Neurofeedback is a relatively new biofeedback technique that focuses on helping a person train themselves to directly affect brain function. Although it sounds like science-fiction in nature, it’s actually a reputable and scientifically-proven technique practiced by specially-trained psychotherapists. Neurofeedback, also known as EEG biofeedback, is a gradual therapeutic learning process that takes time and focus.
As the name implies, neurofeedback works by providing feedback to an individual about their brain, specifically, their brainwaves. Feedback in a vacuum, however, is useless, so the individual undergoing neurofeedback is rewarded for patterns of brainwave activity that are better for the person. This is referred to as “self-regulation,” because the individual is learning how to regulate their own actual brainwave patterns on their own, without medications or additional therapy.
Neurofeedback has research backing supporting its noninvasive effectiveness and use in numerous mental disorders, including depression, attention deficit disorder, anxiety, sleep disorders, headaches and migraines, and other emotional issues. It can also be used to help people who have organic brain disorders, such as autism, cerebral palsy and seizures.
A neurofeedback treatment session is typically conducted at least once a week by a trained professional who acts as an active and supportive guide and teacher. Electrodes are applied to the individual’s scalp, which allow the patient and therapist to “listen in” on brainwave activity. The electrodes do not hurt and conduct no amount of electricity that one can feel. The person’s hair is not removed or shaven during the electrode placement.
The signals picked up by the electrodes are sent to a computer, where they are processed. Key brainwave frequencies are turned into a combination of images and sound feedback, which the person watches and hears. This is done in “real-time,” so the person sees exactly what is going on in their brain as they think certain thoughts, feel stressed, or feel relaxed.
The brainwave activity information is presented to the person in the form of a video game. The person is effectively playing the video game with his or her brain. Eventually the brainwave activity is “shaped” toward more desirable and more regulated performance. The frequencies that the neurofeedback professional targets as well as the specific locations on the scalp electrodes are placed are specific to the patient’s condition or disorder.
The key to successful neurofeedback training is to lower certain brainwave frequencies while promoting other, healthier frequencies. While this sounds difficult, it is done by simple repetitive training while connected to the electrodes.
Effective neurofeedback training typically takes anywhere from 15 to 35 sessions. Unlike virtually all other treatment methods available, neurofeedback has no known significant side effects. However, not all people are appropriate candidates for neurofeedback treatment. Approximately 20% of people who try neurofeedback receive no therapeutic benefit.