What is Neurofeedback? Applied neuroscience.
Neurofeedback, also called EEG biofeedback, is the first therapy that takes what we have learned about brain function in the past three decades and uses this new knowledge to change the way the brain processes information. Neurofeedback is a research-supported treatment to sharpen attention, relieve anxiety, enhance mood, and improve learning and behavior—without medication. Neurofeedback makes use of the brain’s natural capacity to change by reshaping brain networks. Although we are all born with “hard wiring” – networks of neurons and connecting fibers – our brains are constantly being shaped by experience. Repeated experience results in increased connections among neurons and in greater strength in the existing connections. Small changes that are repeatedly reinforced lead to changes in how our brains work. EEG biofeedback involves monitoring and analyzing brain signals picked up by surface electrodes placed on the scalp. Brainwaves are generated by individual cells in your brain called neurons that communicate by electrical changes. We can visualize these electrical changes in the form of brainwaves, as recorded on an electroencephalogram (EEG). The EEG itself is used to guide the feedback you receive.
In neurofeedback, a person is effectively playing video games with his or her brain. Eventually the brainwave activity is “shaped” toward more desirable, more regulated performance. The frequencies we target, and the specific locations on the scalp where we listen in on the brain, are specific to the conditions we are trying to address and specific to the individual. During a session, people usually report feeling relaxed. They sit in a chair and listen to sounds and/or play a video game on a computer screen using their brain to direct the action. When the desired brain wave state is achieved, the game continues and points are accumulated. Nothing is being put into your brain-- we are simply "listening" to your brain wave activity through sensors. You get instantaneous feedback about changes in your brain’s electrical activity by comparing your brain activity to a desired goal for change. When you meet that goal, you receive an auditory and/or visual signal and “reward.” In neurofeedback, we provide positive feedback to increase desired brain activity to teach self-regulation of brain function. Self-regulation is fundamental to healthy psychological functioning. New patterns of neuronal communication tend to result in changes in thinking, emotions, and behavior. Over time, these changes can endure without continued use of an instrument (retrieved from http://www.isnr.org/neurofeedback-introduction).
Neuroplasticity: Why Brain Training Helps When Other Methods Fail
With neurofeedback, your brain changes itself, taking advantage of the brain’s ability to change itself. This is known as “neuroplasticity” and is the way we learn anything. For example, neuroplasticity allows you to become better at a sport with practice or to develop a new habit over time. Because neurofeedback is involved in helping the nervous system regulate itself, it can be used with patients of all ages with a wide range of concerns. Many people’s brains have become stuck in a rigid pattern of responding. With neurofeedback, we can help the brain to become more flexible and efficient, allowing you to be better able to adapt to challenges in the future. People who might otherwise avoid traditional forms of therapy are often drawn to neurofeedback. With neurofeedback training, it is not necessary to relive traumatic events or evoke painful emotions, we can simply work with brain dynamics. Many people appreciate the fact that they are active participants in the training. They value the opportunity to see how their brain is responding in each moment and feel a sense of agency in the change process.
Neurofeedback vs. Medications
The conventional approach to managing problems such as anxiety, depression and sleep problems is medication. Drugs can temporarily alleviate symptoms, but come with undesirable side effects and never produce lasting changes: they don’t teach old brains new tricks. When discontinued, the symptoms are likely to return, because the brain hasn’t learned to operate any differently. With neurofeedback, we often see a reduced need for medication as brain regulation increases. There is no way to predict a medication change. As the brain learns greater self-regulation, it works more efficiently and reliance on medication is often reduced. Not every patient’s medications are affected. For some, EEG biofeedback seems to act synergistically with medication, allowing a better response, or stabilizing the use of medication. Neurofeedback rarely is a stand-alone therapy – it is meant to be complementary to other treatment approaches, helping them be more effective.
Trauma Center Experience in Neurofeedback and Emotional Trauma
The Trauma Center has been studying the effects of neurofeedback on the functioning of traumatized adults and children and has documented its positive effects. Our studies on adults with chronic PTSD and children with histories of severe abuse and/or neglect have been published in major peer-reviewed scientific publications. These studies have demonstrated a highly significant improvement in executive functioning -- the capacity to focus, attend, inhibit impulses, change sets and find new solutions to old problems. Since the capacity for executive functioning is a major indicator for being able to function in school, work and relationships, neurofeedback holds the promise of making a significant difference in the lives of people who are likely to function better and lead more productive lives (van der Kolk et al., 2016).
