Neurofeedback is a subdivision of Biofeedback. In fact, many people’s first reaction to hearing the term “neurofeedback” is usually to ask me, do you mean Biofeedback?, which they have heard about at some point in their life, especially if they once owned a “mood ring”.
Biofeedback is the general category, similar to referring to the general term of foods such as “fruit.” Simply put, Biofeedback is a method of gaining information by monitoring skin temperature, blood pressure, heart rate, brain waves and other body conditions to help promote control over normally involuntary bodily processes through conditioning, also called operant conditioning and relaxation.
As with a variety of fruits, such as apples or citrus, or melons, there are several types of biofeedback: heart rate variability (HRV), thermal (as seen in a “mood ring”), muscular (EMG), and neurological (EEG), also called neurotherapy or neurobiofeedback or neurofeedback.
All forms of Biofeedback employ some type of computer or monitoring device along with electronic sensors to give information about what is going on in the body. With neurofeedback, it is giving feedback about specific brain waves: the percentage amount of each one in specific areas of the brain, called amplitude; are the brain waves working harmoniously together (regulated) or is there a dysregulation. When the brain is dysregulated it is like a symphony orchestra tuning up, making a lot of noise that is unpleasant to the ear. Another example is: you are driving down the road and hit a pot hole and your tire is now out of alignment with the other tires. Because of the misalignment, your car is no longer working as efficiently as before and it might even make it hard to steer the car.
Also, using the example of your car, anyone who has to have a yearly state inspection knows that the car is hooked up to various computers to see if the engine or transmission is working properly. The newer forms of Neurofeedback also provide this type of information. It is now possible to map out the brain through Quanatitive EEG (QEEG), or identify specific regions of the brain that are not working properly. These are called the Brodmann Area. Still other forms of neurofeedback provide information of how your brain compares to others of the same gender and age. This is done through Z-score methods.
Just as your mechanic will inform you of the condition of your car, so too does Neurofeedback provide information about your brain. Once an assessment or evaluation has been done, you can use a wide variety of neurofeedback methods to fix a specific area, and/or dysregulation or just fine tune it, as you can do with your car’s engine.
Some people after getting their car inspected have the skills to go home and do their own repair work. So too with neurofeedback, some types of neurofeedback do not need experienced clinicians to help. However, as we all know the friend or neighbor who said they can fix your car only to make things worse, this too has been part of the history of neurofeedback. Some people have bought equipment without proper training or understanding of the brain, and have made symptoms worse by not using the equipment properly. Or, like the exercise machine that is collecting dust bunnies under your bed, often people buy equipment and fail to use it. There have been many times when I have asked one of my patients who has bought a CES machine for their anxiety if are they using it on a daily basis, only to get a reply that it is somewhere in the house. When asked, did they find the CES machine helpful, the answer is yes, yet they fail to use it when needed.
How Can Neurofeedback Help My Issues or Symptoms?
This leads to how does neurofeedback help neurological issues, such as a stroke/aneurysm, brain surgery, concussion, anxiety, sleep problems, PTSD, Parkinson Disease, and movement disorders, such as myoclonic. Neurofeedback is able to assess, as mentioned above, the functioning of the brain and where it is not functioning properly. It can locate a specific location, if there is one, which is often the situation with a stroke, or it can locate neural dysregulation of the various neural hubs, as seen in a concussion and PTSD. It is important to remember that anxiety is the symptom, not the cause. Neurofeedback looks for the cause, such as what specific pathways are dysregulated or over or under activated. Once this type of assessment locates the cause of the symptom, then a wide variety of methods and equipment can be chosen based on what is the best one specifically for your needs and neurological issues.
Clinicians need the training in the use of the various methods and equipment to best help your specific unique needs, not just the symptoms, while it is extremely important to understand the various methods and equipment to be an educated consumer.
In upcoming blogs on understanding Neurofeedback and how it can help with your anxiety, sleep problems, concussion, stroke and other neurological issues, the various methods and equipment will be presented. For those of you who like to know specific details about the topic of neurofeedback there are many books on the subject- some are very detailed while others only touch the surface. To help with what book to read, the following four are excellent books. They are not presented in any specific order of information.
Getting Started with Neurofeedback, by John Demos
Biofeedback for the Brain, by Paul G. Swingle, Ph.D.
Technical Foundations of Neurofeedback, by Thomas F. Collura
The Healing Power of Neurofeedback, by Stephan Larsen, Ph. D.
If you want more detailed books, please feel free to contact me or look at the bibliography at the back of any the suggested books.