In counselling we often talk about what is known as “top-down” and “bottom-up” processing. What top-down refers to is how our cognitions (thoughts) impact our nervous system, and bottom-up refers to how our nervous system impacts our cognitions. In other words, therapists are interested in which focus is more relevant to make positive impacts to address areas of concern in mental health. Examples of top-down therapies are CBT (Cognitive Behaviour Therapy) and other talk therapy methodologies. Examples of bottom-up are EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization Reprocessing), Neurofeedback, and medications.
Why Consider Neurofeedback?
Neurofeedback takes advantage of the brains ability to change itself. You have heard of ‘neuroplasticity’? This term refers to the ability of neural networks in the brain to change through growth and reorganization. With better regulation, through calming and enhanced flexibility, symptoms such as anxiety, reactivity, hypervigilance, and undesired thoughts and feelings can be diminished.
What and How?
When I started on my mission to learn more about neurofeedback, I likely had the same questions as you. What is it? How does it work? What type of Neurofeedback would I like to provide?
Neurofeedback is a type of biofeedback. Biofeedback is the process of gaining greater awareness of many physiological functions of one's own body with the goal of being able to influence the body's systems such as heart rate and breathing. Neurofeedback focuses on brain waves.
Brain waves are rhythmic or repetitive patterns of neural activity in the central nervous system. In other words, brainwaves are electrical impulses in the brain that help with communication between neurons within our brains to influence an individual's behavior, emotions, and thoughts. Our brainwaves are produced by synchronised electrical pulses from masses of neurons communicating with each other.
I often use the example of how when we have food on our face, like pasta sauce that we do not notice, the only way we know it is there is by either one or two things happening: someone tells us, or we look in a mirror and notice it is there. This is called feedback. So, the brain is busy doing what it is used to do, and may be influenced by genetics or traumatic injuries, and is not aware that it is not working as effective as it could. With neurofeedback, we can help the brain see its activity (with the use of visual, sensory, and auditory means) and then train it towards a more flexible, and calm manner for better physical and mental performance. Over time, as the brain is conditioned or trained into new, healthier brain wave patterns, symptoms improve.
Why the Othmer Method of Neurofeedback?
There are a few types of neurofeedback and I encourage you to investigate them if you are considering brain training. I learned of the Othmer method through a colleague of mine. Other types of neurofeedback may propose that symptoms do not matter, and that training can be done on the same sites for everyone. This confused me as I do believe that symptoms matter and that ever individual has their own unique types of challenges and they should be viewed accordingly. I wanted to offer neurofeedback that does require a detailed clinical assessment based on symptoms specific to the client. The Othmer method requires the clinician to make informed decisions on electrode placement and the frequency to adjust for training. This requires that the clinician be trained to understand the brain and apply appropriate protocols. The choice of where to train and which protocols to use is based on the training plan.
Neurofeedback has been around since the 1960s, but it is still seen as a “young” in the field of wellness. Some research has found it promising. Other studies have been inconclusive, and some have shown no positive outcomes.
Like any form of intervention, there are always critics, and so there should be! It is important that critical eyes are asking questions and pointing out areas for further discovery as well as potential limitations. The biggest critic for neurofeedback is that there are not enough well-controlled, rigorous studies to show that with definitively, neurofeedback is effective. It has been proposed that there are other therapeutic factors that can contribute to an individual’s outcome, such as medications or discussing their problems with a therapist. There simply is not the same amount of empirical evidence compared to medication. I wish this were not the case, but without big pharma-funded research projects, neurofeedback research is slower in comparison, but the research still goes on!
Therapists are using neurofeedback to treat ADHD, PTSD, and other conditions
What is Neurofeedback?
What Is Neurofeedback? How Brain Training Can Benefit Kids, Families,
and Adults https://youtu.be/HxHR7InSQ1c
A Symphony in the Brain by Jim Robbins.
Brian’s Legacy by Siegfried Othmer and Brian Othmer
Making a Good Brain Great by Daniel Amen, M.D.
Restoring the Brain: Neurofeedback as an Integrative Approach to Health by Hanno W. Kirk
ADD The 20-Hour Solution by Mark Steinberg, Ph.D. & Seigfried Othmer, Ph.D.