Recently, with publication neurofeedback of Bessel van der Kolk’s new book, The Body Keeps the Score, there has been a flurry of calls from people with a variety of concerns who are wondering, “Is neurofeedback right for me?” Below are the top 10 questions that people have asked.
1. What’s neurofeedback?
Neurofeedback is a kind of biofeedback that helps you learn to change your brainwaves. When you can observe something you can change it, and neurofeedback allows you to observe your brain at work. This, in turn, helps you learn to improve your brain’s performance and shift how you feel.
2. What kind of results can I expect from neurofeedback?
Neurofeedback is a tool, so the results depend in part on the focus and skill of the practitioner. It can be used to improve such conditions as AD/HD, anxiety, and sleep. Many clients see improvement in focus, attention, concentration, memory, productivity, creativity, sleep, the ability get through stressful events with a sense of calm, and quality of life.
Many licensed health care practitioners use neurofeedback. An M.D. might use neurofeedback to reduce seizure activity treat migraines, a psychologist to reduce the symptoms associated with autism, or a physical therapist to help reduce pain.
3. What is a neurofeedback session like?
After a brief check-in, tiny sensors are attached to your scalp using a simple paste or saline solution. These sensors monitor your brainwaves. When you make the desired change (more fast waves, perhaps, or less slow waves), you get audio and visual feedback — a sound, a picture that unfolds across the screen, or perhaps a documentary video.
After 30-40 minutes of feedback, and a brief check-in about the session, you’ll plan what to do at home to support the neurofeedback. For example, you might keep a sleep log, start a 5-minute mindfulness practice, take something off your calendar, or listen to an audio.
4. How often do I need to come in?
Because neurofeedback is learning, visits need to be often enough that learning is reinforced. Once to twice a week is optimal, although more frequent sessions often lead to faster change.
5. How well does neurofeedback work?
Research studies generally show a success rate of about 80%. Many clinics report higher success rates, in part because they can tailor services to the needs of each client. Typically, you’ll know within first month if neurofeedback is helping you reach your goals.
6. How long will it take me to get the results I want?
That’s a bit like asking how long it will take for you to run a 10k or play the guitar. The answer is: it depends on your goals and where you’re starting. Someone having trouble with sleep due to a situational stressor will progress faster than someone who’s been anxious as far back as they can remember. For many people, 3 to 6 months is long enough to get significant and lasting results. Ultimately, though, you decide how long to continue and when you’ve reached your goals.
7. Will the results last?
As with any type learning, if you have a solid base, the results tend to last. Even if you haven’t been on a bicycle for years, for example, you can still find your balance fairly quickly. With neurotherapy, the “base” seems to be about 20 sessions. A number of studies have followed people for two years after neurotherapy ends, and found that clients maintain their gains or continue to improve. In one study on AD/HD (Joel Lubar), researchers found that even after 10 years, the gains lasted.
There are a few situations that by their very nature need ongoing reinforcement. For peak performance, for example, it takes ongoing attention to stay in top mental condition, just as it takes ongoign work to stay in top physical shape. Other conditions, such as age-related cognitive decline, might require a few sessions every 3-4 months to maintain the gains. A serious environmental stressor might also mean a new series of sessions.
8. Are there any side effects?
Neurofeedback is a form of learning, and no lasting side-effects have been reported. There are sometimes transient effects, both positive and negative, as the brain moves toward better self-regulation. Some clients have reported changes in energy, mood, or sleep rogjt after a session. For some people feelings bubble up, for example, or there is a period of intense dreaming. Others notice only that their symptoms begin to improve.