Blog By: Schuyler C. Cunningham, LICSW, LCSW-C, BCD
Visit his website here: Center for Neurocognitive Excellence
What is Neurofeedback Training?
Neurofeedback training is a form of treatment intended to empower the client to improve brain function. This is accomplished by observing brainwave activity using electrodes that send electrical output of brainwaves to computer software and assisting the brain in altering its activity so that it eliminates or reduces the duration, frequency, and intensity of unwanted symptoms.
Neurofeedback, a subset of biofeedback, helps by measuring brain function and giving the client an opportunity to regulate brain functions that would otherwise occur without the conscious ability to regulate them.
The therapist can ensure its effectiveness by comparing one client’s brainwave activity to that of a control group of people with similar demographics but without the undesirable symptoms, e.g. anxiety, depression, insomnia, ADHD.
Every second our brains process vast amounts of information and perform huge numbers of tasks—everything from paying attention when someone is talking to you, to dealing with anxiety on the eve of a big event, to the rush of fear or shame someone may feel when the teacher catches them not paying attention, or the mopey fatigue often associated with depressive symptoms. Other tasks overseen by the brain and carried out by the nervous system, like breathing and our heart beating, pass unnoticed by the person doing them. Neurofeedback focuses on these involuntary brain tasks.
Treatment of Depression, Anxiety, and ADHD with Neurofeedback
Neurofeedback can be used to treat a variety of physical and mental health ailments. Common mental health conditions improved by neurofeedback include depression, anxiety, and ADHD.
The brain is incredibly complex—a true marvel. It’s not completely understood why it is so effective. Some argue that one aspect of the brain can be influenced to reduce symptoms; others contend that changing one aspect of brain function changes other aspects. Regardless of the activating mechanism of change, the results are often very positive. Neurofeedback is considered a highly viable and evidence-based treatment method for individuals suffering from mental health difficulties.
For example, with regard to treatment of those with ADHD, in 2009 Arns et al (Journal of Clinical EEG & Neuroscience) concluded that, “neurofeedback treatment for ADHD can be considered ‘Efficacious and Specific’ (Level 5) with a large effect size for inattention and impulsivity and a medium effect size for hyperactivity”.
Regarding the treatment of ADHD, anxiety, and depression, a big benefit of neurofeedback training is the absence of adverse side effects commonly found with the application of medication-related treatments. Neurofeedback has few side-effects, and some say, none at all. Most common are a light stomachache or mild brief headache. Overall, there is no concern that the limited side effects of neurofeedback are worse than the presenting problem.
In many cases, neurofeedback is extremely effective! However, it should be made clear to clients that no one should claim they can “cure” mental health conditions. At the very least, it will lessen symptoms thereby improving one’s quality of life and hopefully helping them reduce their use of medications.
If talk therapy isn’t working well, or a client wants to reduce or come off their medications (or doesn’t want to start meds at all) neurofeedback is a great option. Please reach out to me if you would like assistance in connecting with an experienced neurofeedback practitioner or check out http://www.eeginfo.com.
Schuyler C. Cunningham, LICSW, LCSW-C, BCD is the Director at the Center for Neurocognitive Excellence in Washington, D.C.
Arns, M., de Ridder, S., Strehl, U., Breteler, M., & Coenen, A. (2009). Efficacy of neurofeedback treatment in ADHD: the effects on inattention, impulsivity and hyperactivity: a meta-analysis. Journal of Clinical EEG & Neuroscience.