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Everything you need to know about Neurofeedback
The science of neurofeedback was first used in the 1950s and 1960s. As many strive to find less invasive ways of treating illness or injury, therapies such as neurofeedback have grown in popularity. Over the last several decades, neurofeedback has shown its effectiveness as a treatment for a wide variety of conditions, including epilepsy, depressive and anxiety disorders, addictive disorders, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), traumatic brain injury, and addiction treatment. Neurofeedback is considered a safe, effective, non-invasive, and chemical-free way to address a wide variety of symptoms in adults and children.
What is Neurofeedback?
Neurofeedback is a process that uses EEG and neuro training to train brain function directly. A series of electrodes are used to monitor brain waves, and they return a feedback signal based on the brain’s cognitive activity. In most cases, the signal is audio and/or video. Depending on the desirability of brain activities, either positive or negative feedback is produced. Neurofeedback helps the brain learn to function more efficiently by examining how it currently works.
What is EEG?
Neurofeedback is also referred to as EEG Biofeedback because the results are based on electrical brain activity or EEG.1
As visual representations of brain function are returned through EEG technology, a brain map (or brain imaging) is created, helping both the patient and provider learn more about how neurofeedback can aid in injury or illness treatment.
EEG or electroencephalography measures the electrical patterns at the surface of the scalp. These patterns often referred to as brainwaves, are a reflection of activity from within the cortex of the brain (cortical activity).
What is qEEG?
Quantitative EEG (qEEG) is the process of analyzing the data produced by the EEG.2
This process is sometimes referred to as “brain mapping” because it provides a “map” of activity from various regions of the brain. Both EEG and the information derived from the qEEG can help providers evaluate brain function and track changes to brain function due to brain therapy interventions such as neurofeedback.
The Benefits of Brain Training
Neuroimaging is the process of studying the structure and function of the nervous system through non-invasive imaging of the brain.3 The practice examines several aspects of the brain, including physical changes, cognition, and information processing capabilities.
Structural neuroimaging addresses the structure of the brain. It uses various imaging methods to examine the contrast between different brain tissues, such as cerebrospinal fluid, grey matter, and white matter. Structural approaches are those which are specialized for viewing and analyzing the anatomy of the brain. They are beneficial for detecting brain damage from injury and structural abnormalities.4
Functional neuroimaging technology is used to identify areas of the brain and underlying processes of the brain associated with performing a particular task. Functional neuroimaging examines both behavioral and cognitive tasks and depending on the “type” of signal is analyzed, the location and level of brain function can be determined.5
Brain waves are patterns of electrical activity in the brain. All cells within the brain communicate with each other using brain waves. Brain waves are vital to all aspects of human behavior, emotion, thought, and cognition. Brain waves and brain activity are influenced by what one is doing at the time they are measured.
For example, the waves present during sleep are different from those present during activity. Activity level and type of activity are essential factors in determining which type of brain wave is dominant. When brainwaves are out of balance, it is possible to experience various alterations in mood and mental health.
Types of Brain Waves
There are five primary types of brain waves ranging from low to high frequency.6
Some documentation further divides the five types into further classifications. Brain waves are measured in cycles per second or hertz (Hz).
Delta brainwaves are the slowest, ranging from one to four hertz. They are generated during sleep, tissue repair, deep unconsciousness, complex problem solving, and general periods of unawareness.
Theta waves range in speed from four to eight hertz. Theta waves are prominent during deep states of unconsciousness, optimal meditative states, depression, anxiety, insight, and creativity.
Alpha waves range in speed from eight to thirteen hertz. Some documentation further subdivides alpha waves into lower (8-10 Hz) and upper alpha (10-13 Hz) waves. Alpha waves are related to alertness, peacefulness, readiness, deep relaxation, and meditation. Lower alpha waves are seen in states of memory recall and upper alpha waves as a reflection of optimal cognitive performance.
Beta waves are the fourth type of brain wave. They range in cycles per second from fifteen to twenty hertz. Beta waves are associated with focusing, thinking, tension, alertness, excitement, and sustained attention. A subcategory of beta waves, high-beta waves, range in speed from twenty to thirty-two hertz and are specifically related to intensity, anxiety, and states of hyper-alertness.
The fifth (and fastest) category of brain waves is gamma waves. Ranging in speed from thirty-two to one hundred hertz, gamma waves are related to cognitive processing, mental acuity, brain activity, brain organization, learning, and problem-solving tasks.
