Neurofeedback: The 411
An overview of this therapy approach
Continuously emerging research in the field of neuroscience indicates that the brain has the ability to change and adapt; the term for this phenomenon is neuroplasticity, and it may be a concept that you have read or have heard increasingly more about. Yet another term that you may have been exposed to is neurofeedback, which is often linked with neuroplasticity. But what exactly is it and how are the two concepts linked?
Neurofeedback, also known as electroencephalography (EEG), is a type of biofeedback that measures brain waves and provides feedback signals to teach self-control of brain functions. It has been gaining increasing attention and interest among the general population, especially considering its non-invasive approach to treating ADHD/ADD, anxiety, and sleep disorders, among other conditions. Neuroplasticity, which is the ability of the brain to form and reorganize neural pathways (i.e., synaptic connections), is thought to be expedited through the process of neurofeedback.
Brain waves are electrical impulses in our brains. The faster these waves, the more focused and aware an individual is; the slower these waves, the more relaxed or detached we are. Brain wave patterns can become disrupted in mental health disorders. Anxiety disorders, for instance, are characterized by chronically fast brain waves, which can cause hyper-arousal and panic. ADHD/ADD is generally characterized by consistently slower brain waves, resulting in brain fog and difficulties with focus. Neurofeedback is intended to modulate dysregulated brain wave patterns to help individuals themselves feel more regulated.
During a neurofeedback therapy session, electrodes are placed on the patient’s scalp in order to measure their brain waves. When the EEG detects that a client’s brain waves are becoming more regulated based on their individual goals (e.g., a client with anxiety exhibits slower brain waves and a client with ADHD/ADD exhibits faster brain waves), the client is “rewarded” with a stimulus that the brain finds rewarding via audio-visual input. For example, when a client manifests the target brain waves, the screen they are watching may get bigger or brighter, or the music they are listening to may become more harmonious.
The purpose of this reinforcement is to get the patient to try to repeat their behavior in order to earn the reward. The brain naturally seeks rewards, so when it is continuously rewarded with positive feedback in response to generating the appropriate electrical signals, it is being trained to follow the neural pathway that will earn them the reward. This is where neuroplasticity comes in; with repeated exposure of stimuli in neurofeedback sessions, it is theorized that the brain will create new neural pathways that in this case, would benefit the individuals receiving treatment and relieve ailments of their condition.
Neurofeedback has been shown to be an effective treatment for a variety of diagnoses, including:
- Autism spectrum disorder
- Learning disabilities
- Addictive behaviors
Still unsure if neurofeedback is something you’re interested in pursuing? Talk to you or your child’s doctor about qualified professionals in your area, or seek further information from your CTC therapy provider.