Neurofeedback therapy can be thought of as the most effective treatment that is often unknown. This is a powerful therapy that works via operant conditioning or reinforcement and can improve a variety of symptoms associated with many different conditions.*
Through the process of neurofeedback, your subconscious gets reinforced for changing its own behavior. By reinforcing the subconscious through computers, you get visual and auditory reinforcements. Quite simply, one is reinforced for changing their brain waves at a subconscious level through the use of computers.
By creating new electrical activity through a process of measurement and reinforcement, the brain learns to self-regulate which calms the nervous system. This reduces or eliminates symptoms. Almost any brain, regardless of its level of function (or dysfunction), can be trained to function better.*
Dysregulation reflects an under-responsive, over responsive, or unstable nervous system. Most people are born with a pretty healthy nervous system and regulated brainwave functioning. Environmental and genetic factors do, however, impact brain wave functioning.
Some situations enhance our brain and brain waves and others cause dysregulation. For example, chronic disease states, lack of sleep, chronic pain, ongoing stress, and so on are all conditions that can negatively impact functioning. When our brain wave activity is dysregulated, then negative symptoms can result.
For example, excessive stress can cause your system to be over responsive. This over responsiveness might result in difficulty turning off your thinking. The inability to turn off thoughts can make you have a hard time sleeping or give you looping thoughts. Neurofeedback allows the brain to self-regulate, which reduces negative symptoms.*
Genetic issues like ADHD and depression also impact brain functioning. Whether the dysregulation results from environmental and genetic factors, Neurofeedback can reduce symptoms.*
The brain is a complex organ that is made up of billions of brain cells called neurons which use electricity to communicate with each other. Each neuron uses electricity to communicate with each other and is also divided into segments that have specific neuropsychological functions. For example, the frontal lobes are in charge of preparing for actions; they are the brakes of the brain so to speak.
The combination of millions of neurons sending signals at once produces an enormous amount of electrical activity in the brain. Sensitive medical equipment, such as an EEG, can measure electricity levels over areas of the scalp. Everyone has the same brain waves, but people do not have the same pattern of brain waves.
Certain patterns are associated with specific conditions. For example, people with ADHD often have too many slow brain waves frontally (theta) and not enough fast brain waves (beta). This is what causes them to have a hard time staying focused in non-preferred areas (aka, their brain is bored!).
Without self-regulation, many problems of the central nervous system can result. Lack of focus, anxiety, depression and physical symptoms, are just a few. Neurofeedback is successfully used to treat ADHD, Autism, Anxiety, Stress, Emotional Distress, Behavioral Issues, Mood issues, Pain, Lyme, PANS/PANDAS, Headaches, Concussion, TBI and a variety of other issues. Almost any brain, regardless of its level of function (or dysfunction), can be trained to function better.*
Neurofeedback optimizes the brain functioning of anyone, which is why athletes and executives use it for peak performance optimization. Looking at it as a tool for brain optimization, like nutrition and exercise, we see that Neurofeedback is simply a wonderful way to improve sleep, level mood, improve focus, and improve processing speed.*
Four decades of research demonstrates how effective neurofeedback is (Lubar & Shouse, 1976). Current research supports that Neurofeedback improves a variety of specific issues and symptoms; everything from symptoms related to ADHD and anxiety to seizures. In 1973, when Neurofeedback was in its infancy, research was conducted to look at the effectiveness of Neurofeedback versus medication in treating Vietnam veterans with PTSD and substance abuse. Within a matter of days, the Neurofeedback was clearly eliminating symptoms and the drug company made the hospital pull the study.*
Forty-five years later, medication is still being pushed by Western medicine as the only solution for mental health issues. Somehow people have been convinced that medication is more effective and safe, but that couldn’t be further from the truth.*
Research (Khajehpiri et al., 2014 and Swanson et al., 2017) demonstrates numerous side effects of the common medication used to treat ADHD, methylphenidate, including: cardiovascular events, seizures and strokes (can be long-term), tics, obsessive-compulsive behavior, anorexia, irritability, psychosis and mania, depression (can be long-term), insomnia, slowed and reduced growth, elevated blood pressure, and drug abuse.
Recent meta-analyses document the effectiveness of Neurofeedback in the treatment of ADHD (Arns, de Ridder, Strehl, Breteler, and Coenen, 2009) in reducing inattention, impulsivity, and hyperactivity. In another study, Ziong, Shi and Hu (2005) demonstrated a 90 percent of children with ADHD improved after 40 sessions of Neurofeedback. In 2012, the American Academy of Pediatrics rated Neurofeedback/ Biofeedback is rated as a Level 1 intervention for ADHD which is the same level as medication. This was a verification of the effectiveness of Neurofeedback as an effective holistic therapy.*
Despite all the positive research, traditional allopathic medicine hasn’t embraced Neurofeedback which keeps it from becoming mainstream. Even most physicians and mental health practitioners don’t know enough about it. This is due to a lack of education and training about how neurofeedback works and how effective it is.
