Neurofeedback treatment is a method of training the brain to self-regulate by providing audiovisual feedback based on brain wave activity. Neurofeedback allows the brain to see and hear its own activity in real time. The brain naturally learns to modulate input and output, resulting in the development of new neural pathways, or neuroplasticity. The mechanism on which neurofeedback acts is called neuroplasticity, which refers to the ongoing structural and functional changes neurons undergo to develop, survive, learn and adapt to changes over time. In other words, the brain is constantly changing itself to maximize energy efficiency.
The brain uses glucose as its only form of energy. Cells in the brain and nervous system are necessarily energy efficient because the brain can use a disproportionately high percentage of calories (20 percent of calories used by the body) compared to its mass (1 percent of body’s total mass). It is therefore no wonder that the brain defaults toward using established neural pathways rather than forming new ones, which takes more calories. The more a pathway is used, the more energy-efficient it becomes and less conscious thought it requires to activate. Neurofeedback is one way to formulate new, healthy pathways as an alternative to established, unhealthy pathways and the bad habits that use them.
How it works
Neurofeedback is a type of biofeedback treatment that utilizes electroencephalography (EEG) to measure and record brain waves. Measuring the alpha, beta, delta and theta (sometimes gamma) brain waves or other measurement, the neurofeedback software program compares the data to those of healthy persons and provides feedback based on brain wave analyses. Brain wave analyses are interfaced with images and sounds to train the brain how to function at a more optimal range. In other words, neurofeedback and resulting neuroplasticity result in new neural pathways for the regulation of thoughts, feelings and behavior.
What does neurofeedback feel like?
Neurofeedback treatment is comfortable, relaxing and enjoyable. Neurofeedback protocols and procedures vary somewhat by institution. After an initial assessment and discussion of the training program, the person is seated in a comfortable chair in a room free of distractions where the neurofeedback specialist applies sensors to specific areas of the head. Real-time brain activity is displayed on a computer screen and feedback signals are given according to training modality.
The person sits quietly for a period of time, usually 20 to 40 minutes, and is asked to relax, focus on the screen and remain still until the session is complete. Neurofeedback usually constitutes a minimum of 12 sessions within 30 days, three times a week for four weeks. Each session lasts from 30 to 60 minutes. Best results are reported after between 20 to 40 sessions.
There are no X-rays, no mind reading or manipulation, and no side effects to neurofeedback. However, neurofeedback can result in symptoms associated with computer use, such as headache or eye strain. Furthermore, neurofeedback does not always produce the desired results in every case.
Who benefits from neurofeedback?
Neurofeedback is most effective when used as an adjunct to the individual’s treatment as designed by his or her treatment team. Clients seek neurofeedback for a multitude of reasons, most seeking help with self-regulation and volitional control of behavior. Other reasons that people seek neurofeedback have been related to anxiety, problems with attention, insomnia, depression, obsessive thinking, substance use and relapse prevention.
Analysis of neurofeedback
Research shows that more than 85 percent of patients who train with neurofeedback improve their ability to focus, regulate behavior and reduce impulsive behaviors. Such overwhelmingly positive results have caused neurofeedback to gain popularity, yet others remain resistant to the concept.
For example, the suggestion that successful use of neurofeedback might replace or reduce the need for modern pharmacologic agents and medical therapies for many physical and mental disorders could threaten financially invested parties, prompting controversy. Essentially, all research findings must be interpreted within the context of the quality and quantity of studies reported. Variations exist among published neurofeedback studies as they would in any field, such as techniques and research procedures, study populations and outcome measures. In addition, subjective measures of efficacy might reflect a placebo effect and, in general, negative results do not tend to be reported in research.
Medications and neurofeedback
It is possible that certain medications may affect, but not interfere with neurofeedback. Current medications should be discussed with your neurofeedback provider. Though there have been reports of some people needing less prescription medication after learning neurofeedback, such changes should be made with the knowledge of the treating physician.
Treatment that lasts
Improvements with neurofeedback usually last because the brain remembers how to continue producing the activity needed to obtain the feedback once received. This process is much the same as in learning to ride a bicycle. Repeat training is rarely needed, though some elect to repeat training simply as a “refresher” or to help achieve a new goal.
Neurofeedback treatment at Sovereign Health
Sovereign Health of California offers neurofeedback treatment in our facilities in San Clemente and Rancho San Diego facilities. We are here to support your recovery and the commitment you have made to bring about positive change. Our intent is to provide services that lead to your lasting success. Please note that neurofeedback is an additional treatment element offered and is not included in every program. If you would like further information about our biofeedback programs, please call our 24/7 helpline.