EEG Biofeedback or Neurofeedback is a widely used method of training the brain to function optimally and in a balanced manner. It can be used alone, or in conjunction with individual or couples counseling, which is my approach. Neurofeedback takes advantage of the many insights and breakthroughs of the past 20 years in the field of neuroscience and has been found to be of great assistance to individuals who seek to support and boost their personal growth and well-being.
Emotional distress and brain states
When life’s inevitable stressors come around, we often go into automatic pilot emotionally. One writer has called it “emotional hijacking.”
What feelings usually accompany this sudden internal shift? The most common are: anger, fear and a sense of deep isolation . Pioneering neuroscientist Jaak Panksepp has identified the actual neural circuits in the brain which become automatically engaged, causing us to become flooded with these distressing emotions. We then use our prefrontal cortex (the most advanced part of our brain) to ruminate on our injuries (and perhaps plot our revenge) or we worry ourselves into a fit of anxiety, often slipping into depression and withdrawal. Productivity falls; a good night’s sleep becomes a distant memory; relationships suffer – particularly the closest relationships. For those of us who have experienced the wounds of childhood abuse or other trauma, the past can invade the present with shattering immediacy.
Many of us do not need immediate stressors to activate these unpleasant, distracting brain states. We seem to have experienced them for as long as we can remember, as a chronic condition around which we have adjusted our lives. Still, we long for relief and a new, calmer, more accepting attitude – toward ourselves and others. Ways of affecting the brain’s function, like EMDR and mindfulness meditation, have been integrated into counseling psychotherapy with very positive results.
Another tool supporting healthy brain functioning, which was first developed in the 1960’s, is EEG Biofeedback, which is also called Neurofeedback. This is a modality which I use, in conjunction with individual counseling and Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy.
What is Neurofeedback?
Who of us doesn’t gaze into the mirror, if only for a moment, before they head out the door to meet their day? That glance, or longer study, gives us immediate feedback, through our eyes, of our appearance, allowing us to make adjustments. Neurofeedback gives us the same immediate view of our brain’s functioning and balance as recorded by it electrical activity.
In this age of Prozac, when we are used to thinking of brain function in solely bio-chemical terms (how’s your serotonin level?) we tend to overlook the equally compelling reality that our brains are bio-electrical systems, as well.
Neurofeedback permits us to see, in the moment, how our brains are functioning on a bio-electric level and allows us to make adjustments in our brain functioning and balance. For more than 40 years, Neurofeedback has been a primary or supportive therapy (with conventional counseling or “talk therapy”) for the treatment of many personal challenges such as:
- Depression and Low Mood
- Sleep Disorders
- ADD and ADHD
- Anger Regulation
- Traumatic Stress
It has long been appreciated that different frequencies of brain waves correspond to different states of alertness and brain performance. Certain kinds of brainwaves not only reflect the function of a certain area of the brain, but we also know that a change in brain waves at a certain part of the brain can also change the functioning of the brain. A sluggish brain can become more alert and organized. An anxious, over-aroused brain (robbing us of peace and pushing a full night’s deep sleep out of reach) can be calmed. Neurofeedback is about gently and gradually shifting brain waves, and the brain’s functioning, into greater balance.
Neurofeedback for Peak Performance
While neurofeedback has brought relief from often-distressing symptoms, one does not need to be suffering in order to gain benefit. For years, businesspeople, athletes and other high achievers have utilized the benefits of neurofeedback to gain a sense of calm focus and inner balance. Lawyers have found their performance under stress improved. Golfers have seen their scores drop. (Les Fehmi, Ph.D. has an entire program on the east coast devoted to golfers.) An informative video describing the benefits enjoyed by a business executive from neurofeedback training may be found at: http://www.eeginfo.com/peakform_nf_video.htm
How Does Neurofeedback Work?
Sensors are placed on your scalp which are connected to a computer, allowing us to see your brain waves underneath those sensors. A computer screen registers the strength of the different brain waves at that site. We know that encouraging certain brain waves to beef up their intensity and others to lower their volume in specified places can increase our ability to attend to tasks, control our seemingly out-of-control emotions or find the motivation inside of us to make the changes we have long let slide. How is this shift supported?
Once we have established what brain waves we want to encourage, and those we want to tune down, these “thresholds” are entered into the therapist’s computer. You, sitting there with sensors on your scalp, are looking at another computer screen. This screen will display one of a number of different interactive programs which respond to the EEG waves coming through those sensors. When the brain waves we want to encourage get stronger and the ones we want to damp down get quieter, whatever is on the screen you are watching reacts positively. When your brain isn’t responding in the manner you wish, whatever you are watching on the screen slows, darkens or stops.
For example, a popular program depicts a graphic of a spaceship traveling through a multi-hued, visually engaging, tunnel. When the brain is in a state of balance, the ship moves swiftly and plumes of exhaust are emitted while background music plays. When the brain shifts out of balance, the ship slows, exhaust diminishes or stops and the music quiets. Your brain will respond by shifting and more consistently generating the desired activity which will reflect itself in what you are seeing on the screen before you. Many people report that this particular program feels almost meditative and in between sessions, when they wish to calm themselves, they will visualize the ship and tunnel.
How Many Sessions Can I Expect?
For many conditions or concerns about 20 sessions are recommended. People often report some shifts in their mental state or behavior after four or five sessions, although the shifts are can be subtle and incremental - more easily observed by others in your life before you note the changes yourself. Clients often report that they donít notice any difference, but then go on to recount that they have done something new and different that they have wanted to do but havenít in a long time (picked up a book, spruced up their resume, found themselves fighting with their partner less for example). The sessions themselves are approximately 50-60 minutes long, divided between assessment of progress and counseling and the actual neurofeedback sessions.
Referral for Neurofeedback Therapy
In 2013, I decided to devote the greater focus of my practice to couples therapy and relationship therapy and mediation. With that decision, Neurofeedback Therapy became one plate too many for me to keep in the air and still feel I was performing at an excellent professional level. Therefore, I am no longer a provider of Neurofeedback Therapy. However, I have kept this page on my website because, when practiced by a skilled and experienced person, NFB has been found to be enormously successful in addressing a wide array of personal concerns. I am lucky to be practicing in the same suite as just such a practitioner (and even luckier that she is my wife). Her name is Beverly Brashen and you may reach her, if you wish through this link: Neurofeedback Center of Bellevue.
More info about Neurofeedback
There are many sites on the web which will afford you greater information about Neurofeedback. Among the best are: