What is Neurofeedback?
Neurofeedback has been around in some form or another for 50+ years. Initially neurofeedback was used to see whether changing the frequencies of the brain could help NASA astronauts control the seizures they experienced after being exposed to jet fuel. What they found, first in cats and then in humans, is that not only did training their brains to emit certain frequencies while inhibiting others allow them to be more in control of their seizures, but it also made them feel more relaxed with a greater capacity to focus.1 Although the technology has been updated over the years — Hartman Counselling and Neurofeedback uses the most recent form called Clarity Direct Neurofeedback — the general principles of neurofeedback have remained the same.
In a nutshell, neurofeedback influences and changes a person’s brainwaves so that the optimal waves are increased, while the brainwaves and brain patterns that many people feel “stuck in” (such as anxiety, depression etc.) are reduced.
Every person’s brain is constantly giving off multiple types of brainwaves. These brainwaves are grouped and given names according to their frequencies: theta, delta, alpha, beta, and gamma. Frequency refers to the number of waves that occur at a specific point in one second (measured in Hertz = Hz). Often waves of similar frequencies share similar characteristics.
For instance, the lowest frequency brainwaves, known as delta waves, are most present when you are sleeping and are responsible for deep sleep functioning. Beta waves on the other hand, which are a higher frequency brainwave, occur most frequency during high attention activities like working on a math problem or writing an email. It is problematic when there is an overabundance or lack of specific brainwaves at a time when it is undesirable.
Consider the following examples. If someone has an overabundance of delta waves while trying to focus at it would be very difficult to do so. This is often seen in individuals with traumatic brain injuries. Or imagine someone who needs to accomplish a list of things but they have too much beta wave activity. An overabundance of beta waves is often related to anxiety, so instead of accomplishing a lot the person becomes overwhelmed because they are unable to relax, plan ahead, or problem solve. In both these examples the brain is not functioning in a way that is best for the individual at the given moment.
How Does Clarity Direct Neurofeedback Work?
During a Clarity Direct Neurofeedback session 5 electrodes are strategically placed on the scalp. These are connected to software that displays a live feed of the clients’ brainwaves. Using that information the neurofeedback practitioner chooses a protocol to run which sends an extremely small signal back to the brain. This signal is not physically felt but is fine-tuned to the individual’s brain so that “stuck” brain patterns are gently moved (i.e their frequency is changed) allowing the brain can reorganize itself in a more optimal way – like re-booting a frozen computer.
The goal of each session is to activate the parasympathetic nervous system, also known as the “rest and digest” system. At the same time, neurofeedback decreases the response of the sympathetic nervous system which is responsible for the “flight, fight or freeze” response.
When the parasympathetic nervous system is activated, changes may be noted immediately in session or up to a few hours after. Clients most commonly describe these changes as feeling calmer, more present, more positively energized, or having an increased ability to think clearly and focus on tasks.
There is nothing active for the client to do during a Clarity Direct Neurofeedback session other than to sit and receive the neurofeedback. Because Direct Neurofeedback is constantly reading and adjusting to a persons’ brain activity, the signal going to the brain is only needed for a very short amount of time to move the “stuck” brainwaves. In a total session the signal is only travelling back to the brain for approximately 0.03 seconds. Other than the time spent running the protocols (ranging from 30 seconds to a few minutes each), the remaining time during a half-hour session is spent assessing symptoms and observing responses to treatment.
Clarity Direct Neurofeedback vs. Traditional Neurofeedback
As noted earlier, there are different ways to go about changing brain waves. The simplest way to differentiate between traditional neurofeedback and Clarity Direct Neurofeedback is that Traditional Neurofeedback is “retraining” your brain while Direct Neurofeedback is “disrupting” negative patterns in the brain to get it “unstuck.”
Both types of neurofeedback place multiple sensors on a scalp and use computer software to display an electroencephalogram (EEG) of the clients’ brain.
Traditional Neurofeedback uses images, sounds, or lights to “reward” the client when the machine detects that they have managed to put their brainwaves in the target frequency-range. In contrast, Clarity Direct Neurofeedback sends a small signal that disrupts the brain from generating brain waves in its stuck patterns. The main benefits of using Clarity Direct Neurofeedback is that initial results are noted more quickly, sessions are shorter, and fewer sessions are needed overall.
See below for a comparison:
Clarity Direct Neurofeedback
- client is passive as the treatment changes brain frequencies
- small signal sent back to the brain
- untrains stuck patterns in brain
- initial results noted in 1-2 sessions
- sessions last 30 minutes
- typically 15-20 sessions needed for full treatment
- client actively focuses on changing brain frequencies
- no signal sent back to brain
- trains the brain to move towards desirable frequencies
- initial results 6-10 sessions
- session last 45-60 minutes
- typically 30-40 sessions needed for full treatment
What is Neurofeedback Used For?
There are multiple things that neurofeedback can target and help improve. It is important to note that Direct Neurofeedback is not a specific treatment for any one disorder but is an adjunct to mainstream medicine and not meant to replace it.
Neurofeedback has been found to help in the symptoms and behaviours related to:
- Anxiety and OCD
- Autism & Aspergers
- Chronic Fatigue
- Chronic Pain and Fibromyalgia
- Headaches and Migraines
- Learning Disabilities
- Mood (anger, rage, sadness)
- PTSD and Developmental Trauma
- Traumatic Brain Injury
To learn more about neurofeedback and its uses, please start by visiting:
1Neurofeedback in the Treatment of Developmental Trauma: Calming the Fear-Driven Brain, by Sebern F. Fisher (2014).
The Healing Power of Neurofeedback, by Stephen Larsen (2006).