What is Neurofeedback?
The brain is made up of billions of cells called neurons. The primary purpose of these cells is to communicate with one another and one of the ways neurons do this is through electrical activity. We can measure this activity through a procedure called an electroencephalogram or EEG. Through this electrical communication, our neurons work collectively to serve various functions, such as basic life functions that control breathing and heart functioning, physical sensations including pain, emotions, focus and attention, memory, and how we think. Although any given neuron may only serve a specific function, it is the connectedness of these neurons, called a neural network, that allow us to function at our best. In fact, we can think of this neural network much like a social network in that the strength is not the individual, but the complexity of connectedness with people all over the world. Of course, if our neurons in one area of the brain are communicating out of synch with the neurons in other areas of the brain, then our functioning may be altered or impaired. This alteration can be due to a variety of factors including disease processes, head injuries, genetic factors, effects of medications, or even poor sleep. This poor regulation between parts of the brain can then result in various conditions such as ADHD, learning disabilities, depression, anxiety, insomnia, and other disease processes.
How can Neurofeedback better regulate the electrical signals in different parts of the brain? First, Neurofeedback is a type of biofeedback. Instead of providing feedback to regulate your heart rate or breathing, Neurofeedback measures the brain waves (or electrical activity of the brain) using EEG that can then be used to teach the brain better self-regulation. As a result, this improved self-regulation can better balance the communication between parts of the brain which can then improve symptoms such as anxiety, depressed mood, poor focus and attention, hyperactivity, poor impulse control (acting without thinking), poor short term memory, and poor sleep. This brain training process typically starts with what is called a QEEG, which is a baseline EEG recording that aids to focus on the areas of the brain that require the most self-regulation based upon your symptoms. We also do a detailed clinical interview that allow us to fine tune the training based on the results from the QEEG and what clients report they want to change. The training sessions, which typically last 45-60 minutes each between set up, training and clean up, require an individual to be attached to a few surface electrodes or a full EEG cap to capture the electrical activity of the brain. The brain then is “trained” to respond within a defined boundary of electrical activity as the individual interacts with a stimulus, such as a video game or movie. If the brain responds within the defined boundary the game continues or the movie screen stays bright with sound. However, when the brain operates outside the boundary, the stimulus either stops or goes dark and quiet. Remember, you are controlling the stimulus with your brain activity and not your hands! Over successive training sessions, the brain “learns” to operate more efficiently and effectively within this boundary which is how symptoms can start to diminish. How many treatment sessions one requires, depends on the symptoms presented.
Some of the results reported by clients have been exciting! We have kids who were not able to do well in school now passing classes and feeling accomplished by their ability to remain focused and understand material better. Clients with anxiety who were debilitated to the point of not being able to drive or be out of their home are now working and getting places on their own. Kids who had trouble remembering what they had for lunch are now able to recite lines for a school play. Results vary from one individual to another, but generally we see positive changes!
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Betsabé Rubio LMFT-S, LPC-S