Neurofeedback Explained: Training Your Brain for Better Health

Neurofeedback Explained: Training Your Brain for Better Health
Neurofeedback Explained: Training Your Brain for Better Health

Dr Phil Watts

Clinical and Forensic Psychologist
May 23, 2024
3 min read

Neurofeedback for Training Your Brain for Better Health

Neurofeedback, is an incredible treatment, which merges technology and brain science.  It might be a gateway to enhancing your mental health. 

At its essence, neurofeedback is a form of biofeedback that focuses specifically on the brain.  It harnesses your natural ability to ‘rewire’ your brain, through neuroplasticity. The neurofeedback technique relies on real-time data to help give you feedback which subsequently regulates your brain activity.  This a process that could potentially improve  cognitive functions and conditions, emotional functions, and behavioural issues.

During neurofeedback, small sensors are placed on your head to measure the electrical activity in your brain. They don’t shock you - they simply observe your brain waves, providing detailed measurements about your current brain activity. During a neurofeedback session, you are presented with this information in the form of visual and auditory feedback.  This allows you to become aware of your brain's patterns. We use movies to provide this feedback.   Your amazing brain then uses this feedback to make the changes to help you function better.  

Understanding and influencing your brain's activity can be empowering in managing aspects of mental health and striving for better overall functioning. Neurofeedback does not involve medication and is a non-invasive option for those seeking alternative therapies. 

Whether you're aiming to address specific psychological conditions or want to improve cognitive performance, neurofeedback training offers a personalised route to achieving your health objectives.

Understanding Neurofeedback

In exploring neurofeedback, you will uncover its historical roots and the scientific principles it is founded on.  It also compares the different techniques involving EEG to grasp how it facilitates brain training for improved health.

History and Development of Neurofeedback

Neurofeedback, a form of biofeedback, is based on electroencephalography (EEG), which records electrical activity in the brain. The history of neurofeedback begins with the discovery of EEG in the 1920s by Hans Berger, who first recorded brainwave patterns. 

As researchers like Joe Kamiya in the 1960s and Barry Sterman in the 1970s explored brainwave patterns, they identified the potential of training the brain to alter these patterns. This led to the development of feedback training that allows you to influence your brain activity. The current form of neurofeedback was developed in Russia as a non-medicated treatment for ADHD.

Principles of Biofeedback and Neurotherapy

Biofeedback is the process of gaining greater awareness of many physiological functions so that one can manipulate them at will. 

Neurofeedback is a specialised form of biofeedback that focuses on the electrical activity of a person’s brain or their brainwaves. It utilises real-time displays of EEG to illustrate brain activity.  It helps the brain learn self-regulation of its brainwaves and by extension how it  functions. This is achieved by reinforcing desirable brainwave patterns and reducing the undesired one, thus training the brain to function more efficiently and in an more optimal way.

Comparing EEG and Neurofeedback Techniques

An electroencephalogram (EEG) is a diagnostic tool that measures and records the electrical activity in your brain using sensors placed on your scalp. 

In comparison, neurofeedback goes a step further. It records brain waves and provides you with live feedback, allowing you to engage in exercises that can lead to noticeable improvements in brain function. While EEG is observational, neurofeedback is interactive and therapeutic. 

The Science Behind Neurofeedback

In exploring neurofeedback, you'll uncover how this technique taps into the brain's natural ability to self-regulate and adapt. It's about harnessing your brainwaves and neuroplasticity to potentially enhance cognitive performance and mental state.

Brain Waves and Neurofeedback

Your brain's function is closely tied to its electrical activity, known as brainwave activity. This activity is categorised into four primary types: alpha, beta, gamma, theta, and delta waves, each associated with different aspects of cognitive performance and mental state.

  • Alpha waves are linked to states of relaxation and restful alertness.
  • Beta waves dominate your normal waking state, affecting attention, focus, and problem-solving.
  • Gamma waves are related to information processing and cognitive functioning.
  • Theta waves are associated with memory and learning in deeper states of relaxation.
  • Delta waves emerge during deep sleep, leading to healing and regeneration.

Neurofeedback involves monitoring these waves through sensors placed on the scalp. Observing your brainwave patterns through the feedback process allows you to adjust your mental state. This feedback process can allow you to learn desired brainwave patterns to improve a range of self-regulation and cognitive functions like memory and focus.

Neuroplasticity and Learning

Neuroplasticity is the brain's inherent ability to change by reorganising its structure, function and connection.  This process can occur through life in response to stimuli.  This adaptability is crucial for learning new skills, recovering from injury, and maintaining overall brain health.

  • Neuroplasticity enables:
    • Improvement of cognitive functions
    • Adaptation to new experiences
    • Modification of neural pathways in response to feedback

Neurofeedback leverages neuroplasticity by encouraging specific brainwave patterns, which can help improve mental agility and allow more optimal functioning. Over time, with repeated practice, these adjustments become more permanent, potentially leading to lasting improvements.  Improvements depend on the areas being trained.  Often functions like attention, focus, and memory are targeted. 

Through this repeated engagement, your brain learns to operate more efficiently, exemplifying the concept of "training your brain" for better health.

Neurofeedback in Practice

Neurofeedback, a form of biofeedback, involves training your brain to function more efficiently. 

This section outlines how neurofeedback is applied in healthcare settings, detailing the standard session procedure, the role of healthcare professionals, the technologies utilised, and the interpretation of neurofeedback data to understand this brain-training technique comprehensively.

Standard Neurofeedback Session

During a standard neurofeedback session, sensors will be placed on your scalp to measure electrical activity. This EEG data is then relayed to a monitor in real-time. You'll learn to alter your brainwaves through activities like games or watching patterns. Each training session typically lasts around 30 minutes.

