|n e u r
o f e e d b a c k
What Is Neurofeedback?
Neurofeedback, also known as neurotherapy
or EEG biofeedback, is a type of treatment that uses electronic equipment
to measure brain wave activity and teach you how to change abnormal brain
wave patterns. It is a painless, non-invasive technique that has been used
by psychologists, physicians and other health care providers since the early
Introduction to Brain Waves
Brain waves are the electrical activity
that is produced by neurons (brain cells). There are four main brain wave
bands that are measured in Hertz (Hz), which is the number of waves that
occur per second.
waves (13 Hz and higher) are associated
with alertness and external focus. They are prominent when you are involved in activies that
require your brain to process information such as reading or having a conversation.
(8-13 Hz) activity increases, especially
in the back of the brain, when you close your eyes and become calm and
Hz) are associated with an internally focused state at the upper end of
the band (6-8 Hz) and drowsiness at the lower end (4-6 Hz).
|Delta waves (0-4
Hz) are most likely to occur during sleep.
How Does Neurofeedback Work?
Our daily lives are filled with times
when we use feedback to help us improve performance of a task. Consider,
for example, how much easier it is to control the speed of a car when
you can look at the visual feedback provided by the speedometer. You also
get clues about your speed from the sound of the engine (auditory feedback).
Neurofeedback works by giving you instant real-time information about
your brain waves. You can then use that information to control brain wave
What Is Neurofeedback Used For?
are many psychiatric and medical disorders that are associated with abnormal
patterns of brain wave activity. For example, many children and adults
who have Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) have an excess
of theta wave activity and not enough beta activity. In other words, their
brains have an excess of waves associated with internal focus and drowsiness
and not enough waves associated with external focus and alertness. It
is common to see an increase in theta activity when ADHD children are
working on a task that is uninteresting or repetitive. Neurofeedback
for this type of ADHD would involve training to reduce the excess theta
that the brain is producing.
Some people with ADHD
have high levels of beta (fast wave) activity. Their attention problems
are caused by a brain that is running too fast rather than too slowly.
Neurofeedback treatment would consist of learning how to reduce the amount
of beta waves that the brain is producing.
Other conditions that
are treated with neurofeedback include anxiety disorders, drug and alcohol
abuse, autistic spectrum disorders, depression, learning disabilities,
traumatic brain injury and epilepsy.
A Typical Neurofeedback Session
A neurofeedback training session begins
with placement of one or more sensors on your scalp and one on each ear.
The sensors are connected to the neurofeedback equipment, which amplifies
your brain waves and sends them to a computer. You sit in front of a computer
monitor and watch a display that changes as your brain waves change. For
example, you may be trying to make a circle get smaller by reducing theta
waves or make a jet plane go higher on the screen by producing more beta
waves. A typical neurofeedback session lasts for 45 to 50 minutes.
How Do You Know Which Part of
the Brain Needs Training?
Before neurofeedback therapy is
started, a test called a quantitative EEG (QEEG)
is performed. The QEEG is a test of brain wave activity that helps me create a neurofeedback treatment plan that is specifically designed
to meet your needs. More information on the can be found on the
How Many Neurofeedback Sessions Will
Learning to control your brain waves
takes a long time because we have very little natural feeling for what
our brain waves are doing. In contrast, we have very good ability to know
where our arms and legs are positioned. Try closing your eyes and touching
your nose with your finger. The length of time needed to complete neurofeedback
therapy depends on the needs of each individual. Many people experience
significant improvement after 40 to 50 training sessions. Progress is
faster if you have more than one session per week. It is best to have
at least two neurofeedback sessions per week.
How Successful is Neurofeedback?
As with all forms of medical and
psychiatric treatment, a successful outcome cannot be guaranteed. However,
over thirty years of research and clinical experience have demonstrated
that neurofeedback can be an effective treatment for ADHD and other conditions.
One recent study with ADHD children found that over 80% of those who were
given neurofeedback therapy had significant improvements in performance
on a test of attention. Another study showed that neurofeedback produced
an average increase of 10 IQ test points and a significant decrease in
inattentiveness in ADHD subjects. Multiple research studies have demonstrated
that neurofeedback training can reduce the frequency of seizures.
Neurofeedback and Medications
Neurofeedback therapy can be done
at the same time that you are taking prescription medications. It is strongly
advised that you continue taking your medication(s) while doing neurofeedback.
When your course of neurofeedback therapy is finished it may be possible
to reduce or eliminate some medications, though there is no guarantee of
being able to do so.
Does Neurofeedback Have Side-Effects?
One of the advantages of neurofeedback
is that side-effects are very rare. You may find that learning to control
your brain waves is a frustrating process, especially at the beginning
of treatment. Patients sometimes feel tired at the end of a session. Patients
with sensitive skin have had reactions to the products that are used to
clean the skin or hold the sensors in place on the scalp or ears. There
have also been rare instances when neurofeedback training has gone too
far and produced unwanted side-effects. This can be easily corrected by
some training in the other direction.
Want to know more about Neurofeedback?
The International Society for Neurofeedback and Research website is an excellent resource for information on neurofeedback research and clinical applications.
2003 Aharon Shulimson Ph.D.