What Is Neurofeedback?
Neurofeedback is a brain-training technique used to improve brain’s ability to self-regulate and to become more flexible and resilient. It uses technology to measure brain’s activity via sensors placed on client’s scalp. These measurements are then used to provide feedback via video games and brainwave charts played on the computer screen.
Prior to neurofeedback training sessions, the clinician needs to conduct a thorough clinical and qEEG assessment to determine a suitable training protocol.
During the training session, the client watches a video game or a movie and receives a real-time visual and auditory feedback of their brainwave activity. In response to this dual feedback, the brain adjusts its brainwave patterns in order to continue to receive positive feedback.
Through regular, preferably twice-weekly training sessions, the brain becomes better regulated, which has cascading effects on client’s symptoms. Over time, positive changes are observed in client’s psychological, cognitive and behavioural symptoms, leading to better mental health and better quality of life.
Case Vignette: Martin
Martin is a young man of 19 who presented himself for treatment suffering from a number of PTSD symptoms as a result of refugee-related trauma. Martin had trouble sleeping and he suffered from debilitating nightmares. He also had flashbacks and ruminated on war-related themes, which had the effect of further isolating him from others and the present world. In the initial sessions, Martin was withdrawn, often presenting with averted eye-gaze, low mood and blunted affect. Martin appeared quite lethargic and dissociated.
Neurofeedback training with Martin was used to stabilise his nervous system, to improve his mood and raise alertness levels. After several sessions he became more engaged and present in sessions. He reported experiencing less nightmares and improved sleep. His family reported he was more engaged with them at home. Martin’s mood was visibly better in sessions and he was able to joke and discuss a wider variety of topics. He started engaging in art as a way of expressing his ruminations and flashbacks through drawings.
By 20th neurofeedback session, the content of Martin’s drawings changed. One of his last drawings represented a neutral and calm scene that had nothing to do with war or destruction. This picture also had a smiling figure which is the first ‘happy’ character that he had drawn. This change in the content of his drawings suggests that his mind was less ‘stuck’ in the trauma memory, giving him the opportunity to engage with others and with his own mind in a more diverse way.
Through the use of neurofeedback, Martin’s internal ‘universe’, his nervous system, became more stable, more alert and less stuck in the loop of his traumatic memories. In essence, it was as if he gradually peeled away layers of curtains he was hiding behind so that his personality was able to shine through. Use of art enabled Martin to express his feelings and process some of his painful memories.
** Clients name has been changed, and some details of the story have been modified to protect client’s identity.