EEG Neurofeedback, or the ability to use special devices to provided instant feedback when the desired mental state is achieved, has rapidly become a popular mode of treatment for many mental health conditions from mild depression and anxiety to the variety of psychosomatic conditions.
Different from taking a drug to affect a desired mental state, neurofeedback is a form of experiential learning that promotes the awareness needed to lead to functional changes in the brain.
As John M. Demos writes, “Biofeedback training promotes a stronger sense of self because clients change themselves.”
In his new book, Getting Started with EEG Neurofeedback, 2nd Edition, Demos offers a comprehensive and accessible introduction to neurofeedback that is an invaluable resource for both those new to neurofeedback and those with many years’ experience.
“With EEG neurofeedback instrumentation, changes follow a direct route. Reinforcing desired brain wave patterns, in the exact moment they happen, is the fundamental principle behind EEG neurofeedback, a.k.a. operant conditioning,” writes Demos.
One example is training alpha brain waves in the occipital lobes with EEG neurofeedback equipment to help restore healthy communication between the thalamus and the brain stem — which can be disrupted in cases of whiplash.
All brainwaves — from Theta to HiBeta — have both positive and negative attributes. For example, Alpha 1 waves cause relaxation and calmness, but can also be felt as mental fog and slow processing.
Brain maps rely on databases that help us understand the normal limits of brain functioning for each area of the brain. From that point, brain maps help identify areas of the brain that would benefit from neurofeedback training.
Beginning with diagnosis, EEG is used to support clinical conclusions. One example is excessive beta waves, which are an EEG marker for anxiety.
Demos writes, “The EEG is an epiphenomenon: it does not cause symptoms but rather reflects the electrical operation of the brain, just as the sound and vibration of an idling engine reflect the timing and smoothness of motor functions.”
One concern is low delta amplitudes, which can reflect traumatic brain injury, ADHD, anxiety, and other disorders. Similarly, if high theta waves are rewarded in clients with a history of PTSD, it can trigger unwanted flashbacks.
One important consideration for any neurofeedback program to be successful is the presence of restful sleep. Demos writes, “What happens when sleep is lacking? Amazingly, certain regions of the brain also seemed to be taking mini-naps, while the patient was awake. Slow, sleep-like waves disrupted the patients’ brain activity and performance of tasks… This phenomenon suggests that select regions of the patient’s brains were dozing, causing mental lapses, while the rest of the brain was awake and running as usual.”
Coherence values between regions of the brain are also important to brain health as hypocoherence is characteristic of learning disorders and poor memory. Conversely, hypercoherence is characteristic of OCD, depression and headaches.
Demos compares coherence values to family functioning: “Healthy families allow for individual freedom combined with loving care and attention. Healthy families spend time together but not every waking minute.”
Some conditions, like OCD, are highly rigid and reflective of an abnormal cerebral blood flow pattern. However, the mind can heal, and Demos points to the work of Schwartz and Beyette who demonstrated that after following a rigid four-step cognitive-behavioral program to counteract the symptoms of OCD, positive changes in brain activity were noted through PET scans taken before and after treatment.
Demos writes, “The goal for any EEG neurofeedback provider is to find out what EEG abnormalities are negatively impacting key brain structures.”
Not all cases of OCD are the same, as specific EEG characteristics have revealed several different subtypes. Further, OCD should not be confused with perfectionism, mental inflexibility or obsessions, which do not show the same closed-loop functioning typical of OCD.
Brain networks also help reveal healthy brain functioning. The default mode network, for example, promotes a sense of self, or a sort of inner relationship. Conversely, should external stimuli require attention, the central executive network switches on to support executive planning, attention and working memory.
Here again, imbalances in the network functioning are indicative of disorders. Borderline personality disorder, for example, is indicative of excessive default mode network activity.
Demos writes, “The engaged default mode network provides a glimpse of one’s personal future. If that dream is strong enough, other networks of the brain align themselves in an attempt to make that dream come true.”
With valuable insight into the brain functioning involved in numerous disorders, Getting Started with EEG Neurofeedback, 2nd Edition doesn’t just improve the understanding of these disorders, but offers an invaluable treatment modality — one we are sure to see more of in the future.
Getting Started with EEG Neurofeedback 2nd Edition
W.W. Norton & Company, January 2019
Hardcover, 320 pages