Psychology Today Article, 2016
Newsweek Article 2016, Neurofeedback Goes Mainstream
EveryDay Health 2008, Riding Brain Waves: Neurofeedback to Treat Bipolar Disorder
What is Neurofeedback?
Neurofeedback (EEG biofeedback) is a non-invasive, non-pharmaceutical, collaborative training method for rebalancing and re-regulating the brain wave frequencies that determine behavior, mood, memory, performance, sensory decoding (pain or pleasure) and thought creation. Using a combination of cutting edge brain research, high-speed computer tracking, and algorhythms (behavior predicting formulas), neurofeedback helps you move your brain away from old, painful, self-defeating thoughts and behaviors, and creates new neural (brain) connections that are associated with focus, calmness, clarity, and motivation.
Neurofeedback begins with an assessment that helps you form 4 behavioral goals (i.e. increase length and depth of sleep, decrease anxiety or depression, increase memory and focus, decrease addictions, increase academic, sports or vocational performance), and then asks 90 specific questions that allow that program to tailor your training for your specific brain and goals.
Training takes place in a quiet and comfortable environment. Sensors that are attached to your scalp monitor minute fluctuations in brain wave frequencies as the program coaches you towards change by giving auditory and visual feedback (in real time) of how your brain waves are changing. This rewards the brain for formation of new, more productive thoughts and behavior, and inhibits old, non-productive thoughts and behavior. People who experience EEG neurofeedback report that they feel relaxed, less stressed, more focused, and are responsive rather than reactive to what life presents.
EEG neurofeedback has been approved by the FDA to treat stress, and has been found effective in reducing or alleviating PTSD, ADD/ADHD, Anxiety, rage and anger, pain associated with muscle tension held around injury, increasing athletic performance, and job effectiveness.
Sessions usually take place 2 – 3 x per week for a 5 -10 week period (though they can be done as often as 5 times per week over a 4 week period). Research has shown that 50% of neurofeedback clients experience a sense of change after 2 sessions. We are looking for significant long lasting change and this is achieved in 90% of clients after 20 sessions.
Neurofeedback is a technique in which we train the brain directly in its basic competences. The brain not only regulates all bodily functions, but also must take care of itself. In fact, most of the brain's activity refers to itself. This activity must be organized, and we can attribute many of our problems in mental functioning to failures in such organization. The EEG (Electroencephalogram) allows us to see the brain at work, and when the brain is not functioning well, the evidence often shows up in the EEG. We can analyze the EEG into a variety of constituents, each of which appears to be responsible for some regulatory activity. By challenging the brain, much as you challenge your body in physical exercise, your brain can learn to function better. But in contrast to physical exertion, in this particular exercise only the brain is working hard---and you don't feel that! What happens in practice is that we extract from the EEG the essential information on which we want you to train. Typically this means showing you how large the EEG is at particular frequencies, what we call its amplitude. We ask you to try to change that amplitude over time, and we reward you for succeeding. How do you succeed, you ask? We let your brain figure it out, and you have to "let" your brain do it, too. We don't really know how learning of any kind takes place, but we know that it does so. And the brain can also learn about controlling itself better. The brain manages many things with cyclical movement between the state of activation, and the state of relaxation, and we can observe this process in the EEG. As we ask the brain to change its own activity level, we are effectively putting it on a "stair stepper." We ask the brain to change, it does so, and it also resists the change. We ask it again, and it resists again. In this push-pull fashion, the brain strengthens its regulatory capacities, and eventually the brain may be able to function well without the help of neurofeedback. It will have learned better internal control. Where does this matter? First of all, it helps in managing our arousal level, our sleep-wake cycle. When you sleep more efficiently, you are more alert during the day. It can help with anxiety and depression, and with pain syndromes like migraine or chronic pain. Secondly, it can be helpful in managing attention--how well you can persist even at a boring task, for example. Thirdly, it can help you manage the emotions. Emotions may feel like the real you, but your brain has something to do with how you feel and react. If the emotions are out of control, that's trainable. If they aren't there---as in lack of empathy, for example---that, too, is trainable. Finally, there are some specific issues where the Neurofeedback training can be helpful, such as in cases of seizures, traumatic brain injury, cerebral palsy, autism, and dementia. In these instances the training does not so much get rid of the problem as it simply organizes the brain to function better in the context of whatever injury or loss exists. Once you accept the possibility that this training might be effective for you, the next question is: Will this training change who you are? Well, yes and no. If a child is known for his temper outbursts and he does the training, and the rages fall away, he is certainly different. But the parents would say, we have our real son now. A person should not be defined by their worst features. The training takes you closer to who you really are. That is our experience. And because this training really allows your true self to emerge, others may notice the changes in you even before you do. You may wonder, is there a completion to the training, or does it go on and on? In order to reach a specific objective, the training generally just goes for a certain number of sessions. If there is back-sliding after that, due to stresses in your life, a few booster sessions may be recommended. However, just as concert pianists practice more than the rest of us, rather than less, EEG training can be used without limit to enhance performance. This may be of interest to professional athletes, corporate executives, and performance artists who live in a very high-stress world.
It all begins with brainwaves. What are brainwaves?
