What is Neurofeedback?

By Myrna Martin, MN, RCC, RCST®

A: Neurofeedback is a specific type of biofeedback procedure directed toward the renormalization of the brain and central nervous system.  It utilizes the very tiny EEG (electroencephalogram) signals obtained from sensors on the scalp, to monitor the brainwaves and provide a corresponding signal (feedback) to the brain.  In short, Neurofeedback is brainwave training, a tool for the brain to directly learn flexibility, mental control and increased stability.

Well-described patterns of optimal brain function are cultivated over sessions, accompanied by diminution or elimination of pathologic conditions as the brain orchestrates its own improvements.  Results are at least long-lasting, often permanent, and continue to advance following training.

Common applications of Neurofeedback include addressing learning disabilities, particularly those involving, or related to, ADD or ADHD.  Such individuals frequently show a “slowing” pattern in their EEG (Electroencephalogram), so-called because of either the pronounced level, or “surging”, of Delta and/or Theta (slower, or lower frequency) waves.  Training to ameliorate these signature patterns over several sessions has been shown to increase the trainee’s ability to attend and focus.  Such patterns are frequently experienced following brain injury or insult, and in these cases often respond quickly to neurofeedback.

Q: What is LENS Neurofeedback?

A: LENS is a specific type of Neurofeedback.

The LENS Low Energy Neurofeedback System provides feedback to the brain in the form of an extremely weak electromagnetic signal.  Although the feedback signal is weak, it results in a measurable change in the brainwaves, all without conscious effort from the individual receiving the feedback.  This aspect is especially welcome with young children, or those unable to fully consciously cooperate.

The unique LENS procedure creates a highly personalized and detailed plan that accelerates the training process.

During the session, the trainee sits in a comfortable chair, typically for about 45 minutes.  The Neurofeedback Practitioner places an EEG (electroencephalograph) lead at different sites on the trainee’ s head.  A computer that is connected to the EEG encoder analyzes the brainwave signal and signals the encoder to produce feedback that precisely tracks, and is offset from, the brain’s own signal at that point in time.

The procedure is completely painless and results are often noticed immediately.

The result of this training is a changed brainwave state and greater ability for the brain to regulate itself for higher, more flexible functioning.

What is CNS dysregulation?

A: CNS dysregulation is a condition that may underlie the following:

  • Difficulty in concentration
  • Mood swings that seem hard to control
  • Sleep disturbance
  • Low mental and emotional energy
  • Memory problems
  • Difficulty with organization
  • Problems beginning and ending projects.
  • Major Depression
  • Anxiety or Panic Attacks
  • Tics
  • Mental fogginess or lack of clarity
  • Inability to stay on track(maintain desired focus)

If a person experiences three or more of the above, there is a likelihood that CNS dysregulation is present, and that one would benefit from LENS Neurofeedback.

Q: How many training sessions does it take?

A:  As you might expect, this depends on the individual, the issue being addressed, and often the length of time the issue has been in place.  For one practitioner, in one specific practice, the average over all clients is about 20 training sessions.  Some trainees may be complete in 6 or even fewer sessions (more typical of certain mild traumatic brain injury), while others may require 30 or more sessions.

The brain is mapped initially, and at intervals throughout the training.  The brain map shows a 2D color image of the brain that reflects the training progress, updates the training plan and helps to determine when training is complete.

Issues that are similar to ones your parents or even your grandparents had, may take longer.  Serious disorders such as Cerebral Palsy, Stroke, and Paralysis, may require many sessions, but over time, there is usually a steady gradient of improvement, rather than decline.

Q: Are there any dangers?

A:  LENS and Neurofeedback have never been known to cause any new problems.  However, like homeopathy, and other subtle and energy-based healing methods, they may occasionally cause a temporary intensification of symptoms that have been experienced in the past, as part of the process of the condition being resolved.  The best preventative is to let your practitioner know at each visit how you have fared in the 24 hours following each training session.  An optimal level of stimulus intensity and duration can then be found that operates within the level of comfort of each individual.

Q: What else can Neurofeedback help?

A:  The following is a short list:

  • ADD/ADHD/Conduct issues
  • Addictions/Addictive behavior
  • Anger and Rage
  • Anxiety/Panic Attacks
  • Autism
  • Chronic Fatigue Syndrome
  • Depression
  • Epilepsy/Seizures
  • Fibromyalgia
  • Headaches (Migraine, Cluster and Tension)
  • Head Injury Symptoms (like fogginess and confusion)
  • Insomnia and poor sleep
  • Peak Performance (Sports & Corporate)
  • PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder)
  • Symptoms of Alzheimer’s
  • Tics / Involuntary muscle movement

Q: What are some of the potential benefits of Neurofeedback training?

  • Optimize cognitive performance and motor skills
  • Enhance attention span and focus
  • Diminish hyperactivity
  • Normalize sleep
  • Decrease anxiety and depression
  • Reduce irritability, mood swings
  • Encourage friendships and socializing

Q: What happens if Neurofeedback clients are taking medications?

