What is Neurofeedback?


In a nutshell

Neurofeedback Training (NFT) or just neurofeedback is a way of training your brain to work more efficiently. It is commonly used in the treatment of ADHD, anxiety, depression, trauma and related mental health issues.

During the neurofeedback process, you wear a special cap and watch activity on a screen, your brain is rewarded for working better. 

In the picture here, you can see our colleague Jason wearing an EEG cap and watching a screen - when he really engages the parts of the brain we are trying to train, the game he is watching will play!

In other words, the game on the screen is the signal to Jason's brain that it's improving. By learning to make the game play, Jason can learn to better engage important parts of his brain. 

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Give me a bit more science please!

Scientific evidence tells us that NFT is useful in treating ADHD, anxiety, depression, panic disorder and problematic behaviour, as well as in areas of performance improvement. 

A 2018 follow up study on 500 children with ADHD showed the positive effects of neurofeedback were sustained over the long term. Improvements were at least as good as those from medication, but without side-effects.
— Based on Van Doren et al (2018)
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We measure your brain and then the computer gives you feedback when it's working better.

You can learn to get more and more feedback and keep training your brain - like the gym for your brain!

The Van Doren study:

A recent study compiled data on over 500 children with ADHD, published in the journal European Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, this study found NFT to have sustainable effects in the longer term, with positive effects observed after six months of treatment. The findings show that the effects of Neurofeedback show a tendency to improve over time, with no ongoing therapy sessions needed after the initial program compared to the group, which was still taking medication at six-month follow-up. The results showed NFT to be equivalent to medication in the treatment of ADHD symptoms. 

Critically, many different experts with differing views on NFT were brought together for this study. The authors concluded:

"Our meta-analytic results of NF treatment follow-up suggest that there are sustained symptom reductions over time in comparison with non-active control conditions. The improvements seen here are comparable to active treatments (including methylphenidate [Ritalin]) at a short-term FU of 2–12 months. As such, NF can be considered a non-pharmacological treatment option for ADHD with evidence of treatment effects that are sustained when treatment is completed and withdrawn."

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A little more information on how it works

NFT is a way of changing the way your brain works and does not involve anything invasive – it is based on learning. It is biofeedback for your brain, in which you learn to better control the way your brain works.

This can happen by measuring what your brain is doing using a device called the electroencephalogram (EEG) cap which you can learn more about here. Once we know what your brain function is like, we can link areas and neural networks in the brain that might not be functioning as well as they could, to things you want to change. For example, if you had difficulties with attention, we would look at parts of the brain and networks within it that deal with attention. If they are not functioning as well as they might, these will be areas we will target during NFT.


How does the training work?

The EEG cap allows your brain function to be fed back to you via a computer screen. When your brain is functioning well in the areas and networks we have specified, you will be rewarded on screen (e. g. a video, videogame or music will play). When your brain is not functioning efficiently, you will receive no feedback. By doing this, you can learn to use your brain more efficiently through operant conditioning.

This is simply learning through consequence (i.e. you do something and you get a reward for it, then you are more likely to do it again.) Our brain craves reward so if it gets a reward such as getting the game/video to work by functioning in a certain way, it is more likely to behave in that way again. We then increase the difficulty so your brain has to function even better to get the reward. Over the course of NFT, your brain gets better and better at functioning in this way. As you work at your training both inside and outside of our clinic and make changes in your habits to move towards your goals, the changes in habits will be supported by the changes in relevant brain areas and these changes then become dominant and more stable.

In essence, NFT allows you to gain more control over the way your brain works.