Neurofeedback is a non-invasive, evidence- based psychotherapy that allows patients to train their own brains to improve various functions. Evidence- based psychotherapy or medicine is defined by the NIH (National Institute of Health) as follows:
“Evidence based medicine (EBM) is the conscientious, explicit, judicious and reasonable use of modern, best evidence in making decisions about the care of individual patients. EBM integrates clinical experience and patient values with the best available research information.” (1)
Neurofeedback uses qEEG technology (brain mapping) to measure a patient’s brain waves, and then engages them in dynamic brain training to normalize levels, correlating to improvements in function in that area. Research on wave signatures of individual neurological disorders such as ADD or traumatic brain injury (TBI) has helped specialists identify with great accuracy patterns of brain dysfunction, and researchers have used this much larger pool of data to develop specific neurofeedback protocols to benefit or reverse each individual neurological condition.
During a neurofeedback session, patients play simple games in which they are rewarded for changes in their own brain wave patterns through visual feedback. Adjusting brain wave patterns to optimal levels is a skill the patient learns intuitively, and success allows for progress in the game. Eventually patients develop much greater internal control of their psycho-emotional or behavioral issues, and neurological disorders can be corrected or at least greatly improved.
Neurofeedback has received a lot of attention recently due in part to an increase in the volume of scientific studies in the last few years. We have also seen a rise in the reporting of neurological disorders, depression, ADD, and chronic anxiety, all brain-based disorders. Soldiers returning from war zones with conditions like PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder) and TBI (traumatic brain injury) have increased the case load of mental health care workers and made them look for more efficient treatments. Neurofeedback is coming up a lot as a topic of discussion and study.
Many rigorous studies have been competed with neurofeedback, so popular media is stepping forward into now safer territory. Mainstream publications like Time magazine and Newsweek have started publishing more articles on neurofeedback ,and it is enjoying more positive press in general. Even mainstream psychiatrists and psychotherapists are becoming interested in neurofeedback as a powerful brain- based psychotherapeutic intervention. We have the research done so far to thank for this.
Below is a sampling of recent studies for some common disorders.
Cognitive Impairment/ Dementia
Neurofeedback shows great promise as an evidence based scientific approach to psychiatry. In order to further its legitimacy in the medical world, it also needs to be studied more. Funding has been a problem in the past- out hope is this non invasive therapy with no known side effects will receive the attention from the mental health community and the general population that it deserves.
Next week we will focus on recent advances in the field of neurofeeback, as well as highlighting current research on topics like neurofeedback and depression, anxiety, other mood disorders, and insomnia.
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(1) Evidence Based Medicine – New Approaches and Challenges. Izet Masic, Milan Miokovic, Belma Muhamedagic. Acta Inform Med. 2008; 16(4): 219–225. Published online 2008 Dec. doi: 10.5455/aim.2008.16.219-225. PMCID: PMC3789163