Neurofeedback is one of the most amazing technologies at our disposal for so many reasons. It’s an invaluable tool for overall resilience, cognitive flexibility, mental health management, sleep enhancement, and so much more. One of the most common questions I get, however, is how on earth does it work? I’m going to do my best to explain it here for you!
Dynamic Neurofeedback Training
The type of neurofeedback training that we use here at Alongside You is called dynamic neurofeedback. What this means is that our neurofeedback system constantly monitors the brain using electroencephalography (EEG) and provides feedback to train your brain. To put this into perspective, our system monitors the brain 256 times per second. That’s a lot of feedback!
The feedback happens through video and audio sources. During neurofeedback training, you’ll be watching a computer screen that displays a variety of moving images and listening to an audio soundtrack. The neurofeedback system monitors your brain activity through EEG, and when it senses that your brain activity on the various wavelengths is outside of the optimal range for your brain, it interrupts the video and audio signals briefly. Because this interruption is tied to your specific brain activity, your brain knows to connect the dots. This allows your brain to know what it is doing at that point in time, and adjust accordingly.
I Still Don’t Get How It Works Andrew!
Let me explain a little bit more then! One of our misconceptions is that because our brain is constantly working, it must know what it’s doing at all times. This is unfortunately not the case. It’s like when I grew around 6 inches in one year, I kept walking into door frames because I didn’t realize where my shoulders were in 3-D space! What our brain is able to do, however, is adjust itself for optimal health if it has the information it needs. Neurofeedback training is what helps provide the necessary information for the brain to change itself.
Imagine you’re driving. Anyone who has driven for any length of time knows that the mind wanders sometimes. Every once in a while, we’ll wander too far to the right and our right tires will go over the shoulder, and we’ll feel a rub strip or gravel under the tires, and hear a noise that signals to us that we are over the shoulder. What happens next is automatic – we naturally move over to the left a little bit. We generally don’t even need to think about it, we just do it. This is analogous to what happens with our brain during neurofeedback training. The interruptions in the audio and video signal to the brain where it is on the wavelengths. The brain uses this information and adjusts itself accordingly. Over time, this training helps the brain stay within the optimal range on the various wavelengths on an ongoing basis.
How Long Does Neurofeedback Training Take?
This is the million-dollar question! It’s also an understandable one. We all want to know how long something is going to take. It’s really no different than wanting to know how long counselling is going to take. Unfortunately, the answer may not be any more gratifying than the answer to how long counselling is going to take: it depends.
Here’s the truth – it depends because every brain is different. It’s also challenging to predict because dynamic neurofeedback training is not a specific treatment for a specific symptom, it is a whole-brain training aimed at helping the entire brain function better. Because of this, we can’t claim that neurofeedback will cure your anxiety, depression, or otherwise. What we can say, however, is that by helping your brain to function better, symptoms that exist because your brain is not functioning at its best are likely to improve. What I can say, is that this has definitely been my experience in working with clients with neurofeedback. Symptoms of concern do improve, our ability to manage any remaining symptoms gets better, and we become more flexible and resilient, but it takes time.
It may be helpful to think of neurofeedback training as gym training for your brain. When we go to the gym, we don’t see much improvement after one workout. We see improvement over a series of workouts, and over a consistent effort to train. How fast each of us builds muscle, and get in shape depends on a whole lot of variables, so in the same way, we can’t predict how long it’s going to take for you to build the muscles you want and get in the shape you’re looking for. What we do know, however, is that if you train consistently over time, you’ll build muscle, and you’ll get in better shape.
How Do You Know It Works?
This is a great question. Monitoring brain changes can be challenging, but here’s how we do it. Before you start, we use a variety of tracking tools to track the symptoms you have concerns about, and over the course of the sessions, we repeat these tracking tools to look at improvements. In addition, we check in with you each session to see how things are going and what you’re noticing. The true indication of whether it’s helping is the answer to a very simple question: “How do you feel now versus how you felt before we started?” Sometimes it’s hard to notice the shifts, and this is where we can also help you monitor by asking the right questions to pick up on shifts.
I have noticed significant positive results in my clients who have done neurofeedback training. In fact, it’s uncanny how positive it has been. I hope this article has helped explain a bit more about neurofeedback, how it works, and how it might be helpful. If you have any more questions, give us a call and we’d be happy to answer them!