones the client wears to listen to different sounds, tones and music as well as watch videos.
What is Neurofeedback?
Neurofeedback, often referred to as EEG biofeedback or brainwave training, is a type of biofeedback in which individuals are trained to improve their brain function. Extensive research demonstrates its efficacy for specific conditions, such as ADHD and epilepsy, with scientific studies also showing it to be promising for autistic spectrum disorders, anxiety, depression, insomnia, chronic pain, addictions and traumatic brain injury. Neurofeedback (NFB) has its foundation in basic and applied neuroscience, as well as evidence-based clinical practice.
Neurofeedback (also called Neuro Therapy) is a non-invasive process where brain waves are monitored in real time by a computer, which can then use that information to produce changes in brainwave activity. The process of adjusting brainwave activity is known as operant conditioning, which is a method where rewards for positive behavior increase learning capabilities.
Like other forms of biofeedback, neurofeedback uses sensors to detect physical changes of the body. Neurofeedback therefore involves placing small sensors on the scalp to see changes in a person’s brainwave activity. Precisely detecting brainwave activity allows it to be immediately analyzed by a computer that then presents sound and video information based on the brain’s performance. Using this feedback, the individual learns to regulate or control his or her own brain state. This is helpful because the state of the brain has a large influence on how the person thinks, acts and feels, emotionally and physically.
Neurofeedback integrates clinical expertise with the best available research to address behavioral, cognitive, and subjective functions related to brain activity and therefore meets the American Psychological Association’s definition of an evidence-based intervention. NFB is non-invasive, does not involve surgery or medication, is neither painful nor embarrassing, and has long-lasting effects.
The Neurofeedback Process
The computer monitors your brainwaves while you watch a movie or listen to music. When deviations from normal brainwave activity occur, the computer triggers an audio or visual cue that alerts the patient that they are outside normal ranges. These cues are received by the brain, which subconsciously adjusts itself back to a normal pattern to make the cue stop. With enough repetition of this process, the brain eventually learns to stay in the normal ranges on its own without the computer. With the brain functioning normally on its own, symptoms of irregular brain activity will decline.
It has been well documented that people who suffer neurological problems have abnormal brain waves in certain areas of the brain. For instance, case studies using QEEG “brain maps” have shown that people with Attention-Deficit-Disorder (ADD) have elevated delta brainwaves, while those who suffer from depression have elevated alpha brainwaves. Those with anxiety will have elevated Beta brainwaves, while those suffering from memory loss usually have decreased theta brainwaves.
Training the brain using neurofeedback can change these brainwaves over time, adjusting them into normal, healthy ranges. It can improve alertness, attention, emotional regulation, behavior, cognitive function, and mental flexibility. When the brain moves back into normal ranges, users will often see a reduction in symptoms.
The best part of neurofeedback is that results are often permanent, allowing a person to reduce or even eliminate medications altogether. Where medications only manage the symptoms, the goal of neurofeedback is to address the underlying cause and restore normal brainwave functions.
What is Brain Mapping?
The brain is a highly complex organ made up of billions of cells called neurons. Neurons send and receive messages to and from all parts of your body. These messages are electrical impulses that create brain waves. The brain map (also called a near map) is an important tool we use to evaluate your brainwaves and identify opportunities to improve communication between various regions of the brain. The brain map is able to capture a window of brain activity, analyze the data, and create a visual representation for each lobe of the brain and each specific brain wave (Delta, Theta, Alpha and Beta).
How Does Brain Mapping Work?
Using a cap placed on the scalp, our software captures the electrical impulses in the brain. This method is known as an electroencephalogram (EEG). The results show brain wave patterns in different parts of the brain. The process takes about 15 minutes, and the data is then converted into a visual brain map report. We analyze the brain map report and identify any problem areas. The report will display the results in a clear and concise format that can be easily understood.
What is the Limbic System?
The limbic system is an area of the brain where our base emotions lie: fear, pain, pleasure, etc. This is the area of the brain where our “fight or flight,” or stress response originates. During a stress response, neurochemicals are released that essentially “shut down” the thinking part of our brain and redirects its resources into the muscles so that it can either fight harder or run faster.
Our body reads all stress as life threatening. Whether it is truly life threatening like being chased by a bear, emotionally stressful such as going through a divorce, or mentally stressful such as taking a math test. To the limbic system, stress is dangerous and responds likewise. It is beneficial for the “thinking” part of our brain to virtually shut down during stress so its resources can be redirected to our muscles if our lives truly are in danger. However, if we are experiencing stress in the classroom this is the exact opposite of what we want to happen.
During a stress response, you may feel any one of numerous physiological changes. A rapid heart rate, rapid respiratory rate, sweating, muscle twitching, headache, nausea, “butterflies” in the stomach, or dizziness are all common experiences during the fight or flight reaction.
It is important to be aware and mindful of what we are feeling within our bodies so that we can “catch” the beginning of a stress response before it becomes difficult to think proactively. As soon as possible after recognizing one of the physiological symptoms of stress it is a good idea to sit down and begin diaphragmatic breathing. This will allow the “thinking” part of our brains to return to their normal calm state, and allow you to access information you’ve previously learned or obtain new information.