What is Neurofeedback?
Neurofeedback, sometimes known as EEG biofeedback or neurotherapy, is a type of therapeutic treatment for your brain. It treats the faulty brain wave activity that is associated with conditions such as ADHD/ADD, learning disabilities, autism, depression, anxiety, sleep disorders, pain and other conditions. During neurofeedback, you learn to train your brain to correct the faulty brain wave activity, resulting in improved day-to-day functioning. You can think of neurofeedback as “brain training.” Like a muscle, your brain gets stronger the more you train it. And when the brain works better, you feel better and perform better.
What conditions does neurofeedback help?
The conditions which have documented, published evidence of its effectiveness are:
- Attachment Disorders
- Chronic Fatigue Syndrome
- Chronic Pain
- Cognitive Decline in Elderly
- Eating Disorders
- Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder
- Post-Traumatic Stress Disorders (PTSD)
- Learning Disabilities
- Sleep Disorders
- Tourette’s Syndrome/Tics
- Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI)
- Teethgrinding (Bruxism)
Research on the effectiveness of neurofeedback for autism spectrum disorders is encouraging (click on www.sandiegobraintraining.com for articles or call the Center at 858-523-1617).
Neurofeedback is helpful for conditions in which the brain is not working as well as it could. You can learn to improve other areas of mental, emotional and physical functioning, such as:
- Enhance mental clarity to think more clearly
- Increase attention and concentration, for improved learning and memory
- Improve mental flexibility, to shift more easily from one task to another
- Regulate emotion, thinking and behavior, for balanced daily functioning
- Sharpen timing and skills for peak performance in sports
- Improve overall brain function, to feel better in general
How is neurofeedback done?
Two computers are used: one for the patient; one for the clinician. Sensors are placed on the patient’s scalp and ears to record the electrical activity of your brain waves. The brain waves are converted into signals which are sent to the clinician’s computer. A picture of your brain’s electrical activity (i.e., EEG) is displayed on the clinician’s computer. In the meantime, the patient is sitting in front of a second computer that displays a game. It is the patient’s brain waves that start and play the game. As the patient interacts with the games, he or she becomes aware of different brain states or levels of attention such as relaxed, daydreaming or alert. The clinician monitors the patient’s EEG during the session and make adjustments on their computer which enable the patient to succeed at the game.
How does neurofeedback work?
The brain has approximately one trillion cells in different states of activity. This brain activity occurs in four, distinctive brain wave patterns, from very fast to very slow. Recent research shows that individuals with conditions such as ADHD, sleep difficulties and other conditions, have brain wave activity that is too slow, in some cases, and too fast, in others. For example, people with ADHD have less activity in areas of the brain that control attention, focus and the regulation of thinking and feeling.
Research also shows that we can train our brain to correct faulty brain wave activity. Neurofeedback uses a learning process that strengthens your brain. It “exercises” the areas of the brain that control attention, emotion and behavior, therefore strengthens those areas. It increases your awareness of your brain’s natural rhythm, which enables you to learn how to control its rhythm in a way which improves your day-to-day functioning and well-being. It’s much like resetting of a clock, tuning a piano or getting a tune-up for a car’s engine so that it runs more smoothly.
To quote the words of someone’s experience with neurofeedback for performance enhancement:
“It’s like sharpening a pencil. I feel sharper.”
How effective is Neurofeedback?
Clinical research shows that neurofeedback training has an 85% success rate in reducing symptoms of ADHD. Other studies show increases from 10-23 points in IQ scores in a group of children with ADHD. Research using neurofeedback with Autism shows promising results, such as some students improving sufficiently to be mainstreamed into regular classes.
In cases such as behavioral problems in children (e.g., temper tantrums, aggression), neurofeedback may help children learn to control impulsive behaviors. For depression, a gradual lifting of mood and energy can occur. In cases of anxiety, individuals may experience decreased frequency and intensity of anxiety. For migraines, there’s a reduction of intensity, duration and frequency, even for people resistant to medication.
According to Daniel Amen, M.D., author of Change Your Brain, Change Your Life:
“In my experience with EEG Biofeedback and ADD, many people are able to improve their reading skills and decrease their need for medication. Also, EEG biofeedback has helped to decrease impulsivity and aggressiveness. It is a powerful tool, in part, because the patient becomes part of the treatment process by taking more control over his own physiological processes.” ( pp. 143-144).
According to the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, “Neurofeedback meets criteria for Clinical Guidelines for the treatment of ADHD, seizures disorders, anxiety ( e.g., Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, Generalized Anxiety Disorder, PTSD, phobias), depression, reading disabilities, and addictive disorders…This finding suggests that Neurofeedback always should be considered as an intervention for these disorders by the clinician…” With regard to its effectiveness for ADHD, “Neurofeedback…will apply in approximately 75% of the time…is the treatment of choice when stimulant medication fails or is complicated by side effects…” (Source: Child and Adolescent Psychiatric Clinics of North America, 2005)
For a current, online bibliography on the use of Neurofeedback for clinical conditions, go to http://www.isnr.org.
How long does training take?
For clinical conditions, neurofeedback is often used as an additional, short-term treatment, along with more traditional therapy, including medication. For specific performance enhancement such as in sports, public speaking and the workplace, neurofeedback can be a short-term treatment by itself. Initially, sessions occur frequently, from two or more sessions per week. Sessions last approximately 45 minutes. Since neurofeedback is a learning process that involves training, results occur over time. For most conditions, progress in seen within about 10 sessions. For ADHD, about 20-40 sessions may be needed, depending on severity, medication, etc. Once the brain learns to regulate itself properly, it remembers what it learns and works more efficiently.
Is neurofeedback effective with children?
Children as young as 5 years of age have responded positively to neurofeedback.
Can I take medication during neurofeedback?
Neurofeedback can begin whether or not you take medication. Many individuals seek neurofeedback because it is a medication-free alternative for reducing and eliminating disruptive symptoms. Individuals who do not respond well to medication may benefit from neurofeedback. The basic difference between medication and neurofeedback is that medication in chemical regulation, whereas neurofeedback is self-regulation. Neurofeedback trains the brain to regulate itself.
What does neurofeedback cost?
Some health insurance companies may cover a portion of the fee for neurofeedback, under the category of EEG Biofeedback. A call to your insurance company can clarify this issue. The fee for the initial diagnostic session is $250. Individual treatment or training sessions are $150 per clinical hour of about 45 minutes. However, discounted fees are offered for 10 for more sessions, or if traditional psychotherapy is integrated with neurofeedback. Payment options, including credit card, are available. For further information, please contact Dr. Napoletano at 858-523-1617.
For further information, please contact Dr. Napoletano.
Prepared by Margo Napoletano, Ph.D.