In our research, we have shown that neurofeedback can help traumatized children and adults who are grossly disorganized after having been abused and /or neglected to normalize their brain waves so that they can manage their emotions, pay attention and stay focused on playing, learning, making friends and pursuing goals.
At the Trauma Center, neurofeedback staff are experienced clinicians who offer individualized intervention for each client.
Brain Mapping: The Quantitative EEG
Brain mapping has been used by advanced neurofeedback practitioners since the early 1990s and has progressed along with general EEG technology advances. EEG brain mapping originated in the BrainLabs at the medical school of New York University. It has been in use for several decades for identifying biologically based disorders. We have a wide range of tools for testing and assessment that will help you understand the brain-based reasons for problems you are encountering. The most important of these tools is the Quantitative EEG (qEEG): neurofeedback’s sophisticated tool that reveals what’s really going on inside your brain. We have several brain mapping options at our disposal to help us help you.
The Quantitative EEG is a non-invasive, relatively simple procedure that can be performed on children, adolescents, and adults. It involves placing a nylon cap, much like a shower cap, on the head. This cap contains 19 sensors that record the electrical activity at different sites on the brain. A small amount of conductive gel is placed on each sensor. (The gel is easily rinsed from the hair after testing.) Once the cap is in place, the individual is asked to sit with his/her eyes closed and then opened. They may also be asked to read and work several simple math problems. This allows us to measure brain activity in response to different conditions or levels of activation. The recording procedure takes from one to two hours. The qEEG is processed by a computer using mathematical signal analyses, and the results are compared to a normative database. These analyses are what set the qEEG apart, often revealing patterns not apparent in the traditional EEG. The qEEG allows the individual’s EEG information to be analyzed and displayed in several ways that provide information about the individual’s brainwave activity. We can determine the person’s dominant resting brainwave frequency, how their brain responds to activation, if they have too much or too little of a particular brainwave frequency under certain conditions, and how well the different areas of the brain are coordinating their activity – or communicating – with one another. All of this information can be used to identify patterns associated with mood disorders, attention difficulties, anxiety, and head injuries, as well as many other functional problems. The quantitative EEG allows us to tailor a therapy to meet each individual’s unique needs.
The neurophysiological evaluations (EEG, QEEG, ERPs) are analyzed and interpreted by qualified staff at the Trauma Center in order to offer an accurate prescription of neurofeedback protocols.
Most of the time, having a qEEG is not a pre-requisite for beginning neurofeedback training (although it is highly recommended). If a seizure disorder or head injury is suspected, however, we may require you to have a qEEG brain map before challenging your brain with neurofeedback. Most people are intrigued by the opportunity to learn so much about the inner workings of their brain. The information obtained can certainly guide the neurofeedback process and, in some cases, may reduce the ultimate number of training sessions.
People often feel relieved when they find that the information we uncover describes their struggles or those of their child remarkably well. They often express surprise that tests by medical specialists didn’t explain what was going on the way the brain map did.
Neurofeedback at the Trauma Center
We are currently using neurofeedback in our treatment of adults and children who have experienced trauma.
- 1 session $210
- Discount Package -- pre-paid and non-refundable: 20 sessions $3,000.
The standard protocol for effective neurofeedback is training one or two times per week.
To view a list of Trauma Center staff who have experience working with neurofeedback, click here.
For more information about Neurofeedback at the Trauma Center or to make a referral, please contact Dr. Diana Martinez, Director of Neurofeedback Operations, at 617-232-1303, ext. 2050.
1. Gapen, M, van der Kolk, BA, Hamlin, E, Hirshberg, L, Suvak, M & Spinazzola, J (2016). A Pilot Study of Neurofeedback for Chronic PTSD. Applied psychophysiology and biofeedback, pp.1-11.
2. van der Kolk, B. A., Hodgdon, H., Gapen, M., Musicaro, R., Suvak, M. K., Hamlin, E., & Spinazzola, J. (2016). A Randomized Controlled Study of Neurofeedback for Chronic PTSD. PLOS ONE, 11(12), e0166752. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0166752.
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