What on Earth is Neurofeedback?
This question can be answered in so many ways, from the most technical to a simpler version. I will try and answer in the simplest way I can. Neurofeedback is the process of training our own brain waves with the purpose of having an impact on our mood, our energy, our attention and our sleep. These are all issues related to what is referred to as regulation. Some people describe the process as putting a mirror up to our brain functioning and making changes based on this information.
The process looks something like this: the person who is training their waves sits in front of a computer with sensors or electrodes connected from their scalp to a computer. These sensors read the EEG (electro-encefalogram) and the machine filters the different speeds and amplitudes of those waves. Some people recognize these brainwaves as delta, theta, alpha, beta, gamma etc. These brainwaves behave differently depending on the location in the brain, and what the person is doing at a given time. When someone is struggling with insomnia, depression, ADHD, anxiety etc… this can be reflected on the behavior of the EEG. In other words you want the right brainwaves to be present when you are doing a certain task. Otherwise, if there is too much, or too little of some of them the task can be less efficient than it can potentially be.
So how do people benefit from Neurofeedback? People usually go to a practitioner with a specific concern. It can be excessive tantrums or reactivity, depression, anxiety, panic attacks etc. After training, not only do they feel an improvement in their particular issue, but they also benefit in other areas that weren’t even the target. The reason for this is that the training helps the brain be more efficient in a general way, rather than a specific targeted manner. It’s global regulation, where impacting one area affects the whole.
Even though it’s benefits are wide and a lot of people benefit from Neurofeedback, not everyone does. A small segment of the population seems to not benefit at all, but also not be negatively affected. The brain just remains as is. During training, some people may experience negative effects, such as headaches, difficulty sleeping, up or down mood etc. These effects let the practitioner know to make changes in the training plan or protocol. Once this is adjusted the trainee should experience almost immediate relief. This is one of the reasons Neurofeedback should be done with a trained practitioner that would know how to handle these negative effects. They are not called side effects because they don’t accompany the benefits side by side, people don’t have to put up with them in order to get the benefit. The practitioner can make changes in order for the pendulum to go from negative effects to positive effects.
Practitioners should be able to know that certain issues such as developmental trauma, migraines, seizures, bipolar disorder etc, require very careful and different approaches. This is where the trained practitioner becomes crucial when a person decides to embark on this process. Some brains are very sensitive and small changes can create big effects. A thorough assessment, and consistent follow up before and during training will ensure safety and progress. If your practitioner is not certified in Neurofeedback, ask them what kind of training they’ve had, if they have engaged in mentoring during their training, how long they’ve been practicing, how many clients have they had and if they have experience with the issue you’d like to get help with.
Once the assessment is done, the person will train ideally 2x or more per week. The sessions usually last anywhere from 20min to an hour, depending on the issue, the protocol used and how wiggly the client is. The number of sessions is also going to depend on the issue at hand, consistency, motivation, and practice and healthy habits outside of the sessions. The frequency of training is intense because it’s like training a muscle, the more repetition the stronger that muscle will get. So will you benefit from going to the gym once a week? sure, but will it be as efficient as going 2-3 per week? No, you will get more benefit by going multiple times per week.
To know more about Neurofeedback and the research behind it go to www.ISNR.org.