What is Neurofeedback? – Part 2
The imminent part of almost any doctor’s visit is when they use a (usually freezing) stethoscope to listen to your heartbeat and monitor for any abnormalities. Your practitioner can decipher if there is an exaggerated lag between beats or a problematic thud that may signal valve problems.
I do essentially the same thing with electrodes to the scalp. By placing a little metal disk (and a good heap of conductive paste) on a client’s cranium, I can monitor electrical signals the brain produces. Electroencephalogram (henceforth known as EEG) is the recording that is produced. The raw signal looks strikingly similar to the scribbling I used to produce as a child mimicking cursive – a jagged line bouncing along. This is the amalgam of millions of neurons (brain cells) communicating. Neurons can “talk” to each other by “firing”, or sending an electrical impulse across the tiny void between them. This pattern can repeat itself down a whole chain of neurons to produce a desired outcome, such as a thought or movement. Since we are observing it from an electrical standpoint, we measure all this talking in Hertz.
In a normal individual, it may be difficult to simply look at a person’s raw EEG activity and notice issues. My father has some bizarre ability to do this which I think comes from decades of exposure and being one-quarter superhuman. For the rest of us mortals, we splice up the signal into different brainwaves, designated by frequency. The slowest pattern is called Delta, while the faster brainwaves are called “Beta”, with other designations in between.
Everyone’s brainwave patterns are unique, like a thumbprint. They stay more or less the same throughout your life unless you do something to significantly change them (like neurofeedback). People who have multiple personality disorder (I know that’s not the correct title for it anymore, but it’s more recognizable) will change brainwave patterns depending on which personality is present. (This is also why certain personalities can be nearsighted or diabetic, while others are not. Amazing stuff!)
Brainwave patterns are what your brain has developed in order to get you through life. They are not always the most effective, but by continued use they become the most efficient. An example would be that most traumatized people exhibit too much fast activity, so it is like their brain never rests. Presumably, when they were young, the trauma they experienced made them hypervigilant, and therefore they wanted to always be on alert. Their brain responded by wiring itself so it never slowed down, in order not to miss anything. In neurofeedback training, we would retrain the brain to relax, so that the traumatized person could let go of the anxiety and fatigue of never disengaging.
The beauty of neurofeedback is once the brain has been trained, it will usually continue to operate in the new state. We can create lasting changes. When an ADD person takes Ritalin, they are functional while the medication is in their system, and then lose the focus once it wears off. When we train an ADD person to focus, they usually can maintain that skill more or less permanently. The brain is able to acknowledge the fact that it is able to focus better without having to use any compensatory methods. Even better is our methodology is targeted, so there are almost no side effects. Psychiatric medications carry warnings of inducing sleep problems, weight gain, rampant acne, nausea, headaches, decreased libido, depression, memory loss, stunted growth, and seizures, to name a few. I have the enjoyment in my job of having clients report unexpected benefits of their training, such as improved relationships with their family or spouse, weight loss (from avoiding nervous or compulsive eating), better sleep, increased motivation and productivity, and overall better health. Essentially, I am just a coach to people creating their own success, and that is an exhilarating job to have.