What Is Neurofeedback?
Neurofeedback is a type of biofeedback that utilizes a non-invasive, high-tech evaluation device called an Electroencephalograph (EEG) to provide feedback on brain activity. This is similar to how an Electrocardiogram (EKG) measures heart function. The feedback consists of either auditory or visual information displayed in real-time on a computer screen and is used for brain wave analysis and improving neural processes.
In 1949, the Canadian neuropsychologist Donald Hebb coined the phrase: “Neurons that fire together wire together.” His research into how neurons contribute to psychological processes was highly influential in the field of neuropsychology. Beginning in the mid-1960s, much of the groundwork in the field of modern Neurofeedback was laid by Dr. Barry Sterman’s research on effective treatments for a range of neurological conditions.
In the more recent couple of decades, we have made strides in learning a lot more about the brain’s neurophysiology and the neural circuits involved emotional regulation, attention modulation, memory, etc. For instance, we learned more about the cerebellum and what role it plays in our body’s overall performance—from emotional regulation to linguistics to our cognitive functioning. During this time, big developments in using a qEEG have progressed from only analyzing the surface recordings of brain waves to now in-depth neuroimaging of various neural networks. Neurofeedback therapy utilizes this growing knowledge and new technologies not only to explore brain patterns but also to create protocols to address a variety of ailments and to train neural networks to optimize brain function.
Our brain’s electrophysiology is intimately connected to our neurotransmitters (chemical messengers that transmit signals from one neuron to another). Through the process of Neurofeedback, we receive information when various neuronal networks are communicating. Healthy brain activity has been compared to a well-coordinated orchestra—when all musicians play in concert, beautiful harmony is achieved. However, when an instrument is not in tune, the composition causes dissonance, just like malfunctioning neural networks cause disharmony in how the brain functions.
Neurofeedback therapy—unlike talk therapy, which allows us to mostly gain insight into cognition (intelligence, awareness, comprehension, reasoning)—gives our body and brain the opportunity to experience certain states and learn what it feels like to be alert/focused/relaxed or anxious/stressed/distracted, etc. It is an operant conditioning technique (a type of learning that uses rewards to modify behavior) that can help us mold our brain function by getting neural networks to talk with each other in an appropriate way.
Throughout decades of research and studies, Neurofeedback has gathered a very serious body of scientific evidence that shows its effectiveness in people of all ages.
How Does Neurofeedback Work?
In my practice, I use Neurofeedback technology (qEEG swLoRETA Neurofeedback) in two different ways:
- Brain wave recordings for analysis and creating a tailored treatment protocol
- Treatment/training to help clients regulate and optimize brain function
Recording Brain Waves for Analysis (Brain Mapping)
Quantitative Electroencephalography (qEEG) adds digital information to the visual display a standard Electroencephalography (EEG) generates when measuring electrical patterns of brain function (also called brain waves). The designation “swLoRETA” means: standardized weighted Low-Resolution Brain Electromagnetic Tomography. Currently, this is the most advanced in-depth, three-dimensional representation of brain wave measurements available, when recorded with a qEEG.
We utilize qEEG recordings as a research tool in conjunction with questionnaires to examine your brain functions. By placing a cap with electrodes (19 sensors) on your head, via an amplifier, the computer can record and utilize the brain’s electrical activity in real-time. The clinician can then evaluate this information by comparing it to a normative database (same age and gender individuals) to help detect any deviations. Based on the results of this analysis, we then create a Neurofeedback protocol to train towards your specific outcomes or treat your specific issues.
Neurofeedback Treatment (Regulating and Optimizing Brain Function)
The qEEG brain wave recording may reveal that various networks in your brain are either over-functioning (communicating too much) or under-functioning (communicating too little). Neither state is desirable because it prevents the brain from working efficiently.
Neurofeedback treatment can help you regulate these deviations and fine-tune your perception of your mind and body’s “inside experience.” The device brings the feedback to the “outside,” onto the computer screen, in either auditory or graphic form. By receiving this feedback again and again, you can begin learning by experience when certain mental/emotional states occur and how to recreate the experience yourself. These subtle yet enduring changes created through Neurofeedback training can help you “live” more often in the state you’re striving to achieve—more attentive instead of scattered, more relaxed instead of anxious, more focused instead of impulsive, etc.
From optimizing learning (particularly improving attention) to decreasing anxiety to recovering brain function after mild traumatic brain injury or other conditions affecting your brain (stroke, epilepsy, viral infection, Hashimoto encephalopathy, etc.), Neurofeedback training can help beyond other techniques that might have helped but could not take you further.
On average, treatment spans a minimum of 45-60 min. sessions, but it depends on your individual situation.
The Therapeutic Alliance and Neurofeedback
Throughout the therapeutic process, the relationship we create lies at the core of being able to maximize the benefits of this treatment. To address your issues not just from a technical perspective but also with an empathic, holistic approach, I utilize my well-rounded background as a psychologist. Although important, the tools of Neurofeedback are just a piece of a comprehensive treatment method to help you achieve success in reaching your goals.
Since the body is involved (not just the brain), I include the use of mindfulness and breathing techniques in Neurofeedback training so you can see how your brain waves are changing when applying these techniques. At times, I may also give you various ideas on how to reach the state you’re trying to cultivate—what you need to do to relax or how to get to a place of focus. So while the Neurofeedback machine gives you the feedback that tells you if your brain networks are active and regulating, I will be by your side during each of the sessions to coach you on how to work toward reaching your goals.
In some cases, the initial evaluation may lead me to incorporate other treatment approaches to facilitate more rapid and wholesome results. For example, in the case of misophonia, treatment has to also address auditory processing. And so, therapy may consist of a combination of sound training (Dr. Tomatis’ method) and Neurofeedback treatment, either both in tandem or starting with one and then continuing with the other.
I value an integrative approach to treatment and find it paramount to work together with the other clinicians involved in a child’s or an adult’s care. Therefore, some aspects of family dynamics could be part of the treatment approach. Whether we use Neurofeedback or the Tomatis Method for children or adults, the individuals I serve seem to gain additional momentum toward reaching their goals with these interventions in comparison to other approaches.
My Neurofeedback Training And Certification
I hold a doctorate in psychology and have been a therapist for over 25 years, working with sensory-motor development and sound training approaches. Instructed in the Tomatis Method by Dr. A. Tomatis (1996)—and later on in other approaches inspired by his technique (iLS, SSP, TLP, LiFT)—I have helped children and adults overcome a variety of auditory and learning impairments since 1990.
In 2004, I began training in qEEG recording and analysis with The Stens Corporation; one of the course instructors there was Jay Gunkelman. Two years later, I took the BCIA training—a course required for board certification in Neurofeedback—with Joel Lubar, PhD, Professor Emeritus, University of Tennessee, who has been my mentor throughout these past 15 years.
Under Professor Lubar’s continued supervision, I have learned not only how to create efficacious treatment protocols but also how to use powerful statistical analysis programs to track progress and adjust the protocols over the course of the Neurofeedback therapy. My knowledge and licensure in this field allow me to perform a more in-depth evaluation when deciding what intervention approaches could be most successful for the areas you or your child would like to optimize. And the re-evaluations I offer throughout the training process will permit you to gain a clear understanding of you/your child’s progress.
Learn to Regulate and Optimize Your Brain Functions
If you’re ready to address brain functioning issues and gain a level of awareness that you haven’t had before, Neurofeedback sessions could offer some answers. Please call 206-522-8873 for a free, 30-minute consultation.