What is Neurofeedback?
If you feel like you are in a constant state of exhaustion, stress, daydreaming, frustration, and/or anxiety, you may have deviated brainwave patterns. Deviated brainwaves are similar to that of an unharmonized symphony orchestra. When the orchestra is tuning up, it makes a lot of noise that is unpleasant to the ear which causes discomfort. However, with the right training and practice, the orchestra can work towards harmony and so can your brainwaves.
Neurofeedback is a form of therapy and support that combines operant conditioning (method of learning) with real-time measurement of neuronal electrical activity (brainwaves). During a neurofeedback session, sensors are placed on an individual’s scalp to record their brainwave activity. Information is then transferred from the sensors to a software and displayed on a computer. Once the software recognizes that you are becoming more relaxed, calm, alert, and focused, the software plays video and sound. As soon as you lose focus or become anxious, the video and sound stops playing. Essentially, you are practicing being calm and alert while the rewards act as a reinforcement for your brain which helps you gain better control and flexibility over your brainwave patterns.
Does Neurofeedback Actually Work?
People are often skeptical of neurofeedback but there is a lot of evidence-based research which suggests that neurofeedback is an effective form of therapy. One randomized study explored the capacity of neurofeedback in patients with chronic post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). 52 individuals with chronic PTSD were randomly assigned to either neurofeedback or waitlist (control) groups. After 24 neurofeedback sessions, it was found that participants in the neurofeedback group showed significant improvements in PTSD symptomatology compared to the waitlist group.
In addition, Anderson et. al (2016) reviewed the evidence on effectiveness and preferred protocol for neurofeedback treatments geared towards PTSD. After a systematic review of five major databases, namely PubMed, PsychInfo, Embase, and Cochrane databases; 5 studies were singled out to form the basis of this review. From this, the authors concluded that neurofeedback is an effective treatment for PTSD.
How Neurofeedback helps with Trauma
If you’ve read our last blog post on somatic experiencing, you’ll know that trauma can manifest in the body as well as the brain. Trauma can also develop into PTSD and those with PTSD often have similar brainwave patterns to anxious individuals. What this means is, their brains are stuck in a processing or analyzing phase which makes it difficult to relax. In addition, those with PTSD are usually stuck in a fight or flight response which is why they may have a reduction in calm and alert brainwave patterns such as alpha and sensorimotor rhythm (SMR). Further, the nervous system is very active and an increased level of fast brainwave patterns such as beta and high beta help to explain sleep issues and hypervigilance (heightened alertness) common in PTSD.
It is important to note that you may not experience all symptoms related to PTSD which is why you must complete an assessment for a personalized program to be created for you. This way, we can target and improve any brainwave patterns related to the symptoms you are experiencing. As mentioned earlier, your brainwaves are monitored in real time and you are rewarded with video and sound when there is greater balance of brainwave patterns. These rewards assist in improving your symptoms and guiding your brain to a more balanced state. Thus, with every session you have, you are one step closer to regulated brainwave patterns and an improved quality of life.
Kolk, B. A., Hodgdon, H., Gapen, M., Musicaro, R., Suvak, M. K., Hamlin, E., et al. (2016). A randomized controlled study for neurofeedback for chronic PTSD. PLOS ONE, 14(4), e0215940. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0215940.
Reiter, K., Andersen, S. B., & Carlsson, J. (2016). Neurofeedback treatment and posttraumatic stress disorder: effectiveness of neurofeedback on posttraumatic stress disorder and the optimal choice of protocol. The Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease, 204, 69-77. doi: 10.1097/NMD.0000000000000418
Van der Kolk, B. (2015). The Body Keeps the Score. United States: Penguin Books.