One of the questions I sometimes get asked is whether we do qEEG and linear neurofeedback here at Alongside You. Invariably, my answer is, “No, we use dynamic neurofeedback.” Understandably, people wonder why that is, so I thought I’d take a minute to explain why we use dynamic neurofeedback vs linear neurofeedback training. Before I continue, let me be very clear on one thing – both linear, and dynamic neurofeedback work, they are simply different approaches with different upsides and potential downsides. When we looked at our clinic and practice, the dynamic is what fit best for what we do.
A Very Brief History of Neurofeedback Training
Although many people still have not heard of neurofeedback, it has been around for decades, going back as far as the 1950s and 1960s and to research performed by Dr. Joseph Kamiya from the University of Chicago, and Dr. Barry Sterman at UCLA. Since then, there has been an amazing amount of research on, and development of neurofeedback with a wide variety of clinical applications.
The most well-known form of linear neurofeedback these days involves the use of qEEG brain imaging and mapping. From this, it is thought that diagnostics can be derived, and specific areas treated to relieve specific symptoms. Many people have used qEEG and the different linear neurofeedback protocols with great success. This method appeals to our rational brains as well, because it gives us an image, with a diagnosis, and a specific form of treatment based on protocols.
Why linear neurofeedback is both appealing and problematic
I’ll admit, this approach appeals to my scientific, rational brain that likes numbers, graphs, and black and white answers. The problem is, the science of linear neurofeedback isn’t, in my opinion, as black and white as it may appear. While linear neurofeedback favours training at specific sites, research suggests that at any given site on the scalp, sensors will pick up signals from across the brain, both from under the surface and across the scalp. The complexity of brain signalling cannot be overstated, and it may be problematic to assume that training at a certain site will affect all individuals with specific problems in the same way. This problem is made greater when we use DSM diagnoses to guide methods because they are defined by behavioural characteristics of individuals vs specific behaviours as defined by neurologists. There are also multiple subtypes of EEG with reference to DSM categories, including 11 subtypes of ADHD determined by Chabot (1996), for example.1
qEEG is still a helpful tool, and linear neurofeedback does work, it’s just not as black and white as it may appear. General groupings of EEG have been shown to correlate to specific DSM categories, but training based only on qEEG doesn’t guarantee results. Training at specific sites also does not necessarily permanently alter brain activity at that site, but it may in fact do so – we just don’t know and can’t predict that.1
Why dynamic neurofeedback is both appealing and problematic
Let’s be unconventional and start with the problematic part of dynamic neurofeedback – it’s not a specific treatment for a specific symptom. While I’ve briefly highlighted how this is not altogether completely different from linear neurofeedback, linear does have the ability to potentially be more specific to symptoms. So why do we do dynamic neurofeedback training then? What’s the upside? I’m glad you asked.
Dynamic neurofeedback is diagnostically agnostic What this means, is that the protocols do not depend on a specific, accurate diagnosis from the DSM. Dynamic neurofeedback trains the brain as it is, in its current state of being. It constantly evaluates the brain (at approximately 256 times per second) and bases the training on this evaluation, outside of diagnostic categories.
It trains the whole brain, not just part of it The downside is that we can’t specifically say we are treating a specific symptom. The upside is that we can say that we are training the entire brain to function at its best. Thus, anything we are experiencing as a negative symptom that is related to the brain not functioning at its best, we can hope to see improvements in. We can’t guarantee that we’ll see relief in specific areas, but as I’ve already mentioned above, qEEG and linear neurofeedback protocols can’t truly guarantee that either.
There is no chance of clinical error With linear neurofeedback, an evaluation of the brain is done, and a treatment protocol put in place based on the assumption that the brain is showing activity on a certain wavelength, and should be behaving differently. Thus, the brain is manipulated in a particular direction to produce the desired change. If the assumption is correct, we see positive results. If, however, the assumption is wrong, it can introduce negative results, side effects, etc. With dynamic neurofeedback, we don’t manipulate the brain. We present the brain with information about what it is doing in real-time and allow the brain to make the adjustment itself. From current research, we know that the brain is perfectly capable of changing itself and adjusting based on neuroplasticity (you may have heard of The Brain That Changes Itself). Dynamic neurofeedback works on this principle and provides the information the brain needs to make its adjustments. Thus, there is literally no chance of clinical error in this form of neurofeedback.
