Neurofeedback or Neurotherapy: Everything you need to know
Neurofeedback: What is it? What is it based on? What is it for? In recent years, more professionals and centers have started to offer neurofeedback assessments. Due to its fancy name and the mystery behind it, we have decided to clear certain aspects and make this useful guide to this concept.
What is Neurofeedback?- Definition and meaning
Neurofeedback is a technique that allows us to modulate brain activity through training. This therapy belongs to the set of therapeutic techniques called “Techniques of Biofeedback”. Bio refers to signals produced by the human body and feedback points to a continuous exchange of information from these signals. Therefore, and as a simplified summary, we could define Neurofeedback as a technique that uses body signals, specifically signals from our neurons.
Neurons create electrical currents when they communicate with each other. It is a very complicated process and difficult to explain, but what interests us is that these currents can be registered. The Electroencephalogram (EEG) is the main way to record these brain currents. Neurofeedback uses EEG along with computer software that converts brain waves into visual or auditory information. The technician configures the program to reward us when we are working in a particular wave range. These wave ranges go from greater to lesser brain activity. Less activity means we are relaxed or asleep, while more activity means higher concentration or mental activity.
If the stimuli on the screen (for example) is a chapter of a series that we like, the series will advance normally while our brain is working on the waves ranges that the professional has configured, and will stop when it is not. The fluidity of what we see is a reflection of our brain activity. In this way, and thanks to repeated practice, we learn to reduce our brain activation voluntarily. It is a mechanism based on Operational Conditioning where when we do something that entails a prize (money, applause, laughter), it increases the likelihood that such behavior will recur in the future under similar circumstances.
Uses of Neurofeedback
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, this technique is level 1 evidence based treatment for patients with Attention Deficit and Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). However, there is controversy whether this technique is effective or not. The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) in the ADHD guidelines established that there are no standardized interventions to back up neurofeedback’s effectiveness.
“Neurofeedback is presently considered to be an experimental intervention in children and young people with ADHD”- NICE
It is also used for pain management, addiction, aggression, anxiety symptoms, depression, autism, schizophrenia, epilepsy, headaches, brain injury and trauma. In 2010, a study provided some evidence of neuroplastic changes occurring after brainwave training.
- ADHD: It trains children to control impulsive behavior and other executive functions.
- Epilepsy: It reduces the seizures.
- Autism: Helps with self-regulation and metabolic function.
- Insomnia: Helps with primary insomnia, increasing their sleep time.
Myths about Neurofeedback: What is NOT neurofeedback?
1.”Neurofeedback is a new technique”
No, actually neurofeedback started at the end of the 1960’s. The first publications were made by Joe Kamiya, where he spoke about the possibility of controlling brainwaves through brain training. Nonetheless, some interest was lost throughout the years leaving only a few centers in the USA and Germany.
2.”Neurofeedback can only be done through EEG”
Even though EEG is the most common method and the least expensive, we can also perform this technique through any means that offers brain activity in real time. Some of these might be Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) or a Transcranial Doppler Ultrasound (TCD), among others.
3.”Neurofeedback cures everything”
Neurofeedback is another tool or technique in the psychological toolshed. Same as a hammer can help us build our dream house, neurofeedback can help us improve certain symptoms of diseases or disorders but it has to be part of a bigger scale.
When a psychologist considers that someone needs to control anxiety they can suggest this technique, however, always combined with diaphragmatic relaxation, progressive muscle relaxation, etc.
4.”Neurofeedback doesn’t work at all”
Even though there are many people against it, researchers have been investigating the possibility of this technique to train other aspects on people without disorders. Training would include:
- Mood and emotions
- Working memory– Take a look at CogniFit’s brain training.
- Anxiety under stress
- Psychomotor skills
Conclusions: Why is Neurofeedback useful?
This tool allows the control of general brain activation. This means that it can become very useful as a relaxation or anxiety reduction technique. It can also help improve concentration levels. In spite of everything, it is necessary to keep in mind the complex mechanism by which it works, so it must be administered by a professional. Finally, is Neurofeedback effective? The only way to answer this question is by asking us other questions such as who will use it? are you a qualified professional? what training does it endorse? is it part of a broader therapy? what specific objectives are pursued within this therapy?
We hope this article was helpful. Please leave a comment below.
This article was originally in Spanish written by Diego Remón, translated by Alejandra Salazar.
Ros T., Moniek, M., Ruge, D., Gruzelier, J., & Rothwell, J. C. (2010). Endogenous control of waking brain rhythms induces neuroplasticity in humans. European Journal of Neuroscience, 31 (4).
NICE. (2009). Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder Diagnosis and Management of ADHD in Children, Young People, and Adults. Leicester (UK). ISBN-13: 978-1-85433-471-8
Alejandra is a clinical and health psychologist. She is a child specialist with a diploma in evaluation and intervention in autism. She has worked in different schools with young children and private practice for over 6 years. She is interested in early childhood intervention, emotional intelligence, and attachment styles. As a brain and human behavior enthusiast, she is more than happy to answer your questions and share her experience.