What is Neurofeedback?
Neurofeedback, also known as EEG Neurofeedback, is one of the most powerful upcoming tools for therapeutic intervention. Neurofeedback therapy uses technology to quantify and monitor changes in brainwaves. This visual biofeedback can help people understand their emotions and triggers, and learn to control them.
Simply put, Neurofeedback is like yoga for the brain. This is because like yoga, a person undergoing Neurofeedback builds a healthy narrative between their body and their mind. Doing so encourages improvement in emotional regulation, mindfulness, and self-awareness.
NThe process is straightforward and involves scanning the brain using electroencephalography (EEG). This means they attach sensitive wires to the head that are connected to a brain-computer interface that the therapist uses to monitor brain activity throughout the session. This provides real-time feedback as a guide to help train your brain out of its default negative habits, feelings, and responses.
Adding Neurofeedback to other therapeutic methods can help teach your brain rather than just treat it.
Havenwood Academy is one of the few residential treatment centers that accepts Medicaid and utilizes Neurofeedback therapy. They treat teenage girls between the age of 12 and 17 years old and have found Neurofeedback to be highly effective.
How does Neurofeedback work?
As a form of noninvasive biofeedback, Neurofeedback is able to quantify different types of brainwaves. This helps locate different spots in the brain that are dysregulated and pinpoint specific impacts of the dysregulation. It does this by reading specific brain waves–if the frequencies are faster or slower than what they should be, they are dysregulated. After identifying where the brain needs focus, you can begin guiding the brain to improve its ability to self-regulate. This is done by having the client concentrate on maintaining a particular level of brainwave frequency. The client can actually watch real-time feedback that shows changes in their brain waves as they happen.
- Non-invasive sensors placed on the client’s head
- A computer interface connected to the sensors
- Audio and visual stimulation in the form of a video
- Real-time brainwave monitoring by the therapist
The methods used during sessions can vary and usually involve both auditory and visual components. For example, the client might watch a movie during the session while trying to concentrate on maintaining a certain mental state. This helps reach the main goal of each session: controlling their brainwave output. If they do not control the brainwaves, the video may dim, or the audio might disappear. However, if they return their brainwaves to the desired frequency, the sound and video image will return to normal. In this way, clients can learn to control their brain waves in a way that keeps them engaged in the process. This helps them to achieve a relaxed and balanced state of mind (which the brainwave feedback will indicate).
To help with this, clients often learn and use relaxation techniques and meditation to help them maintain specific brainwave levels. The process takes time to learn. However, over multiple sessions, the brain can learn to maintain activity levels that decrease anxiety or depression. Havenwood Academy utilizes Neurofeedback sessions and have found success in decreasing their student’s symptoms of anxiety and depression. Some parents don’t understand how it works and find themselves surprised how much progress their daughter can make from just a few sessions.
What does a Neurofeedback session look like?
A typical Neurofeedback session can last anywhere from 30 to 60 minutes and may involve the following steps:
- Preparation: The individual is usually asked to sit in a comfortable chair or lie down on a bed while sensors are attached to their scalp. These sensors are used to measure the electrical activity of the brain.
- Calibration: The therapist will use the sensors to calibrate the neurofeedback system to the individual's brain activity. This involves recording baseline brainwave patterns while the individual is in a relaxed state.
- Training: Once the system is calibrated, the therapist will start the training session. The individual will be asked to perform various tasks, such as playing a video game or watching a movie. The system will provide feedback in real-time based on the individual's brain activity. For example, the game may become more difficult if the individual's brain activity indicates that they are not focusing or relaxing.
- Review: At the end of the session, the therapist will review the data from the training session and provide feedback to the individual. This may include suggestions for how to improve their brainwave patterns or advice on how to continue their training outside of the session.
Overall, Neurofeedback sessions are designed to be non-invasive and painless. The individual should feel relaxed and comfortable throughout the session. The number of sessions required will depend on the individual's specific needs and goals. At Havenwood Academy, each student is able to have 1-2 sessions a week in addition to individual therapy, family therapy, group therapy, animal-assisted therapy, and more. Throughout their entire treatment with Havenwood, each students may receive 60+ sessions of Neurofeedback, as needed.
