Neurofeedback therapy is a non-invasive process by which mental health practitioners measure a patient’s brain waves and assess how different tasks can improve their efficacy. The basis of this approach is the belief that changing the state of your brain can change your behavior.
When you first go for a neurofeedback therapy session, your health practitioner will attach electrodes to your head and map out your default brain activity. Then as tasks are assigned, they will track how they alter the previously mapped activity. This information will then be used to condition your brain to function more optimally.
Not only is neurofeedback therapy painless and drug-free, but it can also be used to treat a variety of conditions like anxiety, ADHD, and depression.
The different types of neurofeedback therapy used for these conditions include:
- Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) – this is the most research-based method
- Low-Resolution Electromagnetic Tomography (LORE-TA) – it’s known for revealing a lot of information about how the brains of addicts work
- Live Z-score Neurofeedback – it is most commonly used on people with insomnia
- Hemoencephalographic (HEG) Neurofeedback – it is particularly used to help people with recurrent migraines as it provides information about the brain’s blood flow
- Slow Cortical Potential Neurofeedback (SCP-NF) – it is commonly used to help people with ADHD or epilepsy
- Frequency/Power Neurofeedback – it’s the most common and simple method
- Low-Energy Neurofeedback System (LENS) – this method does not require the patient to make any conscious effort
Neurofeedback Therapy for Depression
Research into depression shows that it usually occurs when there is an imbalance between the amount of activity in your brain’s left and right frontal lobe. While those with a more active left side seem to be upbeat, those with a more active right side are often sad and melancholic.
As such, in a bid to cure depression, therapists can use neurofeedback therapy to train your left frontal lobe to be more active. They will ensure our brain gets positive feedback each time your left frontal lobe is activated, encouraging your brain to activate it frequently. This can in turn alleviate the symptoms of depression.
Several studies have been done to test the efficacy of this approach, either as a stand-alone treatment or in combination with other approaches. One study11.S. Jenkins, View of Combined Neurofeedback and Heart Rate Variability Training for Individuals with Symptoms of Anxiety and Depression: A Retrospective Study, View of Combined Neurofeedback and Heart Rate Variability Training for Individuals with Symptoms of Anxiety and Depression: A Retrospective Study.; Retrieved September 29, 2022, from https://www.neuroregulation.org/article/view/16935/11343 even shows that 45% of people suffering from severe depression exhibited normal brain activity after 30 neurofeedback therapy sessions and heart rate variability training.
Another study22.F. Peeters, M. Oehlen, J. Ronner, J. van Os and R. Lousberg, Neurofeedback As a Treatment for Major Depressive Disorder – A Pilot Study, Neurofeedback As a Treatment for Major Depressive Disorder – A Pilot Study | PLOS ONE.; Retrieved September 29, 2022, from https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0091837 showed improvement in 5 out of 9 participants subjected to neurofeedback therapy as a treatment for depression. While one person recorded a positive response, four went into full remission.
Neurofeedback therapy for anxiety
People with anxiety usually have repetitive negative thoughts that make them nervous and afraid. And the more they have these thoughts, the more their brain gets locked in a state of hypersensitivity. It becomes a never-ending hole that is hard to come out of.
To return the brain to balance, mental health practitioners can use neurofeedback therapy to train your brain to regulate itself during situations that would normally trigger anxiety.
Neurofeedback therapy for ADHD
Normally, when we’re working on a task, brain activity increases, allowing us to concentrate. But for people with ADHD, the opposite commonly happens – their brains slow down, making it harder for them to concentrate. This is usually because most of their brains have low concentrations of high-frequency beta waves and high concentrations of low-frequency theta or delta waves.
And while a combination of behavioral therapy and psychostimulants is usually the traditional approach to treating ADHD, this approach comes with some downsides. For instance, some patients have complained about a reduction in appetite and eventually weight loss upon starting medication.
As such, some mental health practitioners are turning to neurofeedback therapy to improve the brain’s capacity for beta waves and alleviate ADHD symptoms. These waves help us process information and solve problems. On the other hand, high concentrations of theta waves lead to disorganization, difficulties in completing tasks, and high distractibility.
It is therefore not surprising that several studies report a significant improvement when neurofeedback therapy was included in ADHD treatment plans.
Neurofeedback therapy for autism
Autism is a disorder that is characterized by difficulties with speech, communication, socializing, and repetitive behavior. The severity of the condition varies from person to person. As such, there is no one-size-fits-all treatment for this condition – each patient needs a tailor-made approach.
And while most patients rely on traditional forms of treatment like medication, cognitive behavior therapy, and speech-language therapy, some have turned to neurofeedback therapy. But there aren’t many studies on the efficacy of neurofeedback therapy against autism. In fact, some of the supporters of this course of treatment base their belief on research on its efficacy against ADHD.
Even when we consider the few legitimate studies that report that neurofeedback therapy can improve social skills and reduce communication deficits in people with autism, the results are not conclusive. There are gaps in the studies – some have only male participants, some have only adolescents/children and others only have participants with the same type of ADHD.
More importantly, it’s still unclear why neurofeedback therapy worked in some cases and didn’t work in others. Ultimately, there is still a lot that needs to be done to rule out the contribution of other factors.
Neurofeedback therapy side effects
While neurofeedback therapy is painless and non-invasive, it does have some side effects:
If it’s your first time going for a neurofeedback therapy session, anxiety is common. This may be due to apprehension over getting the electrodes over your head or even just nervousness about having a medical procedure done. Either way, this should dissipate as the session progresses.
Unfortunately, neurofeedback therapy can cause depression, particularly when it increases the speed of slower waves. Tragically, this can affect even those who never had depression in the first place.
Instead of improving cognitive function, the therapy session can sometimes impair it.
Due to the anxiety that can be a result of neurofeedback therapy, some patients experience vocal changes as well.
If you hire a neuro therapist who isn’t properly trained, you may experience brain fog and feel spacey during and after your therapy session. However, this is usually short-lived and will dissipate over time.
Dizziness and fatigue
When neurofeedback therapy increases or reduces the speed of your brainwaves, you can get tired or dizzy for a while.
Depersonalization is the experience of feeling that you are watching yourself from the outside. It can be the result of a change in the electrical activity of the part of your brain that’s responsible for your overall awareness.
While it is uncommon, pressure is sometimes felt in the part of the head that’s targeted by the therapy.
If neurofeedback therapy isn’t properly administered, particularly when dealing with high-frequency waves like gamma and beta, muscle tension can result.
If your neuro therapist targets the wrong side of your brain, you could get a headache afterward. This also happens as a result of training faster high-frequency waves. While this usually resolves on its own, sometimes it escalates to a full-blown migraine.
Worsening of symptoms
While this therapy is supposed to improve brain functioning, it can make your symptoms worse, especially when it isn’t done properly. However, this side effect is usually temporary.
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- 11.S. Jenkins, View of Combined Neurofeedback and Heart Rate Variability Training for Individuals with Symptoms of Anxiety and Depression: A Retrospective Study, View of Combined Neurofeedback and Heart Rate Variability Training for Individuals with Symptoms of Anxiety and Depression: A Retrospective Study.; Retrieved September 29, 2022, from https://www.neuroregulation.org/article/view/16935/11343
- 22.F. Peeters, M. Oehlen, J. Ronner, J. van Os and R. Lousberg, Neurofeedback As a Treatment for Major Depressive Disorder – A Pilot Study, Neurofeedback As a Treatment for Major Depressive Disorder – A Pilot Study | PLOS ONE.; Retrieved September 29, 2022, from https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0091837
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