Have you tried talk therapy for yourself, made progress, but ultimately felt that it wasn’t enough? What about trying medications only to still have severe symptoms? So have a lot of other people.
What if there were a way of reducing symptoms of depression, anxiety, trauma and attention problems that could complement talk therapy and medication? Medical professionals have been talking about the benefits of neurofeedback therapy combined with traditional ‘talk’ therapy.
By implying neurofeedback therapy is “new,” we simply mean that it’s new to the mental health care system. In fact, neurofeedback has been around for over 50 years and has inspired more than 2,400 published papers — and practitioners have used this approach in over 250,000 sessions to date.
Neurofeedback & Self Regulation
Neurofeedback addresses problems with mental health from an entirely different direction — by training our brains to better self-regulate.
When self-regulation improves, symptoms lessen. Imagine the impact on an individual with a mental health condition if they were able to sleep better, focus better, feel less anxious, and react less impulsively. This is why we, The Neurofeedback Advocacy Project (NAP), believe this treatment approach should be widely implemented in more health and mental health care settings.
What Is Neurofeedback Therapy?
The brain has a physical structure made up of over 100 billion neurons, specialized cells that transmit information. Neurons are influenced and controlled by various neurochemicals, such as neurotransmitters like serotonin, to affect and regulate all of our mental processes. This is the foundation for psychotropic medications: by using medication to influence the levels and interactions of certain neurochemicals available in the brain, we can affect the resulting mental processes.
The brain is also a complex informational network. Electrochemical information is transmitted between neurons through a vast web of over 125 trillion synapses (the gaps between the cells). In order to perform well, this cell-to-cell communication system must be smooth and in sync. Like any other complex system, it requires constant feedback in order to self-regulate.
For example, consider the heating and air system in a building. The thermostat constantly measures the temperature of the room and provides feedback to the system. If the temperature is too high, the thermostat sends a signal to turn off the heat. The brain operates in a similar (although significantly more complex) fashion.
The brain constantly monitors its own electro-chemical activities and uses that feedback to adjust. Any issues with that internal monitoring — dysfunction in the neurofeedback system — can result in dysregulation. When stress has disrupted communication within our brain’s network, it cannot effectively regulate itself, disrupting normal functions and impacting mental processes.
Our understanding of this feedback regulation system has evolved significantly over the years. Early research focused on “biofeedback,” influencing the body in order to affect different processes. For example, we learned that changing the temperature of a person’s hands could help them relax. One scientist discovered that using milk as a reward could alter brainwave patterns in cats, improving calm focus and ultimately preventing the cats from having seizures.
As we learned more about biofeedback, research evolved to focus specifically on the regulatory process of the brain — neurofeedback — and include experiments in humans with a variety of conditions including epilepsy, ADD/ADHD, anxiety, and PTSD.
What Does Neurofeedback Therapy Treatment Look Like?
Neurofeedback has come a long way in the 50 years since the initial breakthrough with cats. Now, in a neurofeedback session, the patient sits in a comfortable chair where they either play a video game or watch a movie. The practitioner places sensors, which read brainwaves, onto the patient’s scalp. Over two to three sessions, the practitioner develops an understanding of that individual’s brainwaves, determining what levels and patterns are “optimal” and lead to the most effective functioning.
Once the practitioner has identified the optimal brainwave setting for the patient, treatment begins. Specialized software monitors the patient’s brainwaves, and when it identifies positive or desired patterns, it alters what the patient sees on the TV screen. For example, boosting the speed of the car they are controlling in a video game or increasing the size of the viewing window for their movie.
As the treatment goes on, the patient’s brain automatically adjusts. It “recognizes” that specific brainwave patterns result in positive outcomes (the faster car or better view of the movie) and uses that feedback to adjust its functioning. This self-regulation happens naturally — there is no conscious effort by the patient.
During a session, a patient will typically talk to their practitioner about what they see on the screen, share their feelings or respond to questions, which helps the practitioner confirm that the sensor placement, brainwave readings, and software actions are correct.
At the end of a session, the patient and their practitioner review the recorded progress. The goal is for patients to experience a reduction in symptoms over the course of a typical 20-session course of treatment. By helping the brain “learn” to connect specific brain waves with positive outcomes, we help it learn to regulate itself, improve overall functioning and support healthy mental processes.
Neurofeedback Therapy at NHA
Here at Neurohealth Associates, we specialize in Neurofeedback treatments. Neurofeedback may be helpful for treating ADHD symptoms, especially if you are unsure about putting yourself or your child on medication. The easy, noninvasive treatments can painlessly improve your mental health condition and outlook on life. Schedule a consultation with NeuroHealth today and find out how we can help you.