Role of the Healthcare Professional

Your trained therapist, a specialised healthcare professional, guides you through the sessions. They are pivotal in setting goals, adjusting difficulty levels, and providing feedback based on your performance. Their expertise ensures that neurofeedback therapy is tailored to your individual needs.

Technologies and Equipment Used

Neurofeedback utilises advanced technology to monitor brain activity. The equipment typically includes:

  • EEG Machine: Tracks and records brainwave patterns
  • Sensors and Electrodes: Detect and transmit the electrical activity of your brain
  • Computer Software: Analyses and presents the EEG data
  • Audiovisual Display: Provides real-time feedback to help you understand your brain's activity.

Interpreting Neurofeedback Data

Interpreting neurofeedback data is crucial for tracking progress. Your healthcare professional will help you understand various aspects of the feedback, which could be presented in graphs or charts. 

Accurate interpretation of this real-time monitoring data is critical to adjusting the therapy and maximising its effectiveness. The aim is to recognise patterns and measure brain self-regulation improvements.

Applications of Neurofeedback

Neurofeedback can be tailored to your needs, whether you're seeking to enhance your cognitive functions or manage specific mental health disorders. This brain training technique offers a non-invasive way to improve your mental well-being and address various conditions.

Neurofeedback for Mental Health Disorders

Your journey to mental health improvement might involve neurofeedback when you're dealing with conditions like anxiety, depression, trauma, ADHD, or even recovery from a traumatic brain injury. 

Clinical studies have shown that neurofeedback can help reduce symptoms of these disorders by teaching you to alter your brainwave patterns. For example, by increasing the amplitude of specific brain waves, you can potentially alleviate the hyperactivity associated with ADHD, or by decreasing specific brain wave frequencies, you might better manage your anxiety and depression.

  • Anxiety: Aim for a calmer state by learning how to down-regulate overactive brain regions.
  • Depression: Train your brain to increase activity in areas that are typically underactive in depression.
  • ADHD: Enhance concentration and reduce impulsivity by modifying brain wave patterns.
  • TBI: Neurofeedback can help individuals overcome TBIs by helping individuals learn new ways of cognitive functioning. 

Neurofeedback for Cognitive Enhancement

If you're an athlete or a professional striving for peak performance, neurofeedback may help you sharpen your mental edge by improving cognitive functions. 

Brain training can help refine your focus, processing speed, and memory, which is essential for high-stakes environments. Tailored neurofeedback programs are designed to help you achieve a state of flow, enabling you to perform at your best.

  • Athletes: Improve sports performance through focus, mental resilience and improving response times.
  • Cognitive Functions: Enhance memory, attention, and problem-solving abilities.

Therapeutic Applications Beyond Mental Health

Neurofeedback extends beyond mental health disorders. It has been used to assist individuals with insomnia, aiding in regulating sleep patterns. 

Those suffering from chronic pain might find neurofeedback helpful in managing pain perception. 

Moreover, neurofeedback has therapeutic potential for neurological conditions such as epilepsy, helping to reduce seizure frequency. It is also explored in the treatment of addiction and obsessive-compulsive disorder by training the brain towards healthier behavioural patterns.

  • Insomnia: Train your brain to encourage healthier sleep patterns and reduce sleep disturbances.
  • Chronic Pain: Modulate brain activity that influences pain perception to potentially decrease discomfort.
  • Addiction/OCD: Recondition your brain's reward system or intrusive thought patterns to support recovery efforts.

Frequently Asked Questions

In this section, you'll find answers to common queries about neurofeedback therapy, helping you understand its impact on mental health and its place in psychological treatment.

What are the potential side effects of neurofeedback therapy?

Neurofeedback therapy is generally considered safe and non-invasive. Some individuals might experience temporary discomfort, such as fatigue or a mild headache, after sessions.

How can neurofeedback therapy impact mental health?

Neurofeedback therapy aims to teach you to regulate brain activity, which can be beneficial in addressing various cognitive, emotional, and behavioural issues.

Is it possible to conduct neurofeedback treatment without professional supervision?

While neurofeedback devices are available for home use, for safety and effectiveness, it's advisable to undergo treatment under the guidance of a trained professional.

What scientific evidence supports the effectiveness of neurofeedback?

Scientific evidence indicates that neurofeedback can improve neurological conditions and mental health disorders, though more research is ongoing to establish its efficacy fully. We have collated some evidence for the use of neurofeedback on a range of conditions, which you can view here.

Are there any long-term risks associated with neurofeedback brain training?

Current evidence suggests that neurofeedback is a low-risk intervention. Like any other form of treatment, it is important you go to suitably qualified professionals. Practitioners with specialised training and accreditation, such as BCIA-A certification, are significantly safer. 

How does neurofeedback differ from traditional psychological treatments?

Neurofeedback uses real-time brain activity feedback, focusing on the neurological basis of issues, unlike traditional psychological treatments that often involve talking therapies and behavioural interventions.

Neurofeedback emerges as a transformative tool in the pursuit of better mental health and cognitive functioning, guiding us toward enhanced well-being. At Mindstate Psychology, our dedicated team, including expert Perth psychologists and clinical psychologists, specialises in leveraging this advanced technique to fine-tune your brain's responses, promoting a balanced and healthier mental state. 

Our approach integrates neurofeedback with other therapeutic modalities, such as EMDR therapy, to provide comprehensive treatment plans tailored to your unique needs. Whether you want to alleviate stress, improve concentration, or enhance emotional resilience, Mindstate Psychology supports your journey towards optimal mental health. Embrace the potential of neurofeedback with us, and take a significant step towards a brighter, healthier future.

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