In part one, I introduced neurofeedback as one of the chief methods that helped me regain my life again. Because of the results neurofeedback has given both me and my clients, I started this five-part series with this approach. Now that you have a basic understanding of how neurofeedback works, it’s time to dig deeper into what neurofeedback is, and how it is different than biofeedback.
Neurofeedback is actually a subdivision of biofeedback, which is the global term defined as a method of providing information about how your body functions and learns ways to take control of itself. Biofeedback uses information gained by monitoring your body’s conditions (e.g. skin temperature, blood pressure, heart rate, brain waves) to promote control over normally involuntary bodily processes through conditioning and relaxation.
There are several types of biofeedback: heart rate variability (HRV), neurological (EEG), muscular (EMG), and thermal. All employ some type of computer or monitoring device along with electronic sensors to give information about what is going on in the body. Heart rate variability, or respiration training, provides feedback of information that promotes relaxation and calming, which has a positive effect on heart function. Thermal biofeedback indicates physical changes such as alterations in pulse rate, blood flow, and body temperature. Hemoencephalography measures blood flow and oxygenation. EMG biofeedback indicates changes in muscular movement, while EEG biofeedback, often called neurofeedback, shows changes in brain wave activity. These changes are usually displayed through visual graphs, sounds, or colors on a feedback display.
Neurofeedback (EEG biofeedback or neurotherapy) is a method that helps restore the brain’s more regulated, harmonious state that existed prior to injury. Depending on the type of brain injury, the brain’s electrical system becomes dysregulated and/or there is a disruption in the neural hubs as evidence shows up in EEG activity and through DTI imaging. In my situation, the aneurysm and 60 mile- an-hour head-on auto accident caused my brain to become dysregulated, while the following brain surgery left a hole in my brain that caused a break in many neural hubs. What I mean by a “neural hub” is similar to the analogy I used in previous posts about flying from Boston to Atlanta. To get there you have to make a connection in Chicago.
Well after my brain surgery, Chicago was always snowed in. I had no access to that part of my brain, since I had a hole in that location. However, because of neuroplasticity, the brain’s ability to heal and repair itself, through the use of neurofeedback, my brain learned how to become regulated again along with making new neural pathways. Because of my new pathways, I joke that my short term memory (RAM) is still a 256 mg, while my ability to process high functioning thoughts (hard drive) is a 2T.
Neurofeedback assists you through varied computerized methods from graphic displays to auditory and visual feedback and electro-magnetic waves. It is based on operant conditioning, which means when the brain waves are being regulated there is feedback through sight, sound, and graphics to reward the activity. It is similar to giving your dog a treat for doing a good behavior.
People have asked me if neurofeedback is going to change them, who they were. The answer is no. What neurofeedback is doing is helping your brain’s dysregulated brain waves become regulated again. The best analogy I can give for neurofeedback is similar to driving your car down the road, you hitting a pothole, and one or several of your tires going out of alignment as a result. If you continue to drive, your car doesn’t run as smoothly as before you hit the potholes, and you will be using more fuel to get where you are going. Similarly, when the brainwaves get dysregulated, the most frequent symptoms are feelings of a “foggy brain” and being easily fatigued.
There are various types of neurofeedback, and each has its own unique way of helping the brain become regulated again. In chapter six of my book, Coping with Concussion and Mild Traumatic Brain Injury, I present an in-depth explanation of each. I was trained in all of them, because once again I believe each person is unique and no one program or method fits everyone’s needs.
For most people to get their brain regulated again, it takes a full program of neurofeedback training. This can be between 20 to 100 sessions depending on symptom severity; time elapsed since injury, and prior medical/mental health history. As mentioned in Part One, it took me a year and a half of weekly sessions to show an improvement. Practitioners who offer biofeedback and/or neurofeedback services should be licensed healthcare professionals with additional specialized training. When choosing a provider, it is wise to inquire about licensing and whether the practitioner has certification from the Biofeedback Certification International Alliance (BCIA).
In part three I will be presenting the importance of how what you eat truly affects your recovery, while part four will go into depth about the importance of exercise. Part five will be an overview of proven traditional, complementary, and alternative methods and techniques that help you regain your life again. Stay tuned!