A:  With successful neurofeedback training, medications targeting brain function may no longer be needed or they may be needed at lower dosages as the brain takes over the role of regulating itself.  Although neurofeedback typically takes longer to produce change than medications do, it appears to yield long-term benefits in all key areas of attention span, impulse control, academic achievement and social adjustment without  the physiological side effects often associated with medication.  Those on medication should be closely monitored by their physician, as dosage changes may be (and typically are) indicated.  Although certain specific medications may slow down the training effects of neurofeedback, it is not necessary (and typically not desirable) to discontinue existing medications in order to do neurofeedback.

Q: What are the research results?

A:  80% of adults who received neurofeedback as children for ADD showed continued positive focus results in a three, five and ten year follow-up study.  Decreases in impulsivity, distractibility and hyperactivity and increase in IQ have been documented in over 50 studies.  As neurofeedback dramatically shifts the brain’s arousal level, modifying the usual response to fear, many otherwise intractable, brain-based emotional problems decrease.  See the comprehensive neurofeedback study bibliography prepared by D. Corydon Hammond, PhD, Professor, Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation, University of Utah School of Medicine.  It is organized by areas of interest.

Q: How do I find out more? 

Read the book,  The Healing Power of Neurofeedback: The Revolutionary LENS Technique for Restoring Optimal Brain Function (Paperback) by Stephen LarsenThom Hartmann, PhD (Foreword).

Set up a two-hour interview and initial LENS Brain Map. This meeting includes a more detailed inquiry into whatever issues you are experiencing, and how our approaches might address and ameliorate them.  You can ask any questions you wish during this interview, and obtain detailed information on how neurofeedback works, and an estimate of its likelihood of working for you.

  • Explore LENS neurofeedback by checking the Family Area link from the International Society for Neuronal Regulation, on the following page: http://www.isnr.org .

Lobe Specialization and Functions: from Getting Started with Neurofeedback (2005) by John N. Demos,  published by Norton

Frontal lobes- sites: FP1, FP2, FZ, F3, F4, F7, F8

Key Functions: attention, memory, social awareness, character, motivation, planning, prefrontal lobes have connections leading to the amygdala so are involved in emotional regulation.  They modulate emotions, and give social awareness, empathy, time management and initiative.

FZ AND FP SITES may have an impact on social behavior and consciousness. FP1 and 2 may help when clients have excessive fear as a result of trauma, anxiety and neglect.  Neurofeedback training to the right prefrontal cortex may lead to a reduction in fear, and assist with developing a sense of clam and well being.

Parietal Lobes: PZ, P3, P4

Key functions: math, naming objects, complex grammar, spatial awareness

The parietal lobes solve problems that have been conceptualized by the frontal lobes..they are the association cortex.  Complex math processing is in the left parietal, but the right parietal is strong in spatial processing so is also involved.  The posterior parietal lobe allows us to attend to multiple objects at one time, and to shift attention from one location to another, andperhaps from one sensory modality to another.

Temporal Lobes: T3,T4, T5, T6

Key functions:  Left hemisphere: verbal memories, word recognition, reading language, emotion

Right hemisphere: music, facial recognition, social cues, object recognition, and close proximity to the amygdala (emotion) and hippocampus (memory).  Long term memory has two branches..semantic and episodic.  Semantic memory includes the recall of objects and word understanding. This memory extends form the mid-temporal into the hippocampsl lobes. Episodic memory involves functional tasks like remembering to pay bills, where you put your glasses or keys. It involves connections into the prefrontal cortex.

In some dyslexia the two main language areas may not work in concert and therefore an important neural link in the insula cortex is not activated.

Occipital Lobes: Sites are OZ, O1, O2

Key functions: visual field, helps to locate objects in the environment, see colors and recognize drawings and correctly identify objects, reading, writing, and spelling depend upon an accurate visual field, some connections extend to the amygdala, so emotional regulation involved. Traumatic memories that accompany visual flashbacks are often processed in the occipital lobes.  PTSD is part of a pattern that is a unique connection between the visual cortex and the amygdala.  This can also be involved in depression and anxiety.

Sensory and Motor (sensorimotor) Cortex: Sites are C3, C4, CZ.  It is the division between the parietal and the frontal lobes and serve as a junction that co ordinates movement, and especially movement guided by sensation.

Key functions: the primary motor cortex: conscious control of all skeletal muscle movements.  This cortex runs parallel with the sensory cortex which manages spatial discrimination and the ability to identify where bodily sensations originate.

Damage in the right sensory cortex compromises reasoning/decision making and emotion/feeling and disrupts the processes of basic body signaling.  The motor cortex maintains skillful movement and smooth repetitive operations including fluid speaking.  Neurofeedback here can assist in stroke, epilepsy, ADHD and disorders of sensory/motor integration. The sensorimotor cortex shares in both physical and mental/emotional processes.

Cingulate Gyrus: Sites: Fpz, FZ, CZ, PZ

Key functions: contributes to mental flexibility, cooperation, attention, helps the brain t shift gears and helps the child to make transitions, helps the mind to let go of problems and concerns, helps the body to stop ritualistic movements and tics, contributes to the brain circuitry that oversees motivation, the social self, and our personality, is closely aligned with the amygdala.  It also has a role in orientation in space, eye and sensory monitoring services.  In ADHD and anxietythe cingulated gyrus sites are involved with emotion/feeling, attention and working memory.