It helps us reach those who may not be able to access neurofeedback otherwise Because our type of neurofeedback and its protocols are housed within the software, it does not require the same level of training that most linear neurofeedback does. This allows us to be creative in how we deploy it in our clinic. As a Registered Clinical Counsellor, I do all the assessment work involved in tracking for in-clinic neurofeedback. We have trained technicians who run the in-between sessions to keep costs down. We are also able to offer rental units for people to do at home, which allows those who can’t get into the clinic to access it, and also further reduces the per-session costs. This aligns with our mission to provide the best care possible and fill in gaps in service.
I hope this helps explain some of why we use dynamic neurofeedback training in our clinic. It’s an approach that works, produces results, and fits us and our clients best. If you’re curious to know more, check out this page on our website with more explanation and answers to common questions. You can also read more on our blog here.
If you have further questions or want to give it a try, please contact us or give us a call. It’s an amazing technology that we can all benefit from (myself included!).
ADHD is one of the most prevalent psychiatric issues in our society. According to current Canadian statistics, a conservative estimate is that 4% of adults and 5% of children experience ADHD worldwide. It is also one of the most treatable conditions, and often medications can be very helpful. ADHD is a neurodevelopmental disorder that primarily affects the frontal lobe of the brain and impacts executive functioning. What this means is that people suffering from ADHD often experience problems with attention, hyperactivity, decision making, mood regulation, and more.
We see it in children very frequently here at Alongside You. The challenge is that it’s often misdiagnosed, or mis-attributed. Kids with ADHD are often labeled the “bad kids,” or it is assumed that they’re just behaving badly, for no apparent reason. While I can understand this, we have to ask ourselves, “if we suffered from some, or all of the symptoms above, how would manage this in our lives?” The answer, I’m confident, would be a resounding, “not well.”
As I’ve already mentioned, ADHD is quite treatable most of the time, and most often it involves medications. What if the medications don’t work, or don’t work as well as it was hoped? What if the side-effects outweigh the benefits? What if you just don’t want to use medication? This is where neurofeedback training can help.
While medications can be a very helpful treatment, there can be problems, or there can be no effect. Neurofeedback training can be of help with ADHD in a few specific ways. Here are a few ways it can be beneficial.
Improving Executive Function
Executive function is a primary mechanism of our brains. It helps us with many things, including decision making, organizing, impulse control, and many others. ADHD can make these functions very difficult. Neurofeedback can help this is two primary ways. First, the training can help the brain optimize its inherent abilities. The training can help regain function in the frontal lobes, and also, can help optimize the function that is already there through strengthening existing neural connections, and creating new ones.
Second, neurofeedback training can help the limbic system calm down. Here’s why that’s important. The limbic system controls our fight or flight response. There is mounting evidence that limbic activity, particularly an overactive limbic system, is involved in particular forms of ADHD, and also in aspects of any form of ADHD. When our limbic system activates, its’ job is to keep us safe. Here’s the problem – it can’t tell the difference between anxiety, fear, or stress. Think of the kids you know with ADHD and how often you see these three things in their presence. When the limbic system activates and becomes highly engaged, it shuts off the frontal lobe. Lights out. What this means, is no more executive functioning.
Therefore, it stands to reason that if we can reduce the activity of the limbic system, it will help preserve executive functioning. Neurofeedback training can help the limbic system relax through training that area of the brain, and also through interacting with the central nervous system (CNS) and reducing activation.
Mood regulation, or the lack thereof, is often a part of the presentation of ADHD. Our brains are our bodies are integral in our emotion regulation and management. Through training the brain and the CNS, neurofeedback can help to optimize the emotion centres of the brain and relax the CNS. If our emotion centres are running optimally and our CNS is less stressed, our emotions stay more consistent and manageable.
