What is Neurofeedback and What is it Used For?
The brain is the powerhouse of everything that we think and feel. The brain not only controls the functioning of our most important body parts, but also regulates our emotions and responses to certain things. In addition to how we think and feel, the brain is also responsible for common mental health conditions like depression and anxiety disorders.
Your brain can shape your personality and control your feelings about certain things. So, what if you could retrain your brain? This would allow you to better control how you respond to certain stimuli and help to relieve certain unwanted symptoms. Neurofeedback is a form of exercise for the brain that allows you to readjust brainwave patterns that are not productive, while also teaching the brain to regulate itself.
Does Neurofeedback Actually Work?
Neurofeedback works by recording and adjusting the brainwaves of four electrical pulses within the brain. These include:
- Delta: Delta waves are active during a period of slow processing such as when the body is relaxed or asleep.
- Theta: Theta waves are also active during periods of relaxation, often as you drift off to sleep, or during deep meditation.
- Alpha: Alpha waves are active when the brain is idle, often when you are thinking or studying.
- Beta: Beta waves are active when the brain is focused or alert, often directing attention toward a cognitive task.
At some point in your life, you trained your brain to respond to certain things in a certain way, and neurofeedback gives you the opportunity to retrain the brain in a way that better works for you. Neurofeedback reconditions the different parts of the brain, restoring it to normal brain functioning.
These frequencies provide valuable information about the brain and neurofeedback technicians can use biofeedback to identify problematic connections.
Who Should Use Neurofeedback?
Neurofeedback has shown to be effective in the treatment of many disorders of the mind. While it does not target specific disorders, neurofeedback does target specific brain activity, which can reduce, or treat, the symptoms of disorders like depression, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) attention deficit disorder (ADD), and anxiety.
This form of brain training has also been used in treatment of patients with traumatic brain injuries (TBI). A traumatic brain injury can increase or decrease certain brain activity and biofeedback can help by reshaping the networks within the brain.
The specific part of the brain that is targeted will often depend on the symptoms.
- Delta: Reshaping brainwave activity in the Delta waves improves symptoms related to insomnia and injury.
- Theta: Reshaping brain wave patterns in the Theta waves improves symptoms related to impulsive behaviors, frequent distractions, difficulty focusing, and ADHD symptoms.
- Alpha: Brain mapping in the Alpha waves improves symptoms of depression, self-esteem disorders, anger difficulties, and frustrated behaviors.
- Beta: Training activity in the Beta waves improves symptoms of common mental disorders like anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), restlessness, and anxiety.
Neurofeedback can also be used to improve symptoms of disorders like post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), phobias, chronic headaches, and even Cerebral Palsy. It can also target the frontal lobe, which is responsible for frontal brain functioning like defiance disorders and antisocial behaviors, and the prefrontal cortex, which helps in the treatment of ADHD.
How Does Neurofeedback Work?
Before your neurofeedback appointment, your therapist will request more information about your symptoms and treatment history. They will also ask for a list of current medications. During the neurofeedback session, your therapist will apply little electrodes to your scalp using an EEG paste. These sensors are connected to a computer, where they will provide electrical activity feedback in the form of neurofeedback.
The actual process of neurofeedback works by using neuroplasticity. Neuroplasticity is the brain’s ability to develop and re-organize new connections. When we learn new languages or skills, our brain creates new neural pathways that connect the skills to the appropriate part of the brain. This process is also referred to as operant conditioning, or learning.
Your therapist will continue to track your symptoms after each session to determine whether or not the biofeedback treatment is working. Sessions are usually once per week, lasting for about 20-weeks. However, the number of treatments will depend on your symptoms and your progression toward treatment.
Using a learning process, your neurofeedback practitioner will develop a brain map, which will determine your individual plan of care. It is important to note that neurofeedback is not considered a cure, but rather a way to regulate your brain’s activity to improve symptoms. It has, however, shown to offer long-lasting treatment and improvement of symptoms. Some patients have even reported the ability to reduce, or stop, their medications.
Can Neurofeedback Damage Your Brain?
Neurofeedback is non-invasive and does not use any medications or chemical-altering substances. The sensors used are attached to the head, but do not produce any type of current, meaning the entire process is pain-free. The process itself is also easy. Patients can choose to leave their eyes open or closed during treatment.
Potential Side Effects Neurofeedback
It is important to be aware of any potential side effects before beginning any type of medical or applied neurophysiology treatment. Fortunately, the benefits of neurofeedback often outweigh the side effects.
Some individuals have reported vivid dreams as the brain learns to readjust. Additionally, some believe that individuals with a TBI are more sensitive to neurofeedback. TBI patients could feel nausea or dizziness as the brain adjusts. Fortunately, most of the noted side effects will go away after a few sessions.
You can reduce the chance of unwanted side effects by choosing a neurofeedback provider with the appropriate neurofeedback training. Additionally, it is important to work closely with your provider to ensure that you understand the process and know what to expect.
How Much is Neurofeedback?
Many patients wonder how much they can expect to pay for biofeedback treatment. The average price of neurofeedback therapy is $2,200 for 30 sessions. Rates can vary, depending on the neurofeedback training of the provider and the number of sessions needed. Some insurance plans will also cover neurofeedback as an approved treatment but it is important to check with your provider to better understand your cost requirements before proceeding.
What to Look for in a Neurofeedback Therapist
Neurofeedback therapists are often mental health professionals who have specialized training in neurofeedback. While neurofeedback can also be offered in a hospital-setting, its non-invasive process often means it is more affordable and convenient to complete it through a mental health office.
Choosing the right neurofeedback therapist with EEG neurofeedback training is important to ensure you have a good experience with the desired brainwave changes. Consider the following when choosing a practitioner:
- Previous experience of technician
- Previous experience working with your symptoms
- Your level of comfort discussing symptoms and health conditions
- Formal training of neurofeedback processes
Whether you are dealing with debilitating anxiety or adhd symptoms, neurofeedback is a great way to improve your brain health, with minimal risk involved. By re-conditioning and re-training the brain to respond in a different manner, you can reduce many of the unwanted, and often uncomfortable, symptoms that come with common mental health disorders.
It starts with a thorough questionnaire and a brain map to assess your case. By recording an EEG, we can see how much the brain is producing of each frequency and which areas are out of sync with each other. The map is compared with a database of maps of people your same age and gender to give an indication of how your map deviates from the norm.
The computer uses visual and auditory stimulus to reward the patterns we want to encourage and teach the brain to self-regulate. I also use EMF waves and electrical current to encourage the new frequencies then use traditional feedback to reward them and make them permanent. Treatment can take anywhere between 20 and 40 sessions depending on symptoms and responsiveness to treatment.
I use multiple tools for entrainment, including:
HRV is a form of biofeedback in which the computer paces your breathing and indicates when the variability in your heart increases. This practice decreases anxiety and makes your autonomic nervous system less reactive and more flexible. I almost always include HRV if time permits, particularly if I’m treating any kind of mood disorder or attention problems.
The Low Energy Neurofeedback System uses mild electromagnetic frequencies to disrupt dysfunctional patterns and help the areas of the brain connect in a more optimal way. With this device, we treat the entire brain, one spot at a time. Treatments with the LENS are brief but powerful in treating many disorders.