One of my Twitter followers said she reads this blog, (which made me really happy,) and I asked her what she’d like me to blog about next, and she said “Neurofeedback. I want to know more.” Me too. I’m training and learning more all the time.
Here’s the basics:
Neurofeedback measures the bioelectrical current of your brain in real time, and gives you a readout of your brainwaves called an Electroencephalogram (EEG). Fancy way for saying “measuring the electricity your head puts out.”
There are different types of brainwaves, and depending on the type of neurofeedback equipment you’re using, as well as the monitoring programs, you can measure each type of brainwave to a greater or lesser degree, and in different fashions, to track what you are interested in.
The basic brainwaves for our purposes, are as follows:
Delta is typically associated with sleep, but you are putting out Delta even when you are awake, and it can also be associated with relaxation.
Theta is prominent in children, and less so in adults, although I find that particularly creative adults tend to produce more Theta waves, especially as they are imagining things. Theta waves in large quantities in adults can also be a cause for caution-they can be associated with addiction and poor impulse control.
Low Alpha and High Alpha are for relaxation. I know, it seems like Alpha should be for Attention, at least to me, anyway, but it isn’t. People with ADHD tend to produce pretty good Alpha waves-it’s like their minds are surfing, slipping from one thing to the next. Meditative states can often evoke Alpha waves, in addition to Gamma waves. Alpha is awake and relaxed, but not generally attentive.
Low and High Beta waves are for attention. People with ADHD tend to produce lower quantities of Beta waves, and many of the games they play are to train the brain to start producing Beta waves on command. One game I use to help people train their brain to produce Beta waves is virtual target practice. They are literally shooting arrows at a target with their minds. After awhile of someone doing virtual target practice, the brain WILL start to learn to pay attention when necessary.
Low and High Gamma waves-AHHH. Gamma. They’ve been around forever, but we haven’t been measuring them for long. In the world of neurofeedback, they are the newer waves being studied-and they are very cool, because they combine the best of Alpha and Beta. More specifically, they are the higher frequency brainwaves you produce. What’s great about gamma is that they indicate a person is both relaxed AND attentive. It’s a state of mind often found in people who are meditating. I’ve recently seen that gamma waves are found when people are feeling blissful, in love, or are very excited and passionate about something they are seeing or doing.
Any neurofeedback activity, whether focused on the promotion of attention, relaxation, or a combination, cannot hurt you. (At least the type I offer. There are some types of neurofeedback that involve flashing lights, which could induce a seizure. There is also a type of neuro I don’t offer called LENS, which adds a small electrical current to your brain to disrupt dysfunctional brainwave rhythms.) You really can’t say “no harm” or at worst, “no result” for many therapies, and you certainly can’t say that for medications, not that I am resistant to them. It’s just-why take medication if you don’t have to? One reason I brought neurofeedback into my office as a service is because I got really tired of seeing all these wonderful children on ADHD medications that will literally alter their brains for life, when I know that neurofeedback can literally cure ADHD. I’ve seen hundreds of children and adults go off ADHD medications or reduce them significantly because of neurofeedback.
A question I am asked frequently is “How long will this take?” The answer is, if you’re doing it 1x weekly, for an hour, for about 6 months-1 year. After 20 minutes of any neuro exercise, a process is called neuroplasticity/neuralplasticity (depending on who you’re talking to,) begins, and means that the brain is making permanent changes. The brain is opening up new neural pathways for focus, attention, or both. It’s learning. It’s healing itself. If you’re doing it more often, say 3x weekly, the process is much faster. It also depends on what you’re treating. Neurofeedback can treat almost anything. ADHD, PTSD, Depression, Anxiety, Bipolar Disorder, Traumatic Brain Injury-the possibilities for it continue to grow, rather than shrink, especially as technology costs are reduced. You can get a neurofeedback set to use in your home with starter software for about $135. I recommend Neurosky for equipment and software. They even make apps, so you can take it with you and use neuro with your mobile headset and your tablet or phone. neurosky.com
One of the very best things about neurofeedback is that you get to see what kind of results you’re getting in response to a stimulus. For example, you don’t just feel that a song makes you pay attention or relax, you can see it. You can tell if your efforts at paying attention are paying off, because you’ll increase your scores, and get to higher game levels. I think it is immensely comforting to people to know how something is helping them, and to see a result. Neurofeedback renders the invisible and mysterious brain visible to us, and allows us to take control in ways we never have before.