What is Neurofeedback?
Neurofeedback is a process by which the brain is reprogrammed in order to overcome a difficulty or limitation. It is unique in that is is direct training of brain patterns, in which the brain learns to function in a more healthy way.
Neurofeedback, also known as EEG Biofeedback, is based on electrical brain activity. We monitor the brain activity using the electroencephalogram, or EEG. The EEG readings are then presented back to the participant in the form of sounds and/or images. Thus, the user can observe the brain in action in real time, from moment to moment. Through this process, the brain is rewarded for changing its own activity to more appropriate patterns.
Essentially, neurofeedback is training in self-regulation; it is a broad tool that may be specifically focused to address any particular area of dysregulation. Examples of issues that may be helped with neurofeedback include: anxiety, depression, ADHD, behavior disorders (such as Oppositional Defiant Disorder ODD and Conduct Disorder), sleep disorders, headaches/migraines, PMS, and emotional disturbances such as DMDD. It may also reduce symptoms for organic brain conditions such as Autism Spectrum Disorder, seizures, and cerebral palsy.
How Does it Work?
Using a special headband with electrodes (don’t worry, there is no shock or pain!), brainwave activity is measured and processed. Based on years of scientific research, we focus on frequencies we wish to increase or diminish. The system analyzes these frequencies and patterns in real time and instantly presents them back to the user, who attempts to alter the activity level. The information is presented in an interesting and compelling way, such as in a video game. The user learns to play the video game just by using his or her brainwaves. Through this practice, the user learns to consciously control the brainwaves that relate to the aspects of the issue being treated. For example, a person learns to consciously control anxiety level or emotional state. The frequencies targeted and the specific locations on the monitoring electrodes are specific to the conditions being addressed, and also specific to the individual.
Is Neurofeedback a Cure?
Generally speaking, it is a matter of getting the brain to function better rather than of curing the condition. When brain function improves, a person is better able to function in the world and cope with stressors. With the organic brain disorders such as ASD and PDD, this is not a cure but an additional tool in treating the symptoms such as emotional dysregulation and attention. With the emotional issues such as anxiety and depression, it may reduce severity, duration, or frequency of occurrence. Again, it is a tool and may not eliminate the issue completely, especially if underlying issues are not addressed (such as trauma, neurotransmitter imbalance, family, or lifestyle issues). With regard to the behavioral disorders including ODD and CD, contributing factors are often poor problem-solving and coping skills. Improving these factors with neurofeedback increases the chances returning to a healthy life.
What Conditions Can it Help?
Because it helps the brain function better, it may be beneficial in treating many mental and behavioral conditions. Often, people turn to neurofeedback when other approaches have met with limited success.
Emotional: Bipolar Disorder (BPI & BPII), Depression, Anxiety
Organic: Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI), Seizure, and Sub-Clinical Seizure Activity, Pervasive Developmental Delay (PDD), Cerebral Palsy, Birth Trauma
Behavioral: Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD), Conduct Disorder (CD), Substance Abuse, Impulse Control
Disorders of Childhood: Nightmares, Night Terrors, Bed Wetting, Sleep Walking, Sleep Talking, Teeth Grinding.
Aging: As we age, we lose cognitive function, in part due to diminishing amount of grey matter. This loss is offset by things like rest, good diet, and exercise. Neurofeedback can train the brain to regenerate more effectively (through deeper relaxation) thus offsetting the age-related brain shrinkage. It can also be trained to operate more efficiently. The good news is that almost any brain, regardless of its level of function, can be trained to function better.
Frequently Asked Questions
Who provides neurofeedback?
Neurofeedback (EEG Biofeedback) is typically provided by mental health professionals with advanced degrees, such as counselors and psychologists, who have received Neurofeedback Certification. It’s a good idea to check credentials for providers in Fort Collins.
I see you also provide counseling. Will I also need that?
That depends on you goals, where you are at, and what you have tried before. Given that Neurofeedback is ideally twice per week, it might a strain on resources to try both at the same time.
