What is Neurofeedback?
Neurofeedback is an evidence-based treatment to help regulate electrical brainwave activity to reduce the severity of symptoms that may result from an imbalance. The process of Neurofeedback is similar to how a speedometer works. A speedometer provides information about how fast a car is going at a given time. A driver uses this information to regulate their speed when they are traveling in different areas, such as a school zone or highway. The speedometer’s feedback can then be used by the driver to determine if they are going too fast or too slow, allowing them to regulate their speed accordingly.
Neurofeedback uses this same approach, but by giving the client information about their brainwave patterns. If their brainwave patterns are too fast or too slow, Neurofeedback provides information to help regulate this activity to achieve an optimal state for the demands of the situation. Remember, a speedometer does not increase or decrease the speed of a car. It’s merely a tool that enables the driver to regulate their speed. In the same way, Neurofeedback helps the client gain better control over their brainwave patterns and gives them a greater flexibility over their functioning.
How Does Neurofeedback Work?
Neurofeedback is based on the principles of operant conditioning. Operant conditioning is a type of learning where certain behaviours are rewarded to increase the chance of them occurring. For example, we may want to reward a calm, focused, mental state for a client who struggles with ADHD symptoms.
When the trainee enters this mental state, they are rewarded with visual and audial feedback through computer software. Participants are given instant feedback when they are no longer in the desired mental state, as the audial and visual feedback stops or is altered. Through practice, the desired mental state becomes easier to enter, maintain, and recognize.
As a result the trainee improves their ability to self-regulate their mental states. Clients learn to better understand themselves and what it means to be focused, calm, relaxed, and alert. Neurofeedback also takes advantage of the concept of neuroplasticity, the concept that the brain can restructure and reorganize itself in response to learning or other activities (for more information, we recommend reading The Brain That Changes Itself and The Brain’s Way of Healing). Neurofeedback is essentially a learning process. Information about the brain’s processing is displayed to the client and the brain adapts and improves as it learns to modify its functioning.
This method is very similar to the way we learn how to ride a bicycle. Riding a bicycle can be challenging because it is difficult to learn how to balance. No coaching or tips can significantly help you learn faster; you need to experience what being balanced feels like. The vestibular apparatus in our inner ear is responsible for our sense of balance, as it relays our body’s state of balance to our brain.This information allows us to modify our body position so that we can balance. Once we have learned to regulate our balance, riding a bike is easy.
Neurofeedback uses the same concept to teach the brain how to remain calm, focused, relaxed, and alert. Training provides clients an opportunity to exercise their ability to enter, recognize, and maintain the desired state. When enough training is done, the client improves their ability to self-regulate their brainwaves and mental state.
What does a Neurofeedback Session Look Like?
To be able to measure and evaluate your brainwave patterns, you’ll be connected to EEG leads that will transmit information related to brainwave patterns to the computer software used for training. Following a preliminary baseline assessment to evaluate your resting brainwave states, the software parameters are set to optimize your brain’s potential.
During a session, the software measures your brainwaves while providing audio and visual feedback via various animations and music to indicate when your optimal brainwave patterns are detected. Conversely, this feedback will stop when these brainwave patterns are suboptimal (potentially as a result of being distracted or daydreaming). Over the course of a one hour session twice a week, the client trains to improve their brainwave patterns and over time this causes the brain to shift into a healthier pattern of functioning.
Who is a good candidate for Neurofeedback?
Populations suffering from mental health conditions such as ADHD, Anxiety, Depression, and Stress may be good candidates for Neurofeedback. Optimal performance clients are clients that do not have a diagnosable mental health condition, but could benefit from being more calm, focused, relaxed, and alert. This includes students, executives, and athletes.
Good candidates also include people who wish to improve their symptoms without the use of medications or in order to reduce their dosages. That is not to say that drug therapies should be avoided. Initially, drug therapies may be necessary as a short-term solution to reduce the severity of symptoms. Neurofeedback has been seen to produce long-lasting changes (See the Research section for more information). For those looking for a long-term solution without the constant use of medication, Neurofeedback training may be the best option for them.
Moreover, Neurofeedback gives the trainee an active role in managing their symptoms. This can be empowering for clients as they are not only developing self-regulation , but the brain is also learning to improve its function. Conversely, the role of medication is more passive, as no learning occurs during this process.
Please note that services are not covered under OHIP, but may be covered by insurance or extended health care benefits.