What is Neurofeedback Therapy?
Although neurofeedback therapy has been around for decades, maybe people have never heard of it. This type of therapy is based on sound psychological principles, and it’s very effective. Neurofeedback is a non-invasive therapy that re-trains the brain. It is based on the same conditioning principles you might rely on in your daily workout. The idea is this: If you do the same exercise over and over again, you become good at it and want to do more. Any behavior that is rewarded will be repeated more often, which is how neurofeedback improves your brain functioning.
Neurofeedback, also known as EEG biofeedback, utilizes technology to read brain waves and give the brain direct feedback so it can regulate itself.
How Neurofeedback Works
Neurofeedback deals with brain waves and thought patterns. When people suffer from addiction, they struggle with recurring thoughts. For some, these thoughts surround a childhood trauma. For others, it could be a sense of hopelessness that triggers substance abuse. Recurring thoughts might result in bad dreams or trigger dangerous behavior. Someone suffering from addiction can feel stuck with these destructive thoughts. No matter how much she tries, she cannot get her brain out of this rut.
Destructive thought patterns need to be broken in order to alter behavior. If riding in a car always reminds you of a horrible accident you witnessed, every ride you take will be a haunting nightmare. You will not feel safe getting into a car until your brain is re-trained to not go back to the accident every time you get in your car.
Neurofeedback is a method of re-training your brain to not repeat those same destructive thought patterns. Your brain waves are monitored to map the areas where there is a dysfunction or imbalance. Then, a system of rewards suggests different pathways for your thoughts. When your brain takes new thought pathways, it abandons the old pattern and is rewarded. Through repeated rewards, your brain learns to think in a new direction.
Neurofeedback can be used to identify your substance abuse triggers. Triggers are thoughts or situations that initiate a craving for your substance of choice. If you were sexually molested as a child, for example, you may use drugs and alcohol to avoid dealing with the emotional pain from that experience. Since you haven’t processed those emotions yet, you might not realize that intimate situations in your adult life, although appropriate, trigger the same desire to escape into substance-induced bliss. By mapping your brain waves, neurofeedback can help identify those triggers.
Sometimes people do not realize their own triggers. You may do such an excellent job of ignoring your unprocessed emotions that you don’t recognize them anymore. For some people, the origin of those negative feelings is not as obvious as a traumatic incident. Understanding your triggers can be a major breakthrough in your recovery from addiction.
Managing your response to triggers can help avoid relapse in addiction recovery. Relapse is one of the biggest concerns with addiction recovery — no one wants to start over. Neurofeedback is an effective tool in reducing the relapse rate of people recovering from addiction because it teaches strategies for controlling impulses.
Understanding Brain Waves
The brain is the most complex organ in the body. It controls vital systems, physical movements, and abstract thoughts all at once. Thoughts traveling through the central nervous system as chemicals called neurotransmitters traverse a maze of neurons and synapses. Specialized receptors decode their messages and send a response, pulling your hand away from a hot stove, activating facial muscles to form a smile, releasing tears that roll down your cheeks, or initiating any one of thousands of behaviors.
The neurotransmitters are pushed around the brain by electrical impulses generated by nerve endings. These electrical impulses are considered brain waves. All of the thoughts moving around in your brain at any given moment create a lot of electrical activity. Scientists have learned to measure that electricity on the Hertz scale, the same scale as they measure the electricity in household outlets.
The frequency of the electrical impulses in your brain corresponds to your state of consciousness. There are five types of brain waves:
Brain wave activity is used to help diagnose mental state. Most people produce a lot of beta waves under normal conditions, but people with an anxiety disorder will have an abundance of beta waves that register much higher in the beta range. An abundance of alpha waves can be indicative of attention deficit disorder (ADD).
Brain waves can indicate certain brain disorders, so changing the brain waves could eliminate the problems. Neurofeedback alters brain waves to change the mental condition.
The electrical pulses in the brain produce a rhythm. When another rhythm in introduced, such as an audible drum beating, the brain synchronizes its rhythm with the drum beat. For example, a drum beat of four impulses per second played continuously would reduce the brain wave rhythm to 4Hz, which is the equivalent of a sleeping state.
This basic concept of synchronization is used in neurofeedback. Sounds or visual stimuli are used to change the rhythm of brain waves, thereby changing the mental state. A fine-tuning of this technique causes altered thought patterns.
