How neurofeedback works

EEG Neurofeedback is a method of retraining the brain using operant conditioning.

By reading electrical information from the scalp it is possible to analyse brainwave patterns, isolate those considered abnormal, and feed those patterns back to the user using rewards and inhibits to alter brain activity over time.

The feedback is given using video or sound which is either modulated by the brain activity, or is triggered when certain criteria are met.

It has been used to successfully treat a number of brain related conditions, helping those suffering from ADHD, epilepsy, fibromyalgia, stroke, anxiety, depression, schizophrenia, headaches, Tourette’s or head injuries to name but a few.

In 2010, a study provided some evidence of changes occurring after brainwave training. Half an hour of voluntary control of brain rhythms led in this study to a lasting shift in cortical excitability and intracortical function.

Neurofeedback is also used by healthy people for peak performance training, and to produce mind states equivalent to those of experienced meditators. Such states can be very useful for self development work and emotional healing of past trauma which can subtly affect people’s lives without being considered a chronic medical condition.

The most common protocols used for treatment are:

  • Beta/SMR to treat anxiety and limited engagement with the world
  • Alpha/Theta to uncover and release repressed emotional habits
  • Alpha asymmetry to influence depression, addiction and OCD behaviours
  • Theta Alpha Gamma coherence to promote cross frequency coupling and a more coherent mind

 

The standard approach would be to first assess the brain using a relative power map of different frequency bands. From there either a practitioner or specialist software can identify areas of undesired or problematic activity, and direct the feedback to target those areas of the brain.

In this example we can see a large amount of delta activity at the crown of the head, associated with head injuries or epilepsy. There is also a frontal lobe asymmetry of alpha activity associated with depression, OCD and substance abuse behaviours and unusual high beta wave activity over the fronto-parietal area indicating the presence of excess anxiety.

The training then takes place with the configuration of a protocol specifically matched to the brainwave frequencies that required adjustment. Here is an example using the Neurogeeks General Instability protocol.