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Neurofeedback, or neurotherapy, is a form of biofeedback – electroencephalogram (EEG) that helps patients identify, monitor and modify their own brainwave activity. Neurofeedback has been used for decades as an alternative non-medicinal treatment for ADHD, Depression, Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI), Anxiety, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and other brain disorders. And within the last decade, researchers have found more evidence that it not only enhances the effectiveness of other therapies for these disorders, but may also provide permanent relief from them on its own.
The effectiveness of this therapy is due to neuroplasticity, also called brain plasticity, a process that enables the brain to produce new cells and connections between cells. With proper training, patients can enhance their own mental and physical abilities by stimulating this growth using neurofeedback. Unlike medicinal therapies, the changes that occur during neurofeedback training have been shown to continue long after therapy has been completed.
Basically neurofeedback enhances the brain’s ability to move from one form of wave activity to another. Electrically charged, these waves fall into four different categories and are measured in cycles per second represented as Hertz (Hz):
(less than 4 Hz) – are the slowest and occur when we are asleep.
(4 – 7 Hz) – are also relatively slow and predominate when we are deeply relaxed, mentally inactive.
(8 – 13 Hz) – represent a medium frequency that takes place when we are fully awake but not actively engaged in thinking or interacting with our environment.
(13-38Hz) – are the fastest and indicate we are fully engaged in thinking and problem solving
Neurofeedback enables us to measure the wave output of various sections of the brain and then compare these outcomes to those of brains operating at an optimum level. This information is then sent back to the patient’s brain. Acting on this data, the brain is encouraged to produce faster or slower brainwaves to reach a frequency that is within the preferred range of functionality.
For example, working with a neurofeedback provider, a person who is having trouble focusing at work or school can enhance their ability to concentrate by retraining their brain to produce more beta waves. While a patient who is experiencing insomnia can learn how to slow down their beta waves so theta waves predominate. Once new brain wave patterns are established through multiple neurofeedback sessions, optimum levels of activity can be sustained with just occasional reinforcement sessions. Generally, neurofeedback training delivers a positive outcome faster than talk therapies, averaging between 20 to 40 visits, depending on the patient and their ailment.
Neurofeedback provides real-time data about brain waves in response to different images, skills, tasks, and activities. People undergoing this treatment may be asked to perform tasks like reading, solving math problems, watching videos, or listening to music. During these activities, their brain wave patterns are monitored, recorded, and made available. When abnormal brain waves are detected, the computer may automatically redirect them to a different task or activity.
A key to understanding how neurofeedback works is the concept of neuroplasticity, which describes how the human brain is continuously learning and changing in response to experiences, environment, and choices. It utilizes the same learning process that occurs whenever we acquire a new skill. The brain learns by forming connections between nerve cells and utilizing important pathways that connect different locations in the brain. The more frequently you utilize these pathways the better the brain becomes at performing the associated task. In psychology, this type of leaning is called “Operant Conditioning”. It is a type of learning in which responses come to be controlled by their consequences. Quite simply, Neurofeedback offers the perfect learning conditions, since it facilitates awareness of when the brain is producing healthier brainwave patterns, provides reinforcement for the positive change and multiple opportunities to provide practice during a training session.
Over time, the brain can be conditioned to solidify new neural pathways, leading to lasting changes. This has been demonstrated in certain studies showing that between 70-80% of people treated with neurofeedback experienced a dramatic improvement in symptoms, including 80-85% reduction in symptoms. These results were maintained in post treatment follow ups of 6 months, a year, and sometimes even several years.