Imagine playing the game Pacman. But instead of moving the yellow Pacman through the maze with a joystick, you direct the Pacman with your brain – simply by looking at the computer screen.
Now imagine if playing this game could help correct a variety of mental illnesses that are on the rise today: depression, anxiety, chronic fatigue, drug addiction, post-traumatic stress disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, etc.
I didn’t believe it until I tried it myself and it finally healed my persistent symptoms of post-concussion syndrome, depression, anxiety and ADHD.
This “video game” is called neurofeedback. But it’s not just a video game. It’s the best way to get to the root cause of mental disorders and actually heal the brain.
The Ins and Outs of Neurofeedback: What Exactly Is It and How Does It Work?
We all have electrical activity and impulses in our brains called brainwaves. Our brainwaves play a huge role in controlling our attention, thoughts, behaviours, and the regulation of our bodily systems. Therefore, any changes in our brainwaves can have a profound impact on our health.
Our brainwaves fall into five distinct “bandwidths” depending on their frequency - delta, theta, alpha, beta and gamma.
An electroencephalogram (EEG) is a particular test that can detect these brainwaves. EEG research shows that some people have excessively high or excessively low levels of brain activity in one or more of these bandwidths, leading to mental and behavioural abnormalities.
Neurofeedback (also known as EEG biofeedback) is an advanced training technique that provides real-time information about your own EEG activity.
It enables people to develop and strengthen healthier brainwave patterns and rewire the electrical functioning of the brain over time.
It’s essentially exercise for the brain.
Just like any other muscle in the body, the brain has the ability to repair itself. In order to stay physically fit, you would exercise to strengthen your muscles. Similarly, neurofeedback training helps you get mentally fit.
Here’s the workout plan:
Small metal discs with thin wires (electrodes) are placed on your scalp in various positions to measure your brainwaves. These electrodes send signals to a computer to track and record your brainwave patterns.
The brainwaves then show up on your therapist’s computer, and the therapist uses this information to set thresholds.
You then “play” a simple video game using your brainwaves. Your brainwaves must remain within the healthy thresholds set by the practitioner in order for you to win the game. For example, Pacman will move quickly through the maze and eat dots if your theta brain waves stay within a certain range.
As you start winning the game, there are signals of success – dots, beeps and points. Your brain learns to recognize these signals as rewards and seeks them repeatedly. As a result, it strives to maintain the beneficial brainwave patterns that are being rewarded, which leads to the emergence of a healthier, better-functioning brain.
However, if you tense up, or lose focus, Pacman stops moving, stops beeping, and/or turns black. Your brain recognizes that it’s no longer getting the rewards, and tries to correct itself.
The therapist continues to adjust thresholds, and makes them more difficult over time, to encourage further learning.
In other words, neurofeedback functions as a feedback loop. The electrodes on your scalp pick up your brain activity, and the game encourages your brain to make the right frequency of waves in the right places. When your brain complies, it gets rewarded.
Over time, you learn to increase brain-wave patterns associated with concentration and relaxation, while simultaneously decrease those associated with tension and inattention. You produce new, positive brain patterns, and let go of old, maladaptive patterns.
The Benefits of Neurofeedback: What Is It Used For and Who Could Benefit?
Neurofeedback has developed over the last 30 years, and a great deal of research has tested the usefulness of neurofeedback for a variety of conditions.
It’s been shown to be effective in treating a number of conditions commonly seen in clinical settings, including anxiety, depression, ADHD, OCD, PTSD, bipolar disorder, eating disorders, sleep disorders, addiction, and learning and developmental disorders, among many others.
Years ago, I was officially diagnosed with generalized anxiety, ADHD and PTSD. But today, all of my symptoms are gone and I no longer would be diagnosed with those disorders today. Ask any of my close friends and family members, and they will explain how I struggled for many years. Neurofeedback has given me my life back.
Considering the research, this makes perfect sense:
ADHD: Studies have shown improvements in impulsivity, distractibility, and hyperactivity, which can lead to much more successful learning and school performance. In several controlled studies, increases of 10 points in IQ score were found for a representative group of ADHD children (9, 10, 11, 12).
Anxiety: Individuals are more able to control/regulate their emotions and can see a reduction in the frequency and severity of panic attacks (6, 7, 8).
PTSD: Individuals notice a decrease in their anxiety symptoms and an improvement in their sense of relaxation and relationships. An exciting and recent study also shows that neurofeedback results in changes in the brains of PTSD patients that correlates with their increased sense of calmness (1, 2).