By Renee Chillcott, LMHC
Trying to figure out the best way to help yourself or your loved one can be maddening. There are so many treatment options out there and every one of them claims to “BE THE BEST” and of course it’s never for a small fee and always for a substantial financial commitment. So I’ve made it my mission to educate you on what Neurofeedback is, what it does well, what it doesn’t do well, the differences between a few things and some stories mixed with real research.
First things first. What is Neurofeedback?
It is exercise for your brain; allowing you to see the frequencies produced by different parts of your brain in real-time and then through visual and auditory feedback, teaches the brain to better regulate itself. Neurofeedback can be used to help detect, stimulate, and/or inhibit activity in the brain safely and without medication. It can help restore a wider “range of motion” in brain states, much like physical therapy does for the body.
While the client sits comfortably watching a movie or pictures appear on the screen (a calm and focused state), the EEG equipment measures the frequency or speed at which electrical activity moves in the areas where electrodes have been placed. This information is sent to the therapist’s computer. The therapist is then able to determine what frequencies are out of balance. For example, when the EEG shows that you are making too many “slow” or “sleepy” waves (delta/theta) or too many “fast” waves (high beta), the therapist adjusts a reward band to encourage more balanced activity. This encouragement or “reward” happens through an auditory reinforcement of “beeps” and sometimes through visual reinforcement of changes on the screen.
Neurofeedback teaches and guides your brain to produce frequencies which help it relax and/or focus. We provide the brain with gentle “challenges” and encouragement in a user-friendly, stress-free format so it learns to regulate or shift to healthier states more smoothly on its own at the appropriate time.
Now that I have a small idea of what it is…
can it help me?
Mental clarity improves when you operate a calmer, more efficient brain. As you learn to slow down “inner chatter” or activate a “sleepy” brain, you become more effective at responding to stress and adapt more readily to different situations, both psychologically and physically. Parenting becomes less exhausting, appointments are more easily kept, decision-making improves, and mood swings and depression often lift.
Neurofeedback is effective for all ages; children who experience focus and learning problems, mood regulation problems, autism spectrum disorders, and processing issues all benefit. Through brain training, children can learn to better concentrate on schoolwork, increase their frustration tolerance level, and are less prone to be overwhelmed with sensory overload while seated in a noisy classroom. With their thoughts more organized, they can focus more clearly on what others say to them and can begin to develop friendships and learn effectively. We have treated children as young as 18 months and adults as young as 90.
What conditions does Neurofeedback produce the BEST results for?
When your brain is not functioning the way it is supposed to, you have symptoms. It’s these symptoms that lead us to a diagnosis. In reality, you may have all, some, a mixture or something different from this list:
• ADD/ADHD/Focus • Auditory/visual processing
• Peak performance • Autism/Asperger’s
• Sensory processing disorder • Migraines/headaches • Oppositional defiant disorder • Learning disabilities
Bipolar disorder • Cognitive decline • Rages/mood swings • Obsessive compulsive disorder
Does that mean that the rest of the conditions you list on your website aren’t helped by Neurofeedback? Why do you list them?
Conditions or symptoms resulting from:
• Seizure disorders • Chronic pain/Fibromyalgia
• Traumatic brain injuries • Stroke • Parkinson’s/
Alzheimer’s • Addiction/Substance Abuse • Autism/Asperger’s (Yes, I put this on both lists).
These Conditions/symptoms are brain related, and many clients have experienced improvements with Neurofeedback, however, these conditions are more complex than the one’s listed above. Although truly an amazing thing to happen, improvements from these conditions can take a lot longer, and typically require multiple modalities in order to provide the best treatment. We make it our commitment to be upfront, honest, and very real about what it takes to treat these conditions as well as what improvements to expect. Autism and Asperger’s syndrome are on both lists because, as we are becoming more aware of, these conditions range in severity on a spectrum and therefore the treatment modalities and results can also range on a spectrum.
