What is neurofeedback training?

The brain thrives on change and has an amazing ability to learn, adapt and self-regulate. Neurofeedback training draws upon the brain's ability to learn and utilises the EEG (Electroencaphalography) signals that can be recorded at the scalp as leverage for positive change.  This is possible because moment to moment brain function is directly linked to the EEG oscillations,

Hans Berger's first recordings and analysis of the EEG back in the 1920s was founded on the belief that brainwave measurement would have potential for the investigation of mental illness. Neurologists picked up the technique and applied it to the detection of epilepsy in the 1930s and 40s. In these early days neurofeedback took it's first steps.

Neurofeedback is a non-invasive, drug free and safe technique that bridges psychology and physiology. It is a procedure that uses real-time information about the time varying EEG activity (so called brainwaves) to teach clients to slef-regulate their brain functions. This sounds like a bit of a stretch to some people but actually we do this naturally all the time - at an unconscious and sometimes a conscious level.

Learning control over specific aspects of the EEG has been shown to change specific behaviours and provide a means to investigate brain function and neuroplasticity.  Neurofeedback has been shown to have value across a broad selection of health conditions and for those in search of peak performance. 

Raw EEG patterns are complex - neurofeedback relies on rapid and accurate real time processing of the EEG

For neurofeedback to advance, hardware and software needed to develop to the point at which EEG signals could be reliably recorded and processed in real-time.  In the early days of EEG examination the raw signals were recorded on a chart in their original analogue form and researchers needed to learn to interpret the complex patterns of change they saw before them.  Modern digital processing techniques are have made neurofeedback possible at reasonable cost as the real-time feedback relies upon rapid processing of the EEG.

During a typical neurofeedback session, the client will sit comfortably in front of a computer monitor whilst sensors are placed on their scalp to detect the EEG.  Training normally follows precise guidelines or protocols that have been developed that are appropriate for the particular situation. Many protocols rely on what is called Frequency Domain Processing of the raw EEG. This splits the original form of signal into its constituent frequncy bands (we describe this in detail in other articles) and then aims to train the client to alter these patterns - emphasising certain frequencies and surpressing others for example.

 neurofeedback may usefully use a dual screen set up as shown here with Biotrace software

neurofeedback may usefully use a dual screen set up as shown here with Biotrace software

Software such as the BioTrace software provided with the NeXus units, provides feedback to the client to allow them to modify their cognitive and emotional response. The feedback may be a combination of video, sound and tactile feedback. Positive feedback may be conveyed in a number of ways - such as providing an increasing sharper video playback, or playing music.

As this is a process of learning, clients may need at least 30 sessions until learning is established and the results become permanent.  Considering the whole process as a "loop", Sensors monitor the EEG, software then interprets the EEG is real time and provides feedback (a reward) to encourage change. The brain learns that it is driving the reward and over time the brain responds with new neural connections.

Practitioners of neurofeedback are required to interpret different brainwave patterns (normally in the frequency domain) and make some judgement of their likely clinical and functional meaning based on the part of the cortext from which they emanate.