A Typical Neurofeedback Session
Through sophisticated technology, neurofeedback can be delivered by a trained clinician in any type of behavioral therapy setting. It requires expensive instruments, so not every provider offers neurofeedback. Here is what you can expect in a typical session:
- Electrodes will be placed on certain areas of your head, so the electrical activity in your brain can be recorded by electroencephalography (EEG).
- The activity will be analyzed in comparison to a template of normal brain activity for someone your age and gender. The areas of dysfunction or imbalance are noted. Certain types of brain waves are favored over others in the quest for balance. Brain waves are visually or audibly represented, so you can monitor them yourself during the session.
- You will be asked to perform certain brain exercises, such as playing a video game or listening to music. The exercises are designed to change your brain wave response. When your brain makes progress by emitting better waves, you receive a reward that tells your brain to do more of that. Rewards may include visual clues like flashing colors on a video game, or they could be relaxing music or some other positive auditory stimuli.
A neurofeedback therapy session is rather relaxing. Although your brain is working, you don’t realize any differences. You’re not conscious of any changes in your thought patterns or any efforts on your part to make changes. You simply repeat the exercises and enjoy the rewards.
Does Neurofeedback Work?
Neurofeedback is considered the secret weapon for behavior modification. Not many people know about this therapy, but it is very successful in achieving its goals. Neurofeedback therapy is meant to re-program your thought patterns and give you greater control over your impulses. This, of course, is good news for anyone suffering from addiction.
Neurofeedback is like any other exercise regimen. It takes time and practice to work. Thought patterns are developed over time and sometimes with the shock of an extreme event. Detrimental thought patterns are like a bad habit. It takes time to break that habit. Neurofeedback typically takes at least 20 sessions to make a difference. You will see results on the screen long before that, but it will be several months before you notice those changes in your daily life.
During your sessions you can watch your thought patterns and identify the ones you need to change, usually by a color coding system. In your first session, you will see some of those colors change as a result of your exercises, but the changes will not become permanent for a while.
Neurofeedback is also not a stand-alone therapy. It is meant to be part of a larger recovery program. Simply changing your thought patterns does not solve the problem of addiction. It is much more complicated than that. Neurofeedback is one tool you can use in your recovery program, and it will assist you in achieving a lasting recovery.
History of Neurofeedback Therapy
Neurofeedback therapy began in the 1960s as an understanding that EEG activity in the brain could be altered. Experiments were conducted using cats, and they demonstrated a common rhythmic activity in both their sleeping and waking states. Further study revealed the use of neurofeedback therapy to stabilize the brain against the inducement of seizures. NASA used this therapy to protect astronauts from the seizure-inducing effects of prolonged exposure to rocket fuel.
In those early days, neurofeedback therapy was very expensive. It took a long time and was only conducted by doctors, so it was only applied in the most severe seizure disorder cases. Training the brain through EEG feedback was not widely recognized as serious science but instead embraced as mainstream popular psychology. For these reasons, neurofeedback therapy did not gain early traction.
In the 1990s, neurofeedback was first applied to addiction recovery with positive results. Since then, there has been a renewed interest in discovering the extent to which this therapy can be effective. Today, with more modern equipment and better research support, neurofeedback therapy is available in a number of different clinical settings and is administered by trained clinicians.
Neurofeedback therapy has been successfully applied to a variety of conditions that can be relieved or lessened in severity by changing thought patterns. These conditions include:
- Anxiety. Characterized by intense and persistent worry or fear, anxiety disorder can manifest in panic attacks that interfere with daily living. A high frequency of beta brain waves usually demonstrates this condition.
- Brain injury. The brain can be injured at birth or as a result of any physical trauma. EEG mapping of injured brains can show abnormal brain wave patterns in any area of the brain indicating dysfunction.
- Autism. Autism is a brain development disorder characterized by compulsive behavior, aggression, and hyperactivity. It has brain wave similarities to epilepsy. Other key markers of autism are high levels of beta waves (especially in sensory areas of the brain), too much delta wave activity, or abnormal brain wave patterns in the area of the brain that controls language development.
- Migraines. A neurological disease we know little about, migraines are believed to be associated with abnormally high brain wave frequency in certain areas of the brain, and lower brain activity in the pain control centers of the brain stem.
- Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Usually the result of trauma, PTSD manifests in recurring fear or extreme stress resulting in insomnia, depression, addiction, sleep disorders, or other life-altering conditions. The brain wave patterns in PTSD can be disrupted in a number of different ways.
- Depression. A constant sadness and loss of interest characterize depression. Symptoms include loss of appetite and increased fatigue. These symptoms are evidenced by slower-than-normal brain wave in certain areas of the brain.
- Bipolar disorder. A mood disorder manifested with periods of extreme highs and lows, bipolar disorder is also referred to as manic depression.
- Attention deficit disorder (ADD). Usually diagnosed in children of school age, ADD is an inability to concentrate accompanied by extreme hyperactivity due to abnormally slow brain waves.
A relationship among many of these disorders has emerged, and it wasn’t understood when neurofeedback was first discovered. A disruption of normal brain functioning at night and head injury are both improved with neurofeedback therapy. Anxiety and depression are often associated with addiction, along with sleep issues.
Advantages of Neurofeedback Therapy
People struggling with addiction are very fragile. They tend to suffer from poor physical health, both as a result of drug use and also because they stop taking care of themselves. Addiction takes a person’s focus away from everything in her life except getting and using drugs. They also experience a great deal of emotional pain, especially in the early stages of recovery when they are re-learning how to process emotions without the dulling effects of substances.
One of the biggest benefits of neurofeedback therapy is that it doesn’t hurt. It is non-invasive, painless, and even relaxing. Also, it does not require any pharmaceuticals, a major concern for many people recovering from addiction.
Here’s a recap of the benefits of neurofeedback therapy:
- It is non-invasive. It does not disrupt any body functions or require surgery or needles.
- It is painless. There is no need for pain relievers or risk of developing a new addiction.
- It requires no pharmaceuticals. No drugs means you don’t have to worry about side effects.
- It is calming. The sessions are similar to meditation.
- It is easy to learn. You don’t have to learn some complicated behavioral theory. You simply do the exercises as they are explained to you.
- It is widely applicable. Neurofeedback can be applied to a wide range of behavioral disorders.
- It is self-directed. You will learn exercises you can do on your own to reduce stress at any time.
- It is long lasting. The effects can help achieve a lasting recovery from addiction.
- It is all natural. It uses your brain’s natural mechanisms to heal disruptive thought patterns.
Neurofeedback doesn’t seem to have any drawbacks. There is a lack of research evidence for its effectiveness, but plenty of anecdotal evidence exists. In one study, the group that received neurofeedback therapy as part of their recovery program in a residential facility experienced a much lower drop-out rate. Neurofeedback therapy is successful in reducing anxiety and increasing the effectiveness of the rest of the recovery program.
To learn more about neurofeedback therapy, contact JourneyPure. We offer neurofeedback therapy as part of a comprehensive, individualized approach to addiction recovery. At JourneyPure, our inventive approach to conquering addiction incorporates nutrition, fitness, and mental wellness into a holistic program.
Entering a recovery program is a big step — one that requires strength and determination. We want to support your efforts and help make your recovery a successful journey. We understand that addiction creates fear and distrust. We know that it makes you feel trapped and out of control. At JourneyPure, we have the knowledge and compassion to help you break through your addiction and rediscover the real you.
We use all of the latest techniques to assist you on your journey to healing in a comfortable, supportive environment. Our science-based innovative and individualized approach to addiction recovery will:
- Assist your recovery from addiction
- Identify and treat underlying conditions
- Unravel the intricacies of a dual diagnosis with compassion
Our treatment programs go beyond detox and behavioral therapy to help you transition back into your life with gentle support. We offer the practical skills required for you to re-enter daily life, as well as group and family counseling. Our treatment focuses on a full continuum of care with the goal of helping you create a life-long support system.
Neurofeedback therapy is just one of the treatment modalities we use to develop an individualized program to meet your specific needs. Everyone’s addiction is different, which means your journey to recovery is unique. Our mission to help you build a path to recovery begins with your very first contact. We will answer all of your questions about neurofeedback and other aspects of recovery and addiction, so you can start your path to recovery with confidence and support.
Addiction is a disease. Recovery is a journey that we can take together. Contact JourneyPure today to begin your path to recovery.