The Basics Of Neurofeedback

What is neurofeedback?

Neurofeedback is a process of empowering a person to improve brain activity. Using sophisticated measuring equipment, a therapist provides the client with real-time feedback of their own brainwaves. Over the course of several sessions, brain function improves.

Why is it used?

EEG biofeedback, or neurofeedback, is commonly used to address conditions as varied as anxiety, depression, ADHD, epilepsy, autism, chronic pain, trauma, and to improve peak performance in sports, to name only a few.

How does it all work?

Since brainwave activity can be measured on the surface of the head, neurofeedback is painless and noninvasive. Typically, the system uses a set of electrode/sensors placed on the scalp with conductive paste. These wires read the EEG brainwave signal via an encoder/amplifier which sends it to a computer. In the most common modern setup, the computer sends visual information to two displays: one for the clinician to read the brainwaves and one for the person receiving the training to get visual rewards. The so-called game display, for the person training, provides feedback about brainwave activity. Depending on the system, the clinician places the electrodes appropriately, and sets the criteria via the therapist computer interface to reward the trainee for producing the desired brainwave activity. For example, someone who has trouble focusing may be given a protocol that rewards -- through the game, and through beeps -- an increase in the frequencies associated with attentiveness. The placement of the electrodes is important, as is the choice of frequencies. The reward display may resemble a video game, such as a boat racing through a canal, or a highway through the mountains. Making effective choices about frequencies, thresholds and placement of electrodes is the subject of neurofeedback education, such as the courses offered by EEG Education & Research.

Why does it work?

To be perfectly honest, there is much to learn. It appears that the human brain responds very quickly to real-time information about what it is doing. So by giving someone visual (the "game"), auditory (the "reward beeps"), or even tactile (a vibrating toy) cues about when they are improving, it is often possible for them to learn better brain function.

Where did it come from?

Operant conditioning through EEG biofeedback dates from the work of Barry Sterman in 1967 training cats. In one of those serendipitous moments that advances scientific inquiry, Sterman discovered that cats that had been trained using neurofeedback were more resistant to epileptiform seizure activity.

Is it effective?

There is a growing archive of research over the last more than thirty years since Dr. Sterman revealed the utility of EEG biofeedback. Still, there remain persistent questions about how it works and why. Anecdotal evidence is compelling. For some testimonials about its effectiveness, see the interviews of EEGER affiliates at the 2013 Neurofeedback Interchange Conference in Chicago. Excerpts of these interviews can be seen on the EEG Education & Research youtube channel:

Will you guarantee results?

Because the way neurofeedback works is still not well-understood, we can't guarantee positive outcomes. Although there are many inspiring stories about lives turned around as a result of neurofeedback, we cannot guarantee amazing transformation for every case. Numerous factors probably influence outcomes, such as clinical experience, accurate assessment, protocol design, and even clinician and client attitudes. Neurofeedback is both a science and an art. There is a learning curve to becoming a successful practitioner, even for home-users.

What sets EEGer apart?

From the outset, the software designed by Howard Lightstone has been intended to be used by clinicians who want control over the protocol they are using. Since everyone is different, EEGer makes very few assumptions about what a client needs. This allows the therapist to fine-tune the training in ways that few other systems permit. What's more, the therapist -- or EEG technician -- can change threshholds and frequencies on the fly. This flexibility is highly-prized among EEGer users. The second major difference between EEGer and other neurofeedback software systems is the quantity and quality of patient data available to the clinician. EEGer records nearly everything about the session, and can also present session history in a way that allows the clinician to easily track a patient's progress. There are a number of other qualities that set this software apart. For example, EEGer is valued as a research tool, as the only software capable of being used in double-blind studies out of the box (for more on research licensing for EEGer, please see Ways To Get EEGer). Also, with the add-on 4-channel software enable and using a 4-channel amp/encoder, EEGer is capable of QEEG-based four-channel coherence and connectivity training.

How does one become a neurofeedback clinician?

Skilled neurofeedback therapists engage in an ongoing process of self-education. This process begins with attending an introductory course, such as Neurofeedback in the Clinical Practice, is usually followed by finding a mentor, such as one of those recommended by EEG Education & Research (please call for a recent list), and finally includes getting BCIA certification (see for more on BCIA certification). Following this initiation into the field, EEG Store recommends attending intermediate courses, continued self-education about the brain and neuroscience, and participating in professional gatherings, such as the annual Neurofeedback Interchange Conference organized by EEG Education & Research.

What are home-users?

Home-users are not clinically-trained. They use a more limited system under the supervision of a trained neurofeedback provider. If you are a home-user interested in getting started with neurofeedback, or a clinician looking to add it to your practice, please contact us! 

What equipment is needed to do neurofeedback?

There are three main components of a neurofeedback system: an EEG amplifier to record signal from the brain, electrodes to connect to the client's scalp, and a computer to process and display the data. Typically, users use a computer (such as a laptop) to make adjustments and a second display (such as a TV or a monitor) to receive visual and auditory feedback. To run live sessions, the EEGer system also requires a USB license key (also known as a dongle). All of this equipment is available from EEG Store, for both home-users and new clinicians.