The Benefits of Brain Training
Parts of Brain
The brain is a highly complex organ. Indeed, it is the most complex part of the human body. It is responsible for thinking, sensing, initiating movement, and controlling behavior, among other things. The brain is divided into three parts.7 All parts of the brain work together; however, each has its own unique function and responsibilities.
The hindbrain includes the cerebellum, the brain stem, and the upper part of the spinal cord. This part of the brain controls vital, life-sustaining functions, including respiration and heart rate. The cerebellum is responsible for coordinating movement.
The midbrain is the uppermost part of the brainstem. When looking at the brain visually, the midbrain is challenging to see. The midbrain is responsible for some reflex action control and is part of the circuit involved in eye movement control and other voluntary movements. The third part of the brain is the forebrain. It is the largest and most highly developed part of the brain and consists of the cerebrum and the structures hidden beneath it.
What is Neurofeedback Therapy?
Neurofeedback therapy or EEG (electroencephalogram) biofeedback is a therapeutic intervention that uses non-invasive neurometrics to examine brainwave activity. The EEG can produce visual and (sometimes) auditory feedback. Using quantitative EEG or qEEG, these results are then analyzed and used to reorganize or retrain brain function. By responding to auditory or visual cues, patients learn to improve and regulate brain function.
Benefits of Neurofeedback Therapy
Neurofeedback therapy is beneficial for a variety of treatment needs. It has proven to be a successful, non-invasive, chemical-free intervention for symptoms of brain damage and neuro disorders related to traumatic brain injury. Neurofeedback is also a beneficial intervention for other (non-injury-related) forms of brain damage, including birth trauma.
Neurofeedback therapy can be a favorable treatment for various mental health and behavioral health challenges. It has been used successfully to address symptoms related to bipolar disorder, sleep problems, developmental delays, anxiety, depression, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), addiction, and suicidal behavior.
Neurofeedback is not limited to use in brain injury or mental health disorder treatment. The neurofeedback process can be used by healthy individuals as well to improve performance (ex. athletic performance), lower stress, and increase attention levels. Neurofeedback is frequently used by executives, musicians, and athletes to sharpen skills and capabilities related to their field or specialty.
Who Can Receive Neurofeedback?
Neurofeedback for Adults
In recent years, neurofeedback brain training has been used successfully in the treatment of a wide variety of physical, mental, and behavioral illnesses of the adult brain.8
Medical treatment is often ineffective in patients with diagnosed epilepsy. Neurofeedback training focused on specific brain waves has proven effective in improving symptoms. Some studies show that neurofeedback reduced the rate of seizures in people with severe and uncontrolled epilepsy.
Drug and alcohol addictions are often treated using various evidence-based therapies and (sometimes) medication-assisted therapies. Research has indicated that neurofeedback training is an excellent way to overcome addiction. This form of treatment is proven to help reduce cravings and other challenges associated with treatment and relapse.
Insomnia and related sleeping disorders are challenges faced by adults and children alike. When neurofeedback training is utilized, patients often note changes and improvements in their sleeping patterns. Brain training using neurofeedback can help those who often struggle to fall asleep do so faster and those who have difficulties waking up become alert more quickly.
Anxiety and Depression
Depression is related to malfunctioning in some regions of the brain. Neurofeedback training is used to increase the presence of alpha and theta waves while specifically inhibiting faster beta brain waves to improve symptoms. Similarly, anxiety is believed to inhibit the function of alpha waves. Neurofeedback training can relieve anxiety symptoms in both generalized and specific anxiety disorders.
Neurofeedback has shown positive potential as a treatment for PTSD symptoms without some of the added stress found with conventional therapy models. Neurofeedback can help regulate brain activity, allowing for increased self-regulation abilities.
Scientific research indicates that a malfunction of the right frontal lobe is a root cause of attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder. Symptoms of ADHD include inattention, hyperactivity, and others. The goal of neurofeedback for ADHD is to help normalize behavior without the need for chemical intervention in the form of medication. Neurofeedback is effective in reducing hyperactive behaviors associated with ADHD while improving focus and sustained attention.
Autism or autism spectrum disorder is a mental health challenge that can impact both adults and children. Several studies have proven that neurofeedback performed on various sites in the brain, including the parietal lobe, occipital lobe, and sensorimotor cortex, helped alleviate a wide variety of symptoms. Examples of such symptoms include improved focus, attention, decreased anxiety and impulsivity, improved sleep, improved social behaviors, and improved social functioning.