Many individuals with ADHD have difficulty sleeping. One of the advantages of ADHD is that many folks with ADHD are very creative. The downside of this is that thoughts are many, and can run rampant. Bedtime is one of the quietest parts of our day and nothing is there to stop our thoughts from running free!
Neurofeedback can often help regulate our sleep patterns through brain training, CNS activity regulation, and reduction of stress and anxiety. If we do these things, and sleep improves, our overall stress level goes down, the brain runs more optimally, and our emotions stay more in control.
The brain is an amazing organ in our bodies, and central to all of our functioning. ADHD impacts the brain in many strange and wonderful ways. While treatment for ADHD should always be multimodal, neurofeedback training can be a very valuable tool for kids and for adults struggling with this condition.
If you’re interested in trying it, please contact us or give us a call. If you have any further questions, we’d be happy to answer them!
I remember when I found music. It was on an old church piano sometime before the age of 6. I grew up around music, both listening to it, and also as a part of my culture. There’s an old joke that Mennonite folk are born signing four-part harmony. The funny part is that it’s not so far from the truth. I remember how it felt to hear notes, and how it felt to play them. I remember how there was so much going on inside of me that I couldn’t figure out how to get out of my head and out of my heart – except through those old piano keys.
Recently, American Idol crowned its newest winner, Laine Hardy. While Laine is certainly a talented guy, I’ve been fascinated by one of the other contestants throughout the entire season this year. He is a meek, quiet guy, who is an immensely talented musician. He hasn’t said much about his history, but you can tell he’s been through some stuff. He has said that he hasn’t had much support in his life, and that’s part of what has made the support of fans so overwhelming for him – and you can tell that it is overwhelming when you watch him on the screen.
The contestant’s name is Alejandro Aranda, or as many know him, simply “Homie.” He said something during one of the videos they played on the final episode that stuck with me. He said, and I paraphrase, that kids need to be encouraged to find themselves in music and express their emotions. It got me thinking about how my life may have turned out if I hadn’t found music. From the little I know about this contestant’s life, I can’t imagine where he would be without music. It’s clear that a key to his resilience, and certainly mine, has been music.
What Is Resilience?
The answer to this question could be multiple posts long, but for our purposes, I want to define resilience this way:
Resilience isn’t finding the perfect balance and constantly withstanding what life throws at you; resilience is finding a way to thrive in the midst of challenges, knowing that your thriving will sometimes be messy. It is finding your way in life, using the unique gifts you’ve been given, to forge a path and a way forward despite the difficulties.
For me this has been using music to be mindful, to prove that I can challenge myself, to express emotions that defy the words that I can produce through the English language, and to find a way to use my own challenges to make something that encourages others and brings us closer together.
What Is Celebrating Resilience?
Celebrating Resilience is a partnership between our good friend Radina of Radina Photography and our own social venture, Alongside You. Celebrating Resilience is a gallery showing to highlight the resilience in our local community and encourage others who may be struggling. The exhibit will showcase 9 portraits and stories of recovery and resilience in the areas of mental health, chronic illness, abusive relationships, and more. You can read more of Radina’s story and how she came up with the exhibit idea here. What is so great about this project is it gives a platform for people to have a voice in their resilience, to tell their story, and to do good in the community at the same time.
We are using the show to raise funds for our Step Forward Program here at Alongside You that subsidizes our services for people who need financial assistance. We’re hoping to raise $15,000 toward services for the community.
Join Us For Celebrating Resilience
We would love for you to join us on June 1, 2019, from 6:30pm-9:30pm at Stir Coffee House to see the images and stories of resilience in our community. Come, and be encouraged by those who have gone through it. Find common ground in the community, and perhaps find the courage to share your own journey.
After the opening, the images and stories will remain at Stir Coffee House for some time; after this, they will be distributed in the community through local businesses and organizations for a second showing.