Even therapists have been trained to recommend medication when they should recommend a multitude of other therapies (Neurofeedback, Biofeedback, EFT, EMDR, hypnosis, diet, meditation, yoga, etc) that calm the nervous system in a manner that creates space for people to experience their emotions and then address them in therapy.*
There really are few therapies that have has as much positive research as neurofeedback. Yet, neurofeedback hasn’t become mainstream. With traditional medicine not supporting it, many people don’t trust it. Research from Gani et al. (2008) demonstrates the long-term effectiveness of Neurofeedback, as they found that improvements in behavior and attention were stable 6 months and 2 years after completion of therapy. Neurofeedback produces lasting changes that puts people on a path to wellness and people need to see it for what it is: a research tested, valid and safe option for improving brain functioning and mental health.*
The first step is getting a quantitative EEG (QEEG). A cap is placed on one’s head and surface electrical activity is measured. In very simple terms, QEEG is a computer analysis of the EEG data; it is a procedure where EEG activity is recorded and statistically analyzed and your data is compared against a database. It is a visual way to see brain functioning in terms of brain waves. After a QEEG, a protocol is designed.
Depending on the condition, issues, and brain functioning, the number of Neurofeedback sessions required vary based on each individual but range from 20 to 100 or more sessions. Most clients need to come in two to three times. Like exercise, it requires one to commit to the process and come in regularly to “build the muscle.”. While the research shows us that the majority of people report symptom reduction, some see changes quickly and others take time to see the difference.*
Every practitioner measures in different ways, but most collect data after every session. It’s important to understand that the science behind neurofeedback incorporates regular data collection.
At our office, we monitor progress in three ways. First, QEEGs at regular intervals allow us to objectively look at brain functioning. Second, data collection occurs at every Neurofeedback session. Third, we regularly customize protocols through checklist progress monitoring.
Neurofeedback impacts brain waves because one is reinforced for changing their own brainwaves. Typically a person pushes down a brainwave of which they have too much and increases one of which they don’t have enough. This results in reducing a person’s symptoms. Each person’s protocol is different based on what their issues are and their brain wave patterning.
Many people mistakenly think that Neurofeedback equipment manipulates something. What really occurs is that the machines simply help people increase their ability to manage their own brain. They learn to strengthen their own neural circuits through the simple process of reinforcement.
Neurofeedback is completely different because it serves to calm the central nervous system and at the same time enhance positive qualities. It gets the CNS to self-regulate so that negative symptoms dissipate. One often feels calm yet focused, sleep improves, and one’s overall mood is enhanced. Once the brain has learned healthy patterns, it will continue operating in a healthy manner once you have stopped.*
One mom called her kid, “Johnny 2.0” after doing Neurofeedback because she said the Neurofeedback just made him a better version of himself. She articulated so beautifully what happens to adults and kids after Neurofeedback all the time. They become a better version of themselves because their brain can self-regulate.*
Our office has had children who are able to color for the first time and adults who stop being anxious after Neurofeedback. One mother shared that after only twelve sessions, her 9-year-old son could sit a play a board game for the first time in his life. Recently, an adult was able to focus for the first time after unsuccessfully trying 12 medications. When you get the nervous system to self-regulate, the positive change can be quite dramatic or more subtle and take time.*
The other major benefit of Neurofeedback is that there are so few side effects whereas with medication there are many. Neurofeedback also works synergistically with other holistic therapies and treatments.*
Shockingly one-third of all hospital admissions are due to medication side effects. Horribly, this wastes money wasted and causes unneeded suffering. With all the side effects associated with medications and a lack of long-term effectiveness (Jensen et al., 2007), people need to learn about the effectiveness of research-based therapies like Neurofeedback.
Because of how neurofeedback works, there are few, if any, side effects.
Certain types of brainwave patterning are associated with a higher rate of temporary reactions, and your experienced practitioner should know how to address that. In addition, an experienced practitioner who is doing their own QEEG’s can alter the Neurofeedback in real time to address any overstimulated or understimulated responses.
Over-stimulated responses can make a person hyper, give them a headache or cause them to become irritated. On the other hand, it can cause them to be under-stimulated which shows in the form of being tired. A simple protocol adjustment will stop any temporary side effects.*
Most practitioners use EEG Neurofeedback. How neurofeedback works is not related to any type of equipment or program compared to another. What makes one treatment better than another is the quality and experience of the practitioner. Look for a practitioner that is licensed mental health or is a medical provider and ideally who is also Board Certified in Neurofeedback (BCN) (www.bcia.org). If you are taking a child, going with someone who is a pediatric expert is the best way to support your child. They can help you with all aspects of your child’s wellbeing and can assist with home and school issues too.
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Dr. Roseann is a Psychologist who works with children, adults, and families from all over the US, supporting them with research-based and holistic therapies that are bridged with neuroscience. Dr. Roseann is a Board Certified Neurofeedback (BCN) Practitioner, Certified Integrative Medicine Mental Health Provider (CMHIMP) and is a Board Member of the Northeast Region Biofeedback Society (NRBS) and Epidemic Answers. She is also a member of the American Psychological Association (APA), National Association of School Psychologists (NASP), Connecticut Counseling Association (CCA), International OCD Foundation (IOCDF) International Society for Neurofeedback and Research (ISNR) and The Association of Applied Psychophysiology and Biofeedback (AAPB).
*The effectiveness of diagnosis and treatment vary by patient and condition. Dr. Roseann Capanna-Hodge & Associates does not guarantee certain results.