The purpose of neurofeedback is to teach the brain to regulate itself. What is the brain learning to regulate? That is complicated to explain because the brain does more than one job.
One task that the brain does is to control body movement (example: walking, talking, bending, etc) and body function (breathing for example). Another task is recognizing what our senses notice and reacting to those senses (sight, hearing, touch, taste, smell, etc). Then there is thought and memory tasks. And, the last of this list of brain tasks, emotion and behavior. The amazing thing is that the brain does all of this at the same time. Wow! That’s a lot of multi-tasking going on.
Much about the brain is unexplained and what is known is always evolving. Amongst the early studies of the brain discovered that different parts of the brain manage different brain functions. Many refer to these different brain parts as brain centers. These brain centers communicate by sending electric charges to each other. These electric charges are more currently described as brain waves. Science has labeled these brain waves based on speed, tone and height. The functions of these brain waves vary depending on which brain centers are involved.
Neurofeedback has been around since the 1940’s. As happens with technology, how neurofeedback is done has changed dramatically from its early days. My first neurofeedback session was a baseline study involving eyes open and eyes closed. Sensors were placed on my scalp. I listened to gentle music for 10 minutes with my eyes open. Then again for another 10 minutes with my eyes closed. Based on these findings a doctor designed a protocol, a plan of neurofeedback treatment. I’ve had three protocols. A protocol has 15 neurofeedback sessions that happen two or three times a week; roughly five or seven weeks of training. The training sessions involved watching 11 – 15 minutes of video while wearing the same sensors used in the baseline study. My psychologist observed the feedback and, if necessary, adjusted the wave signals the technology put out to provide training to my brain At the end of each session a numerical score is provided by the technology to label the effectiveness of the training it observed. At the end of each protocol a new brain scan is done to evaluate what was accomplished and determine how to proceed.
My first protocol was designed to address Adult Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) and it was easy to evaluate. I had two sessions a week. My ability to focus and communicate improved dramatically, quickly.
My second protocol was designed to address some hot spots in the trauma centers of my brain. This protocol was more difficult to assess. Things got messy quickly. By messy, I mean that I began to dissociate which introduced an unexpected element of chaos in my life. Please see my blog on the second protocol for a more complete explanation of what happened. I was doing neurofeedback twice a week, so it was a seven week protocol. The chaos in my life began to settle down between the third and fourth week.
My third protocol was designed to address the dissociation I was experiencing. I wanted to increase to three sessions a week, but scheduling conflicts intervened. Most of the time I had two sessions a week. The best way to describe this protocol is that it felt like I was being stuffed into a metaphorical box; which was bizarre. This stuffed in the box feeling went away by the third or fourth week. The dissociation didn’t go away, but the way I experienced it changed. Please see the post on dissociation for a better explanation as to how it changed. It was at this point that I asked a question that I probably should have asked sooner. ‘How do I know that neurofeedback is working?’
Shana, my psychologist, gave me this answer. To paraphrase, everybody has habits they’ve developed to deal with emotional/mental distress, good examples are eating and sleeping habits. A lot people who have experienced success with neurofeedback report noticing when they feel satiated after eating or improved sleep habits.
I had noticed the difference between being hungry or triggered into emotional eating and the choices I was making. I also noticed the difference between feeling exhausted due to long work hours and exhaustion due to emotional/mental stress. In addition to the different types of exhaustion, I also noticed that there was a difference between the types of rest associated with dissociation and depression. A nap after dissociation was immediately dropping into sleep and waking refreshed and reset. Depressed and retreating to bed was laying in bed obsessing over my depression; if I do sleep, I don’t wake feeling refreshed or reset.