Imagine finding relief from medical or psychological problems by changing the way your brain works. You can-with neurofeedback, a type of biofeedback in which you learn to control brain-wave activity. As brain function improves, symptoms associated with inefficient brain function also improve. Even physical pain is eased, because pain management has a psychological component-and there are no drug side effects to worry about.
- Age-related cognitive decline
- Alcohol and drug cravings
- Attention disorders (such as ADD and ADHD)
- Brain damage from head injury
- Epilepsy, seizures
- Posttraumatic stress
- Sleep problems
- Stroke effects
How it works: The brain produces electrical signals in the form of waves that correspond to specific mental states. Neurofeedback boosts your ability to produce particular brain waves that have specific desired effects. The process is painless and noninvasive.
You don't even have to be ill or in pain to reap the advantages. Many healthy executives, musicians and athletes use neurofeedback to sharpen the mind, ease stage fright or just perform at their peak.
Useful To You?
To explore whether neurofeedback can help you, consulta neurotherapist-a specially trained psychologist, psychiatrist, naturopathic doctor, medical doctor, chiropractor or other health-care professional.
Recommended: Choose one who is certified in neurofeedback by the Biofeedback Certification Institute of America (866-908-8713, www.bcia.org)
At your initial diagnostic meeting, the neurotherapist uses an electroencephalogram (EEG) machine to map your brain-wave activity. For relatively straightforward problems, such as depression or sleep disorders, or in cases where the goal is simply to maximize cognitive performance, several electrodes (sensors) are dabbed with conductive gel and attached to specific spots on your head. For complex problems, such as traumatic brain injury or epilepsy, you wear a close-fitting cap with 19 sensors.
These sensors, connected with wires to a computer, measure electrical impulses produced by your brain. The practitioner reads these impulses while your eyes are open, while your eyes are shut and while you are reading because some abnormalities are apparent only under certain circumstances.
Example: With one form of attention deficit disorder, brain waves look normal when the mind is not challenged—but when given a task, such as reading, the brain produces a wave that is not conducive to concentrating.
Your brain map is compared with internationally recognized reference data showing which brain patterns are normal under which circumstances. This identifies areas of the brain that are functioning abnormally or suboptimally. These areas are then targeted for treatment.
During A Treatment Session
A typical treatment session lasts about 50 minutes. The practitioner places an electrode at the spot where your brain needs to become more or less active when producing a specific frequency. The electrode is connected to a computer that gives you feedback. When you succeed in altering your brain waves to the target frequency, the computer produces a special sound or visual cue.
At first, achieving this is a matter of trial and error-more the result of passively observing the mental and physical states that seem to work rather than actively trying to think or do something specific.
For instance, if you're trying to create alpha waves to ease anxiety, you may notice that the tone sounded when you closed your eyes and pictured a ship sailing into the horizon but not when you imagined yourself in a meadow. With practice, your brain learns to regulate these brain waves.
The severity of the problem determines the length of treatment. Some people have 10 to 30 weekly sessions...others come three times a week for up to 100 sessions.
A follow-up session assures that the brain wave change is stable. Some people get "tuneups"-many older clients come four times a year to adjust the frequencies associated with mental focus.
Cost varies but typically runs about $100 per session. Insurance sometimes covers these treatments.
Recommended: Neurofeedback is a complementary therapy, best used in conjunction with psychotherapy, physical therapy, nutritional counseling, medical care or other treatment.
For instance: Neurofeedback can ease cravings for alcohol or drugs-but a person with a substance use disorder also needs counseling to learn how to create a new social environment that does not include drinking or drugs.
Important: Inform your medical doctor and other health-care providers before beginning neurofeedback (as you should with any new treatment to make sure that none of your therapies conflict.