Biofeedback has been growing as a professional discipline for decades. This form of training and treatment uses monitoring instruments attached to the body to “feed back” biological information about body functioning. People are able to view information about their bodies normally outside of their awareness such as hand temperature, blood pressure, number and depth of breaths being taken, the level of muscle tension or the electrical activity of their brains. Research has shown that once people have more detailed information as to what their bodies are doing, they are better able to either consciously or unconsciously control those functions. In this way people with tension headaches can learn to relax tense muscles, people with urinary incontinence can learn to control their bladders, people with Raynaud’s disease (circulation difficulties in the extremities) can learn to warm themselves by increasing blood flow, and people with high blood pressure can learn to down regulate their nervous system.
Of particular interest to psychologists is the electrophysiological functioning of the brain. The form of biofeedback that enables people to alter brain electrical activity is called “neurofeedback” (or EEG biofeedback). The reason that neurofeedback is of special concern to psychologists is that the brain is a central contributor to the emotions, physical symptoms, thoughts, and behaviors that when dysregulated generate many problems for which people seek psychological consultation. The kinds of problems which have been addressed through neurofeedback include anxiety, depression, attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder, memory difficulties, general cognitive functioning, learning disabilities, head injury, obsessive- compulsive disorder, chronic pain, epilepsy, immune system disturbances, panic attacks, and sleep.
Once the specifics of an individual’s neuropsychological functioning have been assessed, a neurofeedback psychologist will apply electrodes to the scalp to listen in on brainwave activity. We process the signal by a computer, and we extract information about key brainwave frequencies. We then show the ebb and flow of this activity back to the person who then attempts to change the activity level. Some frequencies are promoted while others are diminished. This information comes in the form of either a video game, movie or guided video imagery. Eventually, the brain wave activity is “shaped” toward more desirable and well-regulated performance. The frequencies we target, and the specific locations on the scalp where the brain is monitored, are specific to the conditions that are custom targeted for the patient.
Neurofeedback learning may be looked at in three ways: subconscious learning, the forming of a conscious association between feelings and brain states, and the development of flexibility in neural pathways.
Subconscious learning occurs in a process whereby the brain, at a level below awareness, begins to recognize itself on the computer monitor and to make the changes required to maintain a particular state. As this is occurring, the individual may feel quite disconnected from the process. People feel as though they are simply watching the display and listening to music or a movie, without experiencing it as a personal process being driven by their own neural activity. This learning is on a subconscious level. Remember, cats and other animals can learn to alter their brain functioning when appropriate rewards are utilized— and they are not consciously considering what they need to do in order to receive the reward. This learning process occurs over time and outside the level of conscious awareness.
The second way that learning occurs is through the conscious association between indications that the target is being met (i.e., the visual and auditory cues) and how the individual feels. Often, a description of how it feels to meet the target defies verbal expression. For example, many people are unable to express in words what more of one signal feels like although they can tell when it is occurring. This process of learning is conscious and involves the development of an awareness of sensations (interoception). In this way, individuals are able to voluntarily do what is necessary in order to produce that sensation at will.
Finally, change through neurofeedback occurs as a result of exercising underdeveloped neural pathways. The more the brain practices moving into a more optimal state, the more flexible it will be in responding to challenges.
Neurofeedback is seldom used in isolation from other techniques. It is usual for a session with Dr. Walling to include neurofeedback as well as other techniques such as Somatic Psychotherapy and/or cognitive-behavioral exercises to support the changes you would like to make in your life.
Budzynski, T.H., Budzynski, H.K., Evans, J.E. & Abarbanel, Al. (Eds.) (2009). Introduction to Quantiative EEG and Neurofeedback (2nd ed.) Oxford, UK: Academic Press Elsevier.
Robbins, Jim. A Symphony in the Brain. NY: Atlantic Monthly Press, 2000.
Evans, James and Andrew Abarbanel. Quantitative EEG and Neurofeedback. San Diego, CA: Academic Press, 1999.
Thompson, Lynda and Michael. Neurofeedback combined with training in metacognitive strategies: effectiveness in students with ADD. Applied Psychophysiology and Biofeedback, Vol 23, No. 4, 1999, pp. 243-263.
Heart Rate Variability Assessments:
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 HeartMath™ Interventions for Counselors, Therapists, Social Workers, and Health Care Professionals: Establishing a New Baseline for Sustained Behavioral Change
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