What is Brain Mapping?
The entire process begins by creating an initial brain map of the client. Some technicians use a “brain cap” that is placed on their heads and hair. It is important to ensure that each sensor or electrode is placed above specific brain spots. Following the brain cap, the Neurofeedback technician injects a gel into each sensor for the brainwaves to be read correctly. It then collects data on the different brain waves throughout the brain along with frequencies and amplitudes. When the data is collected, it is processed with computer software to put a map together. This map is used to target areas of the brain to exercise.
In addition to the brain map, each client takes a self-assessment with questions that can help measure their views on their cognitive efficiency. By comparing the results of the self-assessment and the brain map, you can then more easily see what could be causing dysregulation.
The process is easily explained in Havenwood Academy’s video: https://youtu.be/qzKClD9Tmco. Havenwood has a certified and trained technician that conducts each session and helps explain what a session looks like in the video demonstration.
What is Brain Training?
Neurofeedback trains the brain to self-regulate by using classical conditioning principles in sessions that follow the mapping. With sensors placed on the client’s head, the client focuses on a screen in front of them. With real-time feedback, whenever the brain creates healthy brainwaves, the screen rewards the client with a brighter screen (the desired stimulation). If the brain creates abnormal brain waves, the screen darkens to a dimmer screen.
Through this process Neurofeedback actually helps create new neural pathways. The brain will gradually change its activity with a new pattern of brainwaves and begin to learn new behavior. Students at Havenwood Academy really see an improvement with their emotional regulation as their sessions continue to create new neural pathways and regulate brainwaves.
Who is Neurofeedback for?
There are many people who can benefit from the help of Neurofeedback. Those who have a high number of Adverse Childhood Experiences** (ACES) may need to turn to trauma-focused therapy like Neurofeedback. Many pair multiple therapeutic methods; like EMDR, DBT, Brainspotting, Equine Therapy, or classic talk therapy.
**Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) are a measurement of childhood trauma someone may experience that has been found to cause serious impacts on a child’s future mental and physical health. See acestoohigh.org for more information.
Neurofeedback is great for adolescents who have experienced trauma due to the fact that often their brains stop developing correctly after their trauma. If utilized correctly, Neurofeedback can help balance their brains to process emotions more effectively and resume correct development. Instead of their body jumping right into “fight, flight, or freeze” mode, they will be able to process information with the correct reactions.
Though Neurofeedback can be beneficial for all ages, Havenwood Academy employs Neurofeedback with teenage girls with high amounts of trauma. These students react very well to Neurofeedback sessions.
Can Neurofeedback help teens with behavioral issues?
Teens with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), mood disorders, and behavioral issues can use Neurofeedback to manage symptoms. According to Current Psychiatry Reports, “Neurofeedback training reduces inattentive and hyperactive/impulsive symptoms in ADHD children.” Each session trains the brain to slow down, relax, and redirect energy to positive behaviors.
Neurofeedback therapy is especially helpful for teenagers who struggle with the following:
- Difficulty focusing or following instructions
- Mild to severe symptoms of mood disorders like depression
- Difficulty identifying, controlling, or processing emotions
- Depressive episodes
- Symptoms of trauma, anxiety, or panic
Your child will learn to control their thoughts and behaviors using the coping skills they develop during Neurofeedback therapy. This can benefit them in many aspects throughout their lives. If you know of a teenage girl who can be helped with Neurofeedback, contact Havenwood Academy today with questions.
Why treat adopted teens with Neurofeedback?
Adopted children have a higher risk of experiencing behavioral issues and mental health disorders. In some cases, they may not have had an opportunity to learn how to identify and process emotions. Neurofeedback therapy increases self-awareness and allows participants to regain control of their thoughts and behaviors. Any child with a history of trauma, anxiety, or depression may benefit from Neurofeedback therapy.