Can it help reduce anxiety and stress?
We experience stress when the demands of life exceed out coping resources. Neurofeedback boosts internal coping mechanisms and changes how the brain responds to life’s everyday demands. Anxiety is essentially unaccepted or unacknowledged emotion and biofeedback can help chart a direct path to accepting and moving past it. EEG can also train relaxation techniques which can be used at any time to reduce stress and anxiety.
Is this similar to meditation?
In some ways. Some types of meditation target the same areas targeted in neurofeedback. We strongly believe in the positive effects of meditation and recommend it for anyone. However, neurofeedback is more targeted for a more efficient use of time. The structure of the program helps people be consistent with the treatment, whereas many people struggle to meditate consistently.
How does it help with ADD/ADHD?
This is an evidence-based treatment for ADHD, as are pharmacological and behavioral treatments. We know that medications can help with ADHD, at least in some cases and for a period of time. We also know that behavioral interventions, such as stimulus control can be very effective and should be added to any treatment regimen (contact us for more info). Neurofeedback, however, allows for direct training of attention, control, and focus. A major positive is the lack of negative side effects that are found with amphetamine medications, such as Ritalin, Vyvanse, and Adderall.
What if I just want to enhance my performance?
We really appreciate the Health Psychology and Positive Psychology approaches which view all people as on a path to unlock their Human Potential. Everyone has potential to improve their quality of life and reach Peak Performance (of course this should be balanced with self-acceptance while avoiding perfectionism).
Is the training the same for all disorders and goals?
Not at all. Decades of research have led to optimized neurofeedback programs for specific areas including: seizures, migraines, attention/ADHD, anxiety, stress, depression, and cognitive functioning. Based on the intake assessment and baseline readings, an optimized protocol is set up for the client.
How long do the training effects last?
That depends. The effects will last longer if they type of problem is emotional dysregulation because the training gives the brain a tool to make order out of disorder. The brain will continue to use this tool and in doing so it will be reinforced more and more over time.
There are many situations where the effects of the training may be more likely to fade. For example, when there are continuing insults to the system, such as allergies, chemical sensitivities, and food intolerances. Such symptoms may indicate infection, inflammation, impaired nutrient absorption, or detox pathway issues and are often clustered with Autism Spectrum, ODD, DMDD, and ADHD. Unhealthy physical or psychological environments may also interfere with training retention. Also, degenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s and dementia may lead to a forgetting of the new training.
In these types of cases, the person may benefit from a maintenance level of training to keep the learning fresh.
What is the success rate?
Given the long history of research on neurofeedback, there is reason to have high expectations for training success. When such success is either limited or temporary, there is usually an underlying cause that requires investigation. Because this is simply a way of training the brain to increase healthy patterns, it is expected to be helpful to most everybody. As long as the program is undertaken sincerely, the gains should be worthwhile. By some reports, the vast majority of clients’ results exceed their expectations.
Will this replace medication?
This is something that only you and your prescribing physician can decide. As the brain learns to self-regulate better with neurofeedback training, you may find that psychotropic medications are needed at a smaller dose or not at all. We do not recommend adjusting any medication without the consent of your doctor.
Will insurance pay for Neurofeedback?
Maybe. Many insurance companies do reimburse for biofeedback/neurofeedback, subject to applicable co-pays and deductibles. This is something to explore with your insurance company. We would be happy to help you determine your provider’s coverage.
How long before I notice a difference?
The standard protocol is 20-30 sessions twice weekly. To solidify gains, it is best to do another 10 sessions over the course of the next year. Some people come in once weekly as resources allow. For some people, the effects are cumulative; for others, no effects are noticed until a certain number of sessions are completed. Some patients with ADHD see little progress for the first 25 sessions, then make great gains. The reason for this is unclear. The effects are cumulative and it is strongly advised that all sessions be completed in a timely matter for best results. Many people start to notice the effects after a few sessions. Remember that it has taken years to build a dysfunctional neural network and it will take some time to improve it.