Click here to let us know you’re coming on our Facebook event, and share with your friends!
Our Thank You To Our Supporters
This project, and show could not take place without support. We have brought on corporate sponsors, and we are looking for private sponsors to continue the project, and to continue the work we do through the Step Forward Program. If you’d like to sponsor as an individual, please click here where you can submit a sponsorship through our website – please put “Celebrating Resilience” in the dedication box. If you’re a business and want to sponsor, please contact Andrew through email by clicking here.
Our sponsors are incredible. Without their generosity, this project would not happen. Please see below for our corporate partners, and we look forward to seeing you on June 1st!
Let’s face it, we all have times where we feel absolutely exhausted. Parents, I’m looking at you! But we can’t blame it all on our children, as tempting as it may be! Sometimes we’re exhausted because we haven’t been sleeping (or maybe our kids haven’t been), we’ve picked up yet another cold/flu bug that’s going around, or we’re busy at work and the tasks never seem to end – the list goes on!
Does this sound familiar? If not, then either you’re superhuman, or you’re using the ever-so-often-used coping strategy of denial. Either way, let’s go on the assumption that you’ve felt exhausted for these, or other reasons at some point in your life. I know I have. What do we do? Life doesn’t stop! Responsibilities don’t stop! In fact, it almost seems like when I run into one of these times of feeling exhausted, life looks at me and says, “You don’t think you could be more tired? Challenge accepted!”
So, what do we do when we hit these times, and simply lying on a beach for a few months to recuperate isn’t an option?
We need to pay attention to our sleep
I know, we’re all superheroes that can survive on 4 hours of sleep, right? Wrong. It does appear that some people have a rare gene mutation that allows them to get by on less sleep than the rest of us, but most of us actually need more sleep than we get. According to research done by the National Sleep Foundation, and many others, adults need 7-9 hours of sleep per night, on average.
But it’s not just the length of time, it’s also the quality of sleep that matters. We need solid, deep sleep to get the rest we need. If we’re constantly waking up, taking a long time to fall asleep, or waking up too early then our sleep cycle is off and may need some help.
We need to pay attention to our mood and anxiety levels
Anyone who has ever struggled with anxiety, depression, or other related conditions knows the toll it takes on our energy. One of the hallmark symptoms of depression is exhaustion and lack of energy; it’s a direct symptom and consequence of the condition. Anxiety, on the other hand, produces the same result but for slightly different reasons. If anything, anxiety increases energy, but in turn, it takes an incredible amount of energy to manage our anxiety.
If we’re exhausted, one of the questions we need to be asking ourselves is, “How are my mood and anxiety levels? Am I more agitated lately? Am I noticing symptoms of depression? What’s my anxiety like?” If our mood is low and our anxiety is high, we’re likely going to feel tired!
We need to pay attention to our body
I’ve written many times before that the separation between the brain and the body is a complete myth. Our energy level is another area that highlights this. Just as our brain can give us clues as to what is going on, so can our body. If you’re feeling tired, how does your body feel? Here are a few things to look for:
General tightness in your body, and even unexplained pain: this could be a symptom of anxiety and/or stress.
Gastrointestinal (GI) issues: not surprisingly, one of the number one symptoms of anxiety in terms of our physiology is GI upset.
Muscle fatigue: if you’re not feeling as strong as usual, this may be a sign of exhaustion.
Shortness of breath: this can be another common symptom of anxiety. If you feel like it’s hard to take a breath, or hard to fully inflate your lungs and there’s no medical reason for it, this may be a clue that anxiety is hanging around with you.
Restlessness: having a hard time sitting still? Legs won’t stop moving?
Sweatiness: if you feel like you’re going through puberty and/or menopause because you can’t stop sweating and you’re not sure why anxiety may be the culprit. Note: being in the middle of puberty and/or menopause does not preclude anxiety also being a part of the picture!
Okay, I’m Tired. What Do I Do About It?