Some other benefits of Neurofeedback therapy include:
- Fewer mood swings and emotional outbursts
- Better memory and focus
- More restful sleep
- Reduced stress and anxiety
Adopted teens often carry feelings of trauma, insecurity, or mental health disorders from their biological family into their new adopted life. Before their adoption, they may have experienced a lack of support from their biological parents or caregivers, abuse, or other stressors.
Neurofeedback therapy can teach adopted teens to regulate emotions and manage problematic behaviors. This treatment increases self-control and helps them become more aware of how certain thoughts affect their actions. Havenwood Academy has consistently found success with students using Neurofeedback therapy.
What are the benefits of Neurofeedback?
There are many benefits to receiving treatment with Neurofeedback. The most significant advantage is that it is long-lasting. Neurofeedback is focused on teaching the brain how to self-regulate, even when experiencing triggering events or triggering environments. When the brain successfully learns how to do this during multiple feedback sessions, it creates a new neural pathway. That new neural pathway will remain connected as it is practiced. Other benefits include:
- High success rate
- Long-lasting–not temporary like medications
- Shown to be just as effective as medications in the treatment of ADHD
- Can be used to treat ADHD, Anxiety, Depression, Insomnia, and more;
Though there are valuable benefits from Neurofeedback, the process can take a few weeks or longer to start seeing results. Given the individualistic element of Neurofeedback, progress varies between individuals receiving treatment.
Havenwood Academy students thrive with the combination of Neurofeedback, our other offered therapeutic methods, a safe and stable environment, and our highly trained mentors who specialize in forming healthy attachments.
What are the downsides of Neurofeedback?
Are there risks to be aware of?
There are not many downsides to using Neurofeedback, but that doesn't mean there aren't a few risks. Neurofeedback can exercise the wrong part of the brain if your therapist or technician does not have the intensive training required. Just as it can exercise your brain to produce the ideal brainwaves, it can strengthen things you don't want stronger. However, it is important to note that any negative reinforcement caused inadvertently by misapplied treatment is reversible.
When looking for a qualified Neurofeedback technician, do research on the type of training and certification they have completed. Some technicians are not certified by accredited educators and are more likely to cause issues than to help.
Havenwood Academy has invested in only the best education for their Neurofeedback Technician and stays up to date with research.
Are there side effects to expect?
There are a few side effects from a Neurofeedback session, but they only last for a few hours. Those who experience side effects usually see a temporary increase in the intensity of their current problematic symptoms. They also might see short-lived symptoms like:
- Dizziness or headaches
- Drowsiness or fatigue
- Anxiety or depression
- Muscle Spasms
Some of these effects, specifically fatigue, and restlessness, are signs of overtreatment. In order to combat this, session length should be shortened accordingly.
Case Studies of Neurofeedback
In the 1960s, the beginning of Neurofeedback, Dr. Barry Sterman at UCLA was focused on studying brain activity during sleep. Beginning with cats as his subjects, he learned that relaxation and calmness were each associated with a specific brainwave frequency. He rewarded the cats whenever their brainwave frequencies were in a relaxed state and found that the cats became calmer overall. Eventually, he took his findings to NASA to help astronauts become more resistant to rocket fuel which was causing them to have seizures.
More recently in 2015, there was a group of studies done to see if Neurofeedback could help manage ongoing fatigue and cognitive impairment in cancer survivors. Of 17 high-quality studies, only 3 reported side effects. All reviewed Neurofeedback as "safe and well tolerated" as no subjects in the study dropped out due to any side effects.
In their studies, they tested multiple different ways to go about Neurofeedback training. The least successful were the sessions where the technician pushed the brain in a specific direction, causing an increase in symptoms that decreased after only a few sessions. The most successful training was when the technician would not push the brain in any particular direction. Instead, they would cue the brain to strengthen its own self-regulatory networks.
Another finding the studies reported was the suggestion to have a minimum of 10 to 20 sessions to show effectiveness. Many people don't see the impact of traditional talk therapy for many years, so it is compelling to compare it to Neurofeedback's efficiency over a short timeline.
If you are unsure if Neurofeedback can help you or a family member, take our online assessment. Receive a reply within minutes to learn if we or another facility can help you.
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