Some studies indicate professional athletes, artists, or musicians have different brain activity patterns than nonprofessionals. Using neurofeedback on athletes and other professionals can help improve psychomotor and self-regulation ability, confidence levels, and subsequent performance in future competitions or showcase settings. Additionally, there is some rationale for using brain training to create or emulate the brain wave patterns found in professionals to improve the abilities and performance of nonprofessionals.
Migraine headaches are linked to increased activity in the cerebral cortex. Neurofeedback training can stabilize this excitability, resulting in reduced incidence of headache as well as decreased sensitivities and improvement of other symptoms found with chronic migraines.
Concussions and Traumatic Brain Injury
Traumatic brain injury or TBI can lead to significant struggles with cognition, emotional sensitivity, behavior regulation, and attention. Neurofeedback therapy is commonly used to treat symptoms related to traumatic brain injury. qEEG mapping is used to identify the location of an injury and to determine the best course of neurofeedback treatment. qEEG and brain mapping are also beneficial for monitoring treatment progress.
Neurofeedback has also proven successful in treating symptoms of schizophrenia, learning disabilities, relieving chronic pain, stroke recovery, eating disorders, Parkinson’s disease, fibromyalgia, restless leg syndrome, and many others.
Neurofeedback for Children
Neurofeedback is a non-invasive process that does not require medications or other physical interventions. The non-invasive nature of neurofeedback makes it an excellent way to address various mental health conditions and conditions of the brain in children.
Neurofeedback has proven beneficial in addressing teeth grinding, sleep problems, nightmares, and bedwetting. Using the same neurofeedback processes used for adults with sleeping difficulties, neurofeedback therapists can help calm the overactive areas of the brain that lead to many nighttime complications experienced by younger children.
The Benefits of Brain Training
Is Neurofeedback Safe?
Neurofeedback is generally considered a safe, non-invasive intervention to improve brain performance. However, like any procedure, it is not entirely without the potential for side effects. In most cases, these side effects are not dangerous and resolve on their own after a brief time. If you are considering trying neurofeedback for the first time, it is essential to learn about the procedure and understand the best ways to avoid potential side effects.
First, before your first neurofeedback session, get a complete qEEG (quantitative electroencephalograph) or “brain map.” This map provides your practitioner with the accurate structure and function of your brain, allowing them to diagnose any areas that may benefit from targeting during brain training. Without an accurate qEEG, you are essentially guessing at what does and does not require correction.
Additionally, it is crucial to choose a qualified, experienced practitioner. A practitioner who lacks experience may be unable or even unqualified to discuss potential side effects or adverse reactions to the procedure.
The Process of Neurofeedback
To get the most out of a neurofeedback session, it is essential to be comfortable with the process. Remember to ask your provider any questions you have about the process and be open about your concerns at all points during your first appointment.
If you take any medications, continue to do so unless directed otherwise. Do not stop taking any prescription medications without first contacting your provider, as suddenly stopping certain medications can be dangerous. Additionally, drink plenty of water before and after your session and consider bringing a driver with you to your appointment. In some cases, patients feel tired after their session and may not feel comfortable driving.
The first step in neurofeedback treatment is to create a brain map using quantitative EEG or qEEG. This process helps your neurofeedback therapist identify what brain areas are damaged or not working as they should. Once this vital information has been collected, your therapist can tailor your neurofeedback training to meet your specific treatment needs and goals.
Neurofeedback is typically provided by professionals skilled in the application and understanding of the procedure. Examples include mental health professionals, family therapy providers, counselors, and psychologists. When researching neurofeedback, it is essential to find a highly skilled and trained provider. Although neurofeedback is considered safe, when practiced by someone who is not properly trained, unpleasant side effects can result.
Choosing the Right Center for Neurofeedback
To get the most out of neurofeedback therapy, it is critical to choose the right center for your neurofeedback treatment sessions. At J. flowers Health in Housing, Texas, we offer a wide variety of neurofeedback programs designed to address many conditions ranging from addiction and behavioral concerns to injuries stemming from traumatic brain injury.
Our skilled, highly trained team understands that healing requires realigning your body, mind, and spirit. You will begin with a comprehensive evaluation and diagnostic review of your symptoms. This review will help us understand the areas that are not working together to provide the healthiest, most holistic version of health and well-being. At our luxury, private treatment center, we will work with you and your family to help you overcome physical, mental, and behavioral struggles and get back to the best version of you.
To learn more about neurofeedback therapy and how it may benefit yourself or a loved one, contact J. Flowers Health in Houston, Texas today.