If you’ve ever been to a Registered Clinical Counsellor about your mood, anxiety, energy levels, or all of the above, they’ve probably made some suggestions about your sleep, diet, and exercise. These are the top three ways to manage mood and anxiety with natural and healthy habits. What if you’re doing those things and it’s still not helping? I’d like to suggest another method that may be able to address all of the areas above in one fell swoop: neurofeedback.
What Is Neurofeedback?
Neurofeedback is a brain training that uses both computer and EEG technology to help our brains function more efficiently. Many conditions may be a result of our brains not functioning at their best, and neurofeedback helps our brain train to regain its optimal function. Think of it as going to the gym for your brain. That is, it helps our brain train to function at its best, through learning what it is doing currently, and training itself to go back to operating within the correct parameters it was designed to work within.
How can neurofeedback help me be less tired
Neurofeedback can help us regain our energy and be less tired in three main ways, directly related to what we’ve covered in this article today. First, it can help our sleep cycle get back to normal. When our brain is operating in a less than optimal manner, our brain stops functioning at its best. This includes the areas associated with sleep. Neurofeedback can help these areas regain optimum function, and can help our brain calm itself and relax before going to bed.
Second, neurofeedback can help us regulate our mood. One of the number ones uses for neurofeedback, in my experience, and where we see beneficial results is in mood regulation. When our mood is off, so are the various wavelengths in our brains, as well as our neurotransmitters. Whether it’s anxiety, depression, anger, or otherwise, our mood impacts our ability to rest and impacts the amount of energy needed to maintain our mood. Neurofeedback can train our brain to function better and manage our mood better at the biological level.
Finally, neurofeedback can relax our brain and our bodies. By helping our sleep and our mood, it relieves the load placed on our brain and our bodies. It also acts directly on the Central Nervous System (CNS) and helps our body relax. This is why it’s very common for clients to feel physically tired after a session.
Think about it – if we’re wound up as tight as a top, our nerves, muscles, and everything else are using energy to stay wound up. If we help these areas relax by relaxing the CNS, we’ll feel tired. Similar effects can be found using yoga and other methods. Neurofeedback targets the brain and our nervous system directly to produce the relaxation response, which in turn, helps us rest and recover. Neurofeedback can induce the relaxation response, which has been studied and shown repeatedly to reduce stress. The other benefit of neurofeedback? We don’t have to do anything. If we can sit in a chair and stare at a screen while listening to music, we can do neurofeedback.
Is neurofeedback the “magic pill” that cures all?
I wish! No, neurofeedback is not the magic pill that cures all, but it is a technology that can significantly help our sleep, mood, body, and energy levels. The catch is that we still need to do the other things that keep us healthy – that is, have healthy sleep habits, eat healthy food, and exercise. But, neurofeedback is one of the ways at getting at the biology of the brain directly and helping it function at its best. In conjunction with these other healthy habits, it can be a game changer!
Curious? Give us a call or contact us. We’d be happy to discuss how neurofeedback may be able to help you get your energy back!
You know when you meet someone for the first time and you just “click?” So do I. Meg and I just got back from a whirlwind tour of Calgary to go do something with one of these people. We flew out Tuesday morning and got back late last night. Driving back home, Meg even said, “We were here yesterday, it seems like such a long time ago!”
You see, this was a new experience for us. There were a series of firsts – the first time we’d sponsored an event in another province; the first time we’d travelled out of the province to provide a workshop together; the first time we’d tried to bring an art studio with us on a plane; the first time we did any of this with someone we’d only ever met once. All of this, because when we were told about the project and asked if we’d help, we said, “How can we help?”
The event was Let’s Talk Hope, with our new friends at National Hope Talks, and was a part of Bell’s annual Let’s Talk Day. Aside from being a sponsor for the event, our role was to talk about what we’re noticing in our context with regard to mental health and to lead a workshop on resilience and hope and human connection and how to use art as a vehicle to bring hope to ourselves and others.