An example of a case from this week….
A 46 year old woman came in suffering from PTSD after watching her fiancé have a fatal heart attack while they were on vacation. It’s been 14 weeks since the incident, however she is able to describe in detail the trauma, the events that led up to the trauma, stresses of her current financial situation due to the trauma and of course her incredible feelings of loss, sorrow, and loneliness. As a therapist, I listen, reflect with her, and am empathetic. As a neurofeedback therapist I realize that these events are replaying in her brain, over and over again like a looped film. They replay constantly, regardless of her activity. Her brain is stuck.
This is not an uncommon situation for anyone who endures intense stress. This stress can be very traumatic, as is the case with the loss of a loved one. Or this stress can just be intense; financial stress, marital or relationship stress, familial stress, and any combination of stress that causes the brain to be overwhelmed. When we encounter a stressful situation, our brain naturally kicks into overdrive. Our arousal levels raise, we fire faster neurons and make more intense chemicals like adrenaline in the brain. When the stress is over, we fully expect our brain to normalize. The fast neurons come down to a normal amount, calmer neurons take over and more relaxing chemicals such as cortisol are being produced. This all occurs on an automatic level inside our brain. Behaviorally, we return to our normal routines, tell ourselves that everything is going to be ok, and “get over it”. But what happens when we try to do the calm down behaviors but the brain is continuing to act as if the trauma just happened? What happens when our brain “gets stuck” in overdrive? This is when dysfunction comes into play and we seek help. It can be very helpful to “talk it out” with a therapist, however, if the neurons are continuing to be “stuck” in this high arousal state, we’re going to continue to have symptoms. Those symptoms may be in the forefront of our daily lives as in the case of PTSD, or they may be brewing under the surface and rear their heads at non-significant times as in the case of panic disorder or panic attacks. Of course, they could just settle down enough to give us an overall sense of generalized anxiety. In any case, the solution is to teach the neurons how to regulate back to a “normal” state.
So, in the case of my client, with one neurofeedback session, she felt better; not where she was before the trauma, but noticeably better. With the second session, she reported sleeping for 6 straight hours (the first time in 14 weeks) and not crying while putting on makeup. She was ecstatic and although didn’t quite have her head wrapped around how this was working, was convinced that it was, and was longing for more.
How long is treatment?
There are neurofeedback programs that spell out the number of sessions you will need; 20, 30, 40. In my experience I find that every brain is incredibly unique and because of that,everyone’s treatment is also unique. In the case of my adult client with PTSD, she noticed a change in her brain state within 1-2 sessions. That is sometimes the case. Other times it may take up to 10 sessions to put your finger on the changes and/or to get your brain to respond to training. In the case of children, we find that number to be higher. We expect to see changes in behaviors (they very often cannot report a change in how they feel) within 20 sessions. Once we start seeing that your brain is improving, we need repetitions in order to teach your brain to maintain this new pattern. Our goal is for you to sustain this ability for your brain to shift states automatically over time, therefore, as you notice improvements from session to session, we will start increasing the time in between your sessions. The ultimate goal is for you to “call us if you need us”. Research and literature puts neurofeedback sessions in total at an average of 40. We have experienced clients needing more and clients needing less. At the initial evaluation we may be able to give you a more educated estimate based on the condition and situation. But at the end of the day, it is not possible to tell the brain how fast to learn, so patience is important.
Are the changes permanent
and will I no longer need neurofeedback?
Neurofeedback is learning and as such, we tend to never forget. It’s like “riding a bicycle” or learning how to roller skate. Once the behavior, or neuropathway is developed or tweaked, it will always remember. However, we do not live in bubbles, therefore stresses and strains on our brain such as accidents, life events, chemical exposure, illness, trauma, or a super-moon may cause you to need a “tweak” or as we call it “booster session”. I have experienced first-hand the brain’s ability to remember the neurofeedback process after as much as 6 years. With no neurofeedback in between. I hypothesize that this would hold true for any length of time. Therefore, when “boosters” are needed, it’s typically 1-2 sessions and then the brain is back on track and on its way. There are always situations that occur that require sessions more often, however, I have yet to see a situation where we need to start from the beginning of treatment.
