What Is Neurofeedback?
Help for anxiety, sleep problems, concussion, stroke, and PTSD.
Posted October 4, 2014 | Reviewed by Ekua Hagan
Whenever I mention that neurofeedback helped me regain my life after my multiple brain injuries — or that I’m now a neurofeedback provider — the first reaction is to ask me, what is neurofeedback?
I’m an international presenter and one of my presentations is an eight-hour workshop titled “Cutting Edge Technology." This workshop is designed to present the field of neurofeedback to clinicians to help them work with their patients with various neurological issues. If any of you have been to a day-long workshop, you’re usually given a syllabus, a copy of the PowerPoint, and extra paper to take notes. If it is an introductory workshop, very little in-depth material is presented. Only advanced workshops include more technical information.
Thus, I assume that the majority of people reading this post have no clue what neurofeedback is about. So, I've decided to present to you the same information that is contained in my eight-hour workshop. The only differences are that you can’t see the slides or the various equipment, nor can you participate in a live interaction, which is a large part of the workshop.
I present how neurofeedback can help you the clinician help people with neurological issues, along with how neurofeedback can help you the individual who’s living with a neurological issue, such as a stroke, concussion, ADHD, anxiety, sleep problem, or PTSD.
It is my sincere hope that I can provide both points of interest for the clinician and the individual who needs help with neurological issues — or why else would you be reading this blog post?
An Introduction to Neurofeedback
Neurofeedback is a subdivision of biofeedback. In fact, many people’s first reaction to hearing the term “neurofeedback” is usually to ask me, "Do you mean biofeedback?" — which they have heard about at some point in their life, especially if they once owned a "mood ring."
Simply put, biofeedback is a method of gaining information by monitoring skin temperature, blood pressure, heart rate, brain waves, and other body conditions to help promote control over normally involuntary bodily processes through conditioning, also called operant conditioning and relaxation.
Biofeedback is a general category. There are several types of biofeedback: heart rate variability (HRV), thermal (as seen in a "mood ring"), muscular (EMG), and neurological (EEG) — also called neurotherapy, neurobiofeedback, or neurofeedback.
All forms of biofeedback employ some type of computer or monitoring device along with electronic sensors to give information about what is going on in the body. With neurofeedback, it is giving feedback about specific brain waves: the percentage amount of each one in specific areas of the brain, called amplitude, are the brain waves working harmoniously together (regulated) or is there a dysregulation.
I explained in my workshop that when the brain is dysregulated, it is like a symphony orchestra tuning up, making a lot of noise that is unpleasant to the ear. Another example I give is that after you drive down a road and hit a pothole, one tire is now out of alignment with the other tires. Because of the misalignment, your car is no longer working as efficiently as before and it might even make it hard to steer the car.
Also, using the example of your car, anyone who has to have a yearly state inspection knows that the car is hooked up to various computers to see if the engine or transmission is working properly. The newer forms of neurofeedback also provide this type of information. It is now possible to map out the brain through quantitative EEG (QEEG) or identify specific regions of the brain that are not working properly. These are called the Brodmann Area. Still, other forms of neurofeedback provide information on how your brain compares to others of the same gender and age. This is done through Z-score methods.
Just as your mechanic will inform you of the condition of your car, neurofeedback provides information about your brain. Once an assessment or evaluation has been done, you can use a wide variety of neurofeedback methods to fix a specific area, and/or dysregulation or just fine-tune it, as you can do with your car’s engine.
Some people, after getting their car inspected, have the skills to go home and do their own repair work. So, too, with neurofeedback — some types of neurofeedback do not need experienced clinicians to help. However, just like you might have had a friend or neighbor who said they could fix your car only to make things worse, this too has been part of the history of neurofeedback. Some people have bought equipment without proper training or understanding of the brain and have made symptoms worse by not using the equipment properly. Or, like the exercise machine that is collecting dust bunnies under your bed, often people buy equipment and fail to use it. There have been many times when I have asked one of my patients who has bought a CES machine for their anxiety if are they using it on a daily basis, only to get a reply that it is somewhere in the house. When asked if they find the CES machine helpful, the answer is yes — yet they fail to use it when needed.
How Can Neurofeedback Help My Issues or Symptoms?
This leads to the question of how neurofeedback can help neurological issues, such as a stroke/aneurysm, brain surgery, concussion, anxiety, sleep problems, PTSD, Parkinson's Disease, and movement disorders, such as myoclonic? Neurofeedback can assess the functioning of the brain and where it is not functioning properly. It can locate a specific location, if there is one, (which is often the situation with a stroke) or it can locate neural dysregulation of the various neural hubs, as seen in a concussion and PTSD.
It is important to remember that anxiety is the symptom, not the cause. Neurofeedback looks for the cause, such as what specific pathways are dysregulated or over or under-activated. Once this type of assessment locates the cause of the symptom, then a wide variety of methods and equipment can be chosen based on what is the best one specifically for your needs and neurological issues.
Clinicians need the training in the use of the various methods and equipment to best help your specific unique needs, not just the symptoms, while it is extremely important to understand the various methods and equipment to be an educated consumer.
In upcoming posts on understanding neurofeedback and how it can help with your anxiety, sleep problems, concussion, stroke, and other neurological issues, the various methods and equipment will be presented. For those of you who like to know specific details about the topic of neurofeedback, there are many books on the subject — some are very detailed while others only touch the surface. To help with what book to read, the following four are excellent books. They are not presented in any specific order of information.
- Getting Started with Neurofeedback, by John Demos
- Biofeedback for the Brain, by Paul G. Swingle, Ph.D.
- Technical Foundations of Neurofeedback, by Thomas F. Collura
- The Healing Power of Neurofeedback, by Stephan Larsen, Ph. D.
If you want more detailed books, please feel free to contact me or look at the bibliography at the back of any the suggested books.
Copyright © Dr. Diane Roberts Stoler, Ed.D. Oct 2014