The process of using biofeedback and neurofeedback to determine a patient’s psychological state has taken huge leaps in the neuropsychology and neurology communities over the past decade. However, biofeedback and neurofeedback aren’t entirely new treatments by any means. They have simply become more refined processes over time. Today, these processes use better databases and more qualified people to test and interpret results than ever before!
The history of biofeedback and neurofeedback goes way back. The term “biofeedback” was defined as a “physiological mirror into the minds of patients” and officially coined by neuroscientists in the 1960s. However, research into its effects began long before that! The incipient stages of biofeedback as a psychological tool began in the 1930s and 1940s by the Institute of Experimental Medicine in St. Petersburg. This is where the idea of monitoring the brain's response to specific physiological parameters was first attempted.
Biofeedback And Neurofeedback Defined
So, what exactly are biofeedback and neurofeedback? Biofeedback refers to the information we receive from our own biology, such as heart rate, respiration rate, perspiration, and more. Last week, I had a medical test where I wore a pulse oximeter on my finger. I needed to get my heart rate down to 60 beats per minute, so I worked on my breathing and my meditation. Every time I got feedback that my heart rate was in the mid-60s, I used breathwork practices to relax more while lengthening my inhales and exhales. This is what biofeedback therapy looks like in the real world.
On the other hand, neurofeedback is about the information we receive from our neurology, our minds. If we break down the words semantically, “neuro” refers to patients’ brains or neurons, while “feedback” refers to the information exchanged between the patient’s brain and the neuronal activity feedback the patient receives. The whole neurofeedback model is built upon classical conditioning principles. It analyzes the momentary information change that occurs within the brain and places the patient in a position where they can modify this activity accordingly.
Today, both biofeedback and neurofeedback are used as integral neurological tools in the medical world. These therapies assist providers as they work to assess and monitor the way the brain responds to specific stimuli that either supports or disrupts mental equilibrium.
How Does Neurofeedback Improve Cognition And Heal Trauma?
Neurofeedback helps with brain trauma by providing psychologists with concrete data about an individual’s brain activity and patterns. In each neurofeedback session, there is an assessment portion of the treatment as well as a treatment phase.
The assessment phase is called a quantitative EEG. It’s used to map a patient’s brain and take a deep dive into their brainwave patterns. It allows providers to assess the mind’s speed, balance, and overall health.
For example, people who show early signs of dementia often have slowed speed of information processing. This decline can be picked up on a quantitative EEG of the brain. When we have more information, it’s easier to provide patients with the care they need. Providers often use this data to give patients specific exercises and brain training to help improve their speed of processing. Functional medicine doctors also use neurofeedback to identify the root causes of cognitive decline.
Biofeedback And Neurofeedback Can Help Treat:
● Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD/ADHD)
● Autism Spectrum Disorder
● Anxiety Disorders
● Panic Disorders
● Phobia Disorders
● Major Depressive Disorder
● Bipolar Disorder
● Chronic Insomnia
● Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI)
● PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder)
● Seizure Disorders
● Alzheimer's Disease
● Dementia from Parkinson’s. Lewy Body dementia etc
● Mild Cognitive Impairment
In recent years, this type of treatment has gained more recognition as a constructive treatment for Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. This is more of an up-and-coming practice, but neurofeedback has proven to be a highly efficacious treatment for memory dysfunction. It is also used to treat other mental issues like lack of concentration, lack of focus, burnout, overstimulation, under stimulation, anxiety, emotional control, panic, depression, insomnia, and healing emotional trauma.
It’s important to note that neurofeedback is not a “cure” or “solution” to any particular mental disorder. It’s possible that neurofeedback can lower the progression rates of specific mental disorders, but we do not have enough data within the neuroscience community to say this for sure yet.
What we do know today is that neurofeedback can be a wonderfully positive, exceptionally helpful tool for diagnosis and symptomatic healing. The goal of neurofeedback therapy is simply to encourage overall healthier brainwave activity and help patients live a more emotionally and cognitively stable daily life!
How Does Neurofeedback Therapy Actually Work?
To understand how neurofeedback therapy actually works to heal trauma, it’s important to explain the way neurofeedback therapy interacts with a patient’s beta waves. Beta waves are the brain’s fast-acting waves. However, when the brain produces overconsumption of beta waves, this can lead to anxiety, panic disorder, or sleep disturbances.
In contrast, theta waves are slower-frequency waves that the brain relies on during stages of relaxation. Delta waves are the slowest form of brain waves that occur during sleep. Neurofeedback therapy works by monitoring the brain’s waves as they respond to stimuli and tracking which external input causes an overproduction of beta waves. Then, therapeutic work is put in to reduce the noted overproduction.
Is Neurofeedback Therapy Safe?
In recent years, neurofeedback therapy has been recognized to be very safe, but going to a licensed and well-trained clinician is critical to derive optimal benefit. If you’re concerned about neurofeedback at all, you can certainly ask your clinician questions about their training and licensing, as well as inquire how new and up-to-date their equipment is to ensure your safety.
It’s important to explain that neurofeedback is an entirely non-invasive process! Contrary to the stigma surrounding these topics, there are no aspects of neurofeedback that function like “brainwashing” or “hypnotism”. The process simply aims to regulate and optimize your brainwave patterns by providing positive brain reinforcement on a regular basis.
Most negative side effects from neurofeedback therapy are infrequent and fleeting. There is a risk of temporary physical side effects such as dizziness, low energy, fatigue, or muscle tension. If these side effects are present, they typically subside in 24 to 48 hours max.
How To Know If Neurofeedback Treatment Is Right For Your Brain
Understanding whether or not neurofeedback treatment is best for you will depend on the type and severity of symptoms you are experiencing. If you think neurofeedback therapy is something that could help you heal your brain and improve your life, talk to your doctor, therapist, or psychiatrist about this possibility.
At the end of the day, everyone deserves a life that is fulfilling and uninhibited by the often heavy and challenging symptoms of mental disorders. If your own cognitive and emotional changes from a brain injury, dementia, or emotional trauma are keeping you from enjoying and finding peace in the day-to-day, neurofeedback therapy may be a worthy consideration for you!