One of the focuses of the conference was getting beyond talking, and figuring out what to do about mental health, from all perspectives; from professionals in mental health to artists and creatives, to those struggling, and everything in between. All perspectives are welcomed and valued, and solutions are sought – even if they seem like pipe dreams.
I came home on a bit of a high (albeit an exhausted one) because I was so inspired by the crew we joined to make this conference happen, and by all of the over 200 participants and what they brought to the table. Writing this article today, however, is bittersweet for me because today marks the anniversary of a close childhood friend who we lost to suicide. A friend who was immensely talented, had personality in spades, left a child and family behind, and who I assume, could not see a way out or a way to have hope.
This is why hope matters. Mental illness is not just a clever advertising campaign or something for us to feel good about when we do something one day out of the year to raise some awareness. Mental illness can be a matter of life or death.
When we held conversations at the conference about what brings hope, the overwhelming common thread that was repeated time and time again, was the connection. Human connection trumps any other intervention in the books. I want to suggest three ways we can get beyond talking about mental health, and move toward action and creating a hope movement in our communities.
1. We need to get over ourselves and out of our comfort zones.
We’re all here, because we’re not all there, and that’s ok. There, I’ve said it. As someone who has struggled with mental health since the age of 6, I’ve known for a long time that something was different about my brain and body and how that showed up in terms of mental health. I’m now at a place where most days are ok, but this has not always been the case. In fact, there were many years where this was not the case.
Here’s the thing, if we have a mental illness and our belief is that we have to be okay, then we stop connecting with others and cut off the best “treatment” we’ve got. We also stop connecting with each other, which is an invaluable resource and a vital part of our community. If we push this further, even if we don’t struggle with a mental illness, we won’t connect with someone else who is hurting if we aren’t feeling 100% good ourselves for many reasons, not the least of which being our belief that it’s not ok to not be okay, and we can’t possibly help anyone else if we’re not at our best.
Let me tell you, there would be no mental health professionals in this world if this were true, myself included.
2. We have to stop believing that mental health professionals are the only ones who can help someone who is struggling with a mental illness.
Over and over again I was reminded of this while at the conference this week. On our team of presenters and organizers, we had rappers, hip hop artists, spoken word poets, dancers, motivational speakers, visual artists, brain scientists, pastors, business coaches, and more. Guess what? I learned a lot. Some of what others brought out were things that either I wouldn’t have thought of, or really needed reminding of.
Meg presented on using art and journaling to bring resilience and hope, and let me tell you – the feedback was phenomenal. We had one woman come up to us after and explain the role that journaling played for her in her recovery from abusive relationships; moving from wanting to burn all of the entries, to now using them as reminders of where she’s come from, the victories she’s had, and the hope she now has with her new life. It was unbelievably powerful to hear her story and those of many others.
3. We need to remember that there is not a single thing on earth more powerful in recovery from mental illness than relationships and healthy human connection.
This is one of the things that I have been reminded of over and over again in the past few weeks. We now have over 20 years of research proving this, much of it coming from the scientific studies of marriage and relationships from the likes of The Gottman Institute, ICEFFT and Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy, as well as the trauma research from people like Besel Van Der Kolk.
If we want to give people hope who are struggling with mental illness, we need to be willing to connect with them and be a safe relationship for them. We need to be willing to get down in the mud, or as I often say to clients, jump into the foxhole together. We have to be willing to not be okay with them, and even to suffer with them. This is the core of empathy, which drives connection and healing.
Now, I never said any of this was going to be easy. Being with someone in their hardest times is sometimes incredibly difficult. In fact, sometimes they won’t let us. But we have to keep trying. Our lives and the lives of our loved ones depend on it. We need each other.
One of my new friends reminded me this weekend of a very important principle that can help us with this. She reminded me, after being reminded by a mental health professional in her life, that when someone is hurting, we need to bring them closer, not push them farther away.
If we can all remember to bring the hurting closer, and be willing to suffer with them, and walk alongside them, then we can bring hope. We can give them, and ourselves hope. We can make a difference.