How Neurofeedback works
How Does Neurofeedback Work?
Neurofeedback works by ‘holding a mirror up to the brain’ to give it feedback on how well it is working. In this way, the brain can literally be ‘trained’ to work better. The idea that the brain can change comes from Neuroplasticity; it is now accepted by science that not only can the brain change over time but that this is an essential part of the process of human evolution and this is how some mental health disorders are acquired. The learning method comes from the concept of ‘classical conditioning’, discovered many years ago, that unconscious behavior can be learned by rewarding it. The feedback is delivered to the brain via the eyes and ears through video. When the brain is working well our technology causes the video to go faster, louder or bigger. As the client relaxes, the brain ‘tunes in’ to this feedback and adjusts in response. It is this positive reinforcement in the form of sensory feedback that trains the brain to correct any irregular behavior it may have been exhibiting. Our technology measures brain activity by observing tiny electrical signals (known as brain waves) to assess how well the brain is performing.
The technical name for this is electroencephalography, or EEG, but can be thought of simply as a kind of ‘stethoscope’ to see or listen to the brainwaves. Sophisticated computer technology assesses these raw brainwaves and that data is used to provide direct feedback to the brain on how well it is functioning, using video software. The feedback can be provided by video games, or documentaries or music videos. For younger clients a cuddly bear that vibrates can be used to give extra sensory feedback. The good news is the client does not have to think, this all happens subconsciously – so the treatment works for very young children as well as adults. The client just needs to relax and let the brain use its own ability to self-regulate. The feedback itself is very simple and always has been: originally it was a red or green light; these days the feedback is still very simple but is presented in more sophisticated and engaging ways – for example the speed of the rocket, the speed of the car, or the size of the picture. Obtaining information directly from the brain and providing feedback straight back via the senses, in real time, is what makes Neurofeedback unique and so successful. Additionally, Neurofeedback is completely safe; there is no surgery, no medication and no side effects whatsoever.
Does Neurofeedback have a history of success or is this a new treatment?
Neurofeedback is not new. As early as 1958 it was first shown that the brain could respond to brainwave feedback. But for many years the equipment was highly complex, large and located in university research laboratories. This made it inconvenient for patients and cost millions to own and operate. And video game technology was non-existent, or very basic, and so the feedback experience was not stimulating for the patient. Digital technology has changed the game. Now the portable equipment is available that costs thousands, not millions, and can run on standard PCs (which have become more powerful themselves). And, of course, video gaming technology has developed significantly, allowing treatment to be a more sensory rich and enjoyable experience. Most importantly, the understanding of the best clinical protocols for brain training has improved (to the point where several hundred Neurofeedback Practitioners are using this technology in the USA to help clients improve their brain function). Whilst some aspects of Neurofeedback can be automated using modern computer technology, every brain is unique and every individual situation is different. So it is vital that a trained Neurofeedback Practitioner take an individualized approach to a person’s treatment.