Creating A Self-Regulated Brain
Neurofeedback is the process of improving the brain's ability to regulate itself by teaching it to enforce functional patterns and reduce dysfunctional patterns.
Most mental health issues have a neurological component and a behavioral component. The brain may be working too fast, too slow, overly connected or not allocating resources well. That's where neurofeedback comes in!
Neurofeedback: It's all about the brainwaves.
How is your brain functioning?
The concept behind neurofeedback is that the brain, which is both electrical and chemical, is designed to do two things: learn and stabilize itself. Homeostasis (or stabilization) is a fancy way of saying that what the body and brain try to maintain the current functioning state at all times. This is why your body temperature stays at 98.6 degrees when you are healthy and why you develop behavioral habits. As you grow and learn, the brain creates connections which drive your behaviors and become the pathways through which we experience the world. Once a pathway is used repeatedly, it becomes part of the brain's homeostatic set point, and becomes more frequently and easily utilized.
Most of the time, this is a good thing. We learn how to do and feel in a beneficial way and what was once impossible (like a 1 year old driving a car) becomes possible (driving as a teenager or young adult). However, when you experience trauma (emotional, physical, or mental), develop dysfunctional behavioral habits, or find yourself struggling to do something that should be easy, there may be a problem with the way your brain is functioning electrically. There are three basic problematic states that your brain can be in: over activated (too fast), under activated (too slow), and unbalanced (bouncing back and forth between fast and slow). Each state results in behavioral difficulties.
Neurofeedback is a computer assisted method for encouraging the brain to reduce these states through auditory and visual positive reinforcement. Neurofeedback has been around as a therapy since the 1960s, when a NASA study found that training cats to increase a specific brainwave caused them to physically calm. These cats inadvertently became resistant to seizure activity, and the possibility of changing the brain, and therefore physical and psychological behavior, was born. Shortly after that, various researchers and clinicians found that this technique could be used with a wide variety of brain-based clinical issues! However, in the 1960s, a computer capable of running the computations quickly enough to engage learning were the size of a building! Outside of research facilities and university settings, it wasn't widely available. As the computers have improved, gotten smaller, and become more accessible in the past few decades, the use of neurofeedback in a clinical setting has finally become practical.
Neurofeedback is one of Dr. Novian's specialties, and he has been using this technique since 2001.
How Does It Work?
In a neurofeedback session, Dr. Novian uses several pieces of technology which allow him to watch your brainwaves and provide visual and auditory rewards when your brainwaves are within an acceptable range. He has four of the most respected and researched systems in the field: the BrainMaster Atlantis 4X4 with Brain Avatar, Thought Technology's ProComp Infiniti with the Neurofeedback and Physiology Suites for Thought Technology, EEGer created by EEG Spectrum and the NeXus 10 Mark II with BioTrace+ software created by Mind Media. All four systems have similar components, but they have some differences as well.
If Dr. Novian decides to use any of these systems with you, you can expect to see several electrode sensors, which Dr. Novian will attach to your scalp. These sensors will NOT shock you! They receive data from the brain and are not able to transmit anything into your brain. This is a safe therapy. The location that he places the electrodes depends on which part of the brain he needs to train. Those sensors then attach to a small amplifier. That amplifier is similar in purpose to a guitar amp. Where the guitar amp makes the sounds waves bigger to make them louder, the neurofeedback amplifier takes the brainwaves and "zooms in" on them so that they can be displayed and read on the computer screen.
The amp is then connected to the computer. If Dr. Novian chooses to use the Brainmaster, Thought Technology, or EEGer systems with you, this is through a chord. If he decides to use NeXus, it is by Bluetooth. In both cases, however, the brainwaves are displayed on Dr. Novian's computer screen so that he can see both their amplitude and frequency. Physics time! A fast wave (higher frequency) in the brain should occur when you are concentrating or using that part of your brain. Fast waves are, by nature, smaller in amplitude. A slow wave (lower frequency) naturally has a higher amplitude (bigger). Slow waves happen, usually, when we are asleep. Dr. Novian looks at the frequency bands, and provides auditory and visual stimuli when the bands you make are within the boundaries he sets.
Your job is to sit and pay attention to the video or sound feedback that Dr. Novian provides to you. Often, you will either play a game or watch a DVD. However, the game or movie only works if you are within range. Because your brain wants the reward of the game, movie, or sound, it will adjust the brainwaves so that it receives the feedback.
Because the brain naturally returns to what it thinks is normal, changes have to be small and repeated several times in order for them to stick. Also, most clients have multiple locations that need to be addressed. Because of this, Neurofeedback sessions generally come in the 20-40 session ranges. Research and our experience says that it takes about 20 sessions for changes to become stabilized and for the brain to recognize the "new normal". If there are co-morbidities, or more than one issue going on, then more changes need to be made and more sessions are required. The blessing, however, is that once the brain is stabilized at a new normal, it will hold that for the long haul.