Frequently Asked Questions:
What is Neurofeedback?
Neurofeedback is a non-invasive form of treatment that works directly with the brain’s function and firing patterns (electrical firing activity and brain waves) and seeks to “modulate and retrain brain function to address neurological and/or psychological symptoms of concern” (Arns et al., 2020).
Basically, we teach and train the brain how to integrate, organize, and function more efficiently, reducing symptoms and increasing well-being. In short, neurofeedback is exercise for your brain.
Through the use of EEG (brain mapping) we can see how the brain is firing in real time and what areas need adjustment. Then through precise stimulation and feedback, we teach the brain to function differently (or as it was designed to) to reduce symptoms and improve one’s quality of life.
How Does Neurofeedback Work?
Our brains are incredibly adaptable and malleable. In fact, the neuroscience community refers to as neuroplasticity—that our brains change in structure and function based on the stimuli they receive.
In other words, our brain can regulate, integrate, and rewiring itself in life-giving ways if it knows how.
Neurofeedback/neurostimulation is designed to tap into neuroplasticity by observing neurochemical and electrical activity in the brain and then teaching the brain how to reorient, adjust, and/or reintegrate in healthier ways.
Initially, we establish a baseline of how the brain is currently functioning through a QEEG, or brain mapping, to discern problematic areas of brain dysfunction and dysregulation. This is commonly referred to as “capping,” as we use a 19-site electrode cap to record brain activity.
Once we have an initial EEG, we tailor the treatment protocols to fit the particular situation and condition and stimulate the brain and train it to function differently.
Neurofeedback/Neurostimulation are workouts for your brain. Since brain training and fitness is exercise for your brain, we take a progressive, thoughtful, and careful approach. You don’t run a marathon your first day running, so we don’t expect Olympic level brain fitness on day one. Typically, we begin with neurostimulation and then once we’ve taught the brain what we’d like it to do on its own, we add in neurofeedback.
During neurostimulation we provide the brain with a stimulus to teach it how we would like it to respond. After we have discovered problematic areas and firing patterns through the brain map, we can focus the simulation to either increase or decrease the activity and flow of information in that region of the brain, or we can teach the brain to regulate itself in new ways. Overall, the treatment is focused on teaching the brain something new. Often times, it is helpful to begin with 10-15 sessions and then reevaluate.
What Types of Conditions Is Neurofeedback Effective in Treating?
Clinical studies and research have shown neurofeedback to effective for a variety of ailments, including:
- PTSD and Trauma
- Headaches and Migraines
- ADHD and ADD
- Chronic pain
- Certain brain disorders such as seizures, autism, Traumatic Brain Injury, and Cerebral Palsy
Additionally, neurofeedback has been shown to be an effective preventive measure for increasing well-being and in enhancing peak performance (both physical and mental performance). For example, studies have shown that neurofeedback increases one’s I.Q. by 10 to 20 points simply by increasing the brain’s efficiency and flexibility.
- Physical peak performance for athletes
- Mental peak performance for executives
- Increased concentration for studying and focus
Who Provides Neurofeedback?
Neurofeedback is a specialized form of treatment, so practitioners are typically mental health professionals (psychologists, marriage and family therapists, counselors, pastoral counselors, and social workers) who have received specific training for this type of treatment. At times, medical professionals (MDs, RNs, CNAs, rehabilitation specialists, and others) will also provide neurofeedback.
In general, it is a good idea to ensure that your practitioner has received adequate and appropriate training and receives ongoing supervision or consultation from other professionals within the neurofeedback community of scholars and practitioners.
At the Avery Centre, three of our clinicians are trained and qualified to offer neurofeedback services:
- Lyndee Vensota, MA, MS, LMFT
- Josh Tran, MS, LMFT
- William Roozeboom, PhD
What is the difference between neurostimulation and neurofeedback?
Both neurostimulation and neurofeedback are workouts for your brain, and we use “neurofeedback” as a simple way to refer this form of treatment for scheduling. Since brain training and fitness is exercise for your brain, we take a progressive, thoughtful, and careful approach. You don’t run a marathon your first day running, so we don’t expect Olympic level brain fitness on day one. Typically, we begin with neurostimulation and then once we’ve taught the brain what we’d like it to do on its own, we add in neurofeedback.
During neurostimulation we provide the brain with a stimulus to teach it how we would like it to respond. After we have discovered problematic areas and firing patterns through the brain map, we can focus the simulation to either increase or decrease the activity and flow of information in that region of the brain, or we can teach the brain to regulate itself in new ways. Overall, the treatment is focused on teaching the brain something new. Often times, it is helpful to begin with 10-15 sessions of neurostimulation prior to adding neurofeedback.
Neurofeedback adds another layer to the neurostimulation. Neurofeedback is when we ask the brain to respond in particular way—based on the stimulation that we have provided—and monitor in real-time whether or not the brain can do it. During neurofeedback we see whether or not the brain is able to move towards the goals we’ve set in our treatment protocol.
How Many Sessions Will I Need?
It depends on the type of condition and severity, but treatment typically lasts between 20 and 60 sessions. The current understanding among neurofeedback researchers is that it takes 20 sessions for the brain to consolidate the learning and functioning that are provided through the treatment so that treatment effects last. Once the brain learns a more efficient, and symptom free, way of firing and communicating, it typically doesn’t revert back to the previous way.
How Often Can You Receive Neurofeedback Treatment?
The frequency and duration are dependent upon the condition and severity of the symptoms. In some cases, daily treatment would be the most beneficial. In others, one to three sessions a week would suffice. Some research suggests that sessions with higher frequency (daily or 3x per week) creates an advantage for the brain as it works to relearn and rewire in preferred ways. Then after the initial intensive focus, the sessions can be spaced out further (2 sessions a week). The research suggests that best practices would limit treatment to no more than 2 sessions in a single day.
Is Neurofeedback Safe?
Neurofeedback is non-invasive and therefore the risks are very minimal. In most cases, there are no negative sides effects that have been reported in the literature. And most people report positive side effects—brain brightening, sense of clam, fewer panic attacks, better sleep, more focus, etc. We also discuss and monitor every step of the process with our clients to ensure the best outcome possible.
What About Medication?
Medication is an important part of the treatment matrix for mental health conditions. At times, psychological and emotional problems are strongly correlated with neurochemical imbalances in the brain and medication can help regulate neurochemicals to improve brain function and reduce symptoms. At other times, medication can serve as a “jump start” to get an individual over a tipping point and then the medication can be slowly reduced or eliminated altogether as the brain begins to function in preferred ways without the aid of medication.
We view neurofeedback as a form of treatment that works in conjunction with medication and encourage clients to stay on their current medication protocols and remain in contact with their prescribing physician. As the brain learns, adjusts, and integrates in new ways through neurofeedback, it is possible that medication may be reduced and/or modified, but this is no guarantee. Client should always follow the guidelines from their prescribing physicians.
Is Neurofeedback Covered by Insurance?
It varies by provider, so you will need to check with your insurance provider. At times, neurofeedback is covered as a sub-category of biofeedback. Yet, neurofeedback is a newer form of treatment and many insurance companies are not familiar with it and consider it elective. Also, when insurance does cover treatment, it may not cover the number of sessions required to address the issues entirely.