Does Neurofeedback work for everyone?
There is no modality that “works” for everyone. However, neurofeedback is learning. And even if a client comes in and does not see the results they expected to see, learning has occurred. The percentage of clients that feel as if neurofeedback didn’t work for them is small…less than 10%. At the initial evaluation and throughout the process we work with you to not only correct brain patterns to where they should be but to also give you symptom relief that indicates Neurofeedback is working.
What’s a QEEG and SPECT scan
and do you assess the brain all along?
A QEEG (Quantitative Electroencephalogram) measures the electrical activity in the brain. As a neuron fires across the synapse it makes an electrical charge through a chemical reaction. The electrical charge is how we send information throughout the brain and body and the chemical reaction is involves neurotransmitters (dopamine, serotonin, adrenaline, etc). By measuring this electrical charge using EEG we can tell how fast the neurons are firing and how many are firing at that speed. We use this EEG information to train/reward your brain in Neurofeedback. A QEEG is when we record the neurons on the entire head over a prolonged period of time. We record 5 minutes eyes open and 10 minutes eyes closed. This recording is then read by an independent specialist and variables such as connectivity or coherence, symmetry, amongst other findings are reported. A QEEG allows us to make inferences about blood flow in the brain. We can
perform a QEEG in the office in approximately 1 hour.
A SPECT Scan (Single-photon emission computed tomography) gives us similar findings in a different way. A gamma-emitting radioisotope is injected into the patient allowing us to see the blood flow changes in the brain in a 3-D image. Inferences can then be made about the neuron firing that is occurring in the brain. SPECT scans are more invasive and more costly.
Through EEG we are able to see the behavior of the neurons at every session. However, we caution clients about using this as way to measure improvements. We use EEG to assess initially, however, as your brain’s behavior can change from one session to the next, only drastic changes are typically noticed. Slight changes in EEG from one session to another is more difficult to attribute to improvements. Our opinion is that the “proof is in the pudding”. We will check in every session to assess symptom changes. Changes in symptoms is an indication of a more balanced and flexible brain as well as improving your quality of life, therefore, we put a heavy emphasis on not only making the appropriate healthy brain changes but also making you, the person behind the brain, feel better.
I have more questions…how do I get started?
Getting started is easy, just give us a call. The Brain and Wellness Center staff will answer all of your questions, and help you get scheduled. If you are wondering what services are best for you? We can help determine that at the time of the intake, in a telephone consultation, or you can schedule a face to face consultation and see our facility. Call, email or message us today! Brain and Wellness Center, 7301 W. Palmetto Park Rd., Suite 102A, Boca Raton, FL 33433. (561) 206-2706, e-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org, or text us at (561) 206-2706 and don’t forget to visit our website at www.BocaBrainCenter.com.
Neurofeedback has been researched and studied since the 1960’s. Some areas where research can be found are journals, books, and online resources. Here are a few:
The Journal of Neurotherapy
Renee Chillcott, LMHC
Renee Chillcott is a Licensed Mental Health Counselor that has been practicing Neurofeedback training since 2005. Renee holds a BA degree from The University of Central Florida and a Master’s Degree in Psychology from Nova Southeastern University. She is a Licensed Mental HealthCounselor and is the owner/operator of The Brain and Wellness Center, located in Boca Raton. At The Brain and Wellness Center, adults, teens, children and families enjoy a variety of services from multiple providers. Neurofeedback, Brain Mapping, Acupuncture, Nutritional Counseling, Learning Programs, and counseling are among a few of the services offered.
Brain & Well Center
7301 W. Palmetto Park Rd.,
Suite 102A, Boca Raton, FL 33433.