What is Neurofeedback?
Neurofeedback is a way to train brain activity. It is biofeedback for the brain. To understand neurofeedback, first we need to understand a little about brainwaves.
Brainwaves are the electrical impulses produced as your neurons (brain cells) communicate with one another. Brainwaves tell us a great deal about how you feel and function; your thought habits, stress levels, underlying mood and overall brain function.
At the root of our thoughts, emotions and behaviours are the communication between neurons in our brains. Most psychological symptoms have some association with imbalances in brainwave activity. Nicole has found it helpful to use neurofeedback as an adjunct treatment in her psychotherapy sessions. Neurofeedback is a safe and non-invasive way to balance your brainwaves.
Neurofeedback works to bring erratic brainwave patterns back into balance by detecting which waves are out of balance, via electrodes on your head, that measure brain frequency activity, much like an EEG. When the body is presented with information about its own functioning and given the encouragement and opportunity to change, it will do so.
The U.S. FDA has approved neurofeedback for relaxation training and the American Pediatric Academy has endorsed neurofeedback as a “Level 1/Best Support” treatment for children with ADHD.
What happens in a session?
You will sit in a quiet room in a comfortable lounge chair. Your therapist will attach special electrodes to your head that will feed your brainwave patterns into a highly sophisticated computer program.
The neurofeedback session is relaxing, enjoyable and lasts 33 minutes. As the session starts, you will hear the music play through headphones. You will hear occasional “skips” or interruptions in the music, this is the signal that prompts your brain to self-correct and reorganize.
At the end of a session, you will most likely feel less stressed and more mentally clear. It is unlikely you will experience any negative after-effects as the system we use (NeurOptimal) does not artificially “push” the brain in any specific direction.
How does it work?
A sophisticated computer program reads your brainwave activity (via electrodes on your scalp and ears) and assesses where the imbalances are. Much like a mirror that promotes self-correction, the system then provides “feedback” to your central nervous system about what it has just done. You will be listening to music throughout the 33-minute neurofeedback session. When detected brainwave patterns are healthy and balanced, the music plays uninterrupted. When the brainwave patterns are erratic, you will hear brief pauses in the music (it sounds like a record skipping). The brain learns that it gets rewarded for operating within healthy frequency patterns and will start pulling itself into those patterns to continue the rewards. Basically, the brain is encouraged to self-correct and reorganize.
Over a series of sessions, the brain is trained to operate in those healthy frequency patterns more regularly. After a series of sessions, the brain will likely operate in its newly learned, healthier pattern all the time, not just during your session.
What are brain waves?
In very simple terms, we have the structure of the brain, for example, neurons. Neurotransmitters, such as serotonin, more have to do with the chemistry of the brain. In the context of neurofeedback, brain waves have more to do with the electrical activity of the brain.
Our brain waves change according to what we’re doing and feeling. When slower brainwaves are dominant we can feel tired, slow, sluggish or dreamy. The higher frequency brain waves are dominant when we feel wired and hyper-alert. When our brainwaves are out of balance, there will be corresponding problems in our emotional or neuro-physical health. Over-arousal in certain brain areas is linked with anxiety disorders, sleep problems, nightmares, hyper-vigilance, impulsive behaviour, anger/aggression, agitated depression, chronic nerve pain, and spasticity. Under-arousal in certain brain areas leads to some types of depression, attention deficit, chronic pain, and insomnia. A combination of under-arousal and over-arousal is seen in cases of anxiety, depression, and ADHD.
Brainwave patterns can be classified as alpha, beta, delta, gamma, and theta. Each grouping encompasses a particular range of frequencies and each has its own characteristics. For example, the alpha brainwave state is typically a relaxed state where one feels calm, mindful and meditative. It is associated with increased creativity and a reduction in depression. Beta waves are heavily involved in cognitive functions; we are alert, focused, engaged and task-oriented. Delta and theta waves appear in the realm of sleep or very deep meditative states. Gamma waves are the fastest brainwaves and relate to the processing of information from different brain areas. They have been associated with higher states of conscious perception.
Why should I use neurofeedback?
Neurofeedback training provides a multitude of benefits for the brain and body, including Improved sleep, heightened mental clarity and enhanced cognitive performance. Adults, as well as children, have used neurofeedback to address the negative effects arising from depression, anxiety, PTSD, sleep disorders, and other complaints.