Brainwaves are the sum total of millions of neurons all firing at once. The number of neurons sparking in the brain at a certain frequency (speed) convey information that defines the amplitude (or power). Brainwaves are measured in Hertz (waves per second), and have a spectrum of frequencies. Each frequency spectrum carries a different meaning about emotions, physical movement, concentration, and creative expression. Issues happen when specific frequencies do not fire optimally for a given activity. For example, it is not optimal for beta frequency, the “go” brainwave, to be dominant at night or it causes insomnia. By the same token, delta, the “sleep” brainwave causes daytime drowsiness and insomnia if is too active during the day.
Continuing research is showing that neurofeedback is yielding positive results for many people with debilitating neurological symptoms. There are many case studies of people who have changed their lives for the better using this new technology. Research has shown people of all ages seeing dramatic improvement in ADHD, anger, mood problems, anxiety, depression, migraines, seizures and more. Please contact me for research pertinent to your concerns.
Explaining how Neurofeedback Actually Works
by Siegfried Othmer, Ph.D.
To the parent or the client:
At the conscious level we observe our own behavior and can act to modify our own behavior. At the same time all of our acts, thoughts, and feelings are handled by the brain in its own code. And the brain reads its own code by a kind of pattern recognition.
If we now allow the brain to witness its own behavior, it simply applies its pattern matching skills, realizes what the game is about, and is then capable of altering its own behavior.
In Neurofeedback, we allow the brain to track its own behavior in our digital mirror. At the same time, we reward the brain if it happens to change in a favorable direction, in a sophisticated game of "warmer/colder."
The brain is also a voracious learning engine, so it incorporates the new information and that becomes new learned behavior, or new functional capability.
To the psychologist:
Merleau-Ponty urged many years ago that the brain is best regarded not as an observer or witness to its world, but rather as an actor in it. It is especially attuned to its own impact on its surroundings. It is not simply or primarily a respondent. In the feedback screen, the brain recognizes its own agency with regard to the changing signal, and it can't help but be intrigued. So the same process that works at the level of the person also happens at the level of the brain, in the brain's own code. The brain's code is reflected in the EEG. The EEG, in turn, is mapped into the feedback game. And the brain's pattern recognition skills are such that it is still able---even after so many levels of abstraction---to discern the correlation of the feedback information with its own internal activity. In this manner, we beguile the brain into altering its own state. Over time and by repetition, functionality is restored to brain networks, and new functional capacities open up.
To the health professional generally:
The skill of the game of golf is recognized to be largely a mental skill. Training a person to play better golf is largely a matter of developing and honing brain-based skills. What makes this all possible is that immediate feedback is always available on the person's performance because in the motor act the brain's capacities are on display, in a manner that all can judge. Skill learning is absolutely dependent on feedback---to the trainee and also to the coach. The brain's trainability is a general property of the brain, one not restricted to motor function. The missing piece is feedback. If we can allow the brain to observe its own behavior, we can train it just as effectively as we can train motor competence. In Neurofeedback, that is just what happens. We allow the brain to witness those aspects of its own behavior that relate to issues identified by the therapist. And this opens the door to shaping the brain's behavior in all of those areas that matter to us in mental health, in education, in our relationships, and even in our deepest inner core of the self.
To the soldier or veteran:
Think back to sharp-shooting practice in boot camp. If every time you fired a shot the target were immediately covered up so that you couldn't see how well you did, then you would never improve very much over time. You need feedback on your performance to improve. This turns out to be true quite generally. The brain learns through feedback on its own actions in the world. Now through technology we are able to give the brain more direct feedback on itself through the EEG, because the EEG encodes the brain's behavior. We've made the feedback loop much shorter and more direct, so it is more effective. And all aspects of brain function that are reflected in the EEG open up to us for training.
To the skeptical psychologist:
"The clinical data proffered for Neurofeedback are certainly impressive, but spectacular results are observed occasionally in any clinical context. Conventionally we write them off to the placebo effect. How do we know that Neurofeedback isn't just a fancy placebo?"
In any discussion of this type the placebo is treated as if it were an independent causal agent. But it is merely an observed effect; the cause remains obscure. Whatever the cause, however, it is an illustration of the human capacity for self-regulation and self-repair. In health care currently, the placebo makes its appearance randomly. In neurofeedback, we harness the human capacity for enhancing self-regulation systematically. Both rest on the assumption of brain plasticity. Since systematic research trumps random observation, it is neurofeedback that can explain the placebo effect, not the other way around.
Neurofeedback distinguishes itself from the random placebo in the following respects: 1) Success is achieved much more predictably and systematically than would be expected for placebo; 2) Neurofeedback exhibits a progressive and cumulative learning curve, in contrast to placebo; 3) neurofeedback typically shows no extinction effects, demonstrating that learning has occurred; 4) Neurofeedback effects are specifically protocol-dependent, in a manner consistent with functional neuroanatomy; 5) Neurofeedback does not merely achieve restoration of function but also enhancement of function that could never be ascribed to a placebo.
This includes, among many possible examples, the return of vision in a blinded individual; the establishment of color vision in an individual who never had it before; establishment of stereoscopic audition in someone who never previously had that experience; substantial IQ increases beyond norms; the elimination of insulin requirement in a Type II diabetic; the normalization of thyroid function in a hypothyroid condition; extraordinary skills in sports that had not manifested before; the sudden surfacing of musical and other artistic abilities.
Neurofeedback therapy functions much like any other rehabilitation technique. In sum, once acquaintance is made with Neurofeedback, the placebo hypothesis must be seen as a category error, the relic of a prior age in which brain plasticity was not an accepted concept.
For more information on the specific neurofeedback and the specific technology we use in our offices, visit BrainPaint's Website.