What Is Neurofeedback?
Scientists used to believe that the brain went through a critical time in childhood, and then was basically fixed throughout adulthood. We now know that the brain is much more flexible (or “plastic”) than we had ever thought before. It is constantly reorganizing, remodeling, and re-optimizing itself, and can be altered even in adulthood. Unfortunately, this changing process includes negative adaptation as well. When we experience trauma, or deeply negative experiences, our brains change in order to cope and adapt to the situation, as can be seen in the brain images of people with PTSD.
Neurofeedback, then, harnesses neuroplasticity, to try and bring the brain back to a place of re-regulating and operating more efficiently. It is a type of “brain training” that gets stronger the more you train it, often resulting in feeling better, better focus and concentration, and improved quality of sleep.
What Is NeurOptimal®?
After careful selection, Calgary Neurofeedback chose the NeurOptimal® Dynamical Neurofeedback technology by Zengar, created by co-founders Drs. Sue and Val Brown. Their product NeurOptimal® was chosen for it’s ease of use and broad application. Traditional neurofeedback systems diagnose and treat based on a qEEG, which is a very complex map or snapshot of the brain, where the practitioner make decisions about which direction to condition the brain. This is timely, requires a lot of education and experience, and is much more expensive to clients, with some companies charging $500 just for the qEEG before treatment has even started.
Calgary Neurofeedback doesn’t believe that health should only be accessible to the well-off, so the qEEG systems were not selected as the method of neurofeedback. Furthermore, NeurOptimal® is fully automated. This means that anyone with a brain can use it. While it may help with a plethora of symptoms and conditions, it is not a treatment for disorders; rather it is training for the brain so that your brain functions better, no matter the condition you are trying to assist. NeurOptimal® does not require any diagnosis, nor treatment protocol, and everyone can benefit better brain optimization.
This ease of use explains why many people who start off as clients, end up buying their own system. With your own system, you can “hook up” your mother, your brother, your spouse, and your children! If after having some sessions, and seeing for yourself the benefit of NeurOptimal®, Calgary Neurofeedback would be happy to assist with buying a system.
How Does NeurOptimal® Work?
During a NeurOptimal® session, you sit in a comfortable chair, and five small sensors are applied to you, two to your scalp and three to your ears. These sensors read the electrical activity of your brain, transmitting it to the NeurOptimal® system. You then listen to music.
The music plays continuously, until NeurOptimal® has detected that your brain has moved into an unstable pattern or has made an abrupt change. When these less-than-helpful patterns happen, there is a brief pause or interruption in the music. These pauses work to re-orient the central nervous system, as if to tell it to come back into the present moment. So while the music is relaxing, it is not the music that is doing the work, it is these interruptions, or pauses, at the exact millisecond the brain has changed states, that is the feedback. This happens over and over, training the brain through neuroplasticity to self-correct so that it functions more efficiently, and effectively.
No conscious effort is ever required on your behalf, and nothing is being “added” into your brain; the feedback is simply in the music. All you have to do is relax and enjoy the 33 minutes of music while your brain re-organizes itself!
How many sessions?
Because everyone is different, it is not possible to predict exactly how your central nervous system will respond to NeurOptimal® and how many sessions you will “need”. It is taken on a session by session basis, and you will know how it going once you start. Once you start, most people know pretty quickly when and how it is helping. Just as the time it takes to learn a new skill varies between individuals, so too is brain training with NeurOptimal® a process to which everyone learns differently. Some people notice shifts around the 6-8 session mark, and some feel ‘something’ happening right from the start.
If you only need a little bit of help, you may decide after 15 sessions that you have made enough gains and stop. If you need a bit more assistance or for longer lasting issues, 30-40 sessions is a better estimate. You can stop at any time, deciding for yourself by listening to your body. If you stop after 5 sessions, and decide it’s not for you, that is okay too, just remember that in the beginning it is normal for the symptoms to get worse before they better, and it is often advised to push through that difficult time if you can, because this period is often short lived, and things will likely get better soon.
Some people do a complete session with good gains and then continue to come back for monthly “boosters” to keep them up to speed. In the end it is up to you, and listening to your own body is the best course of action.
Even if you do a course of neurofeedback and then come back many years later when new life challenges are presented, the brain recognizes the training process and is reminded of the earlier learning. The brain adjusts and learns relatively rapidly -– much more quickly than the first time you did the training. So if you did a fairly complete initial training (say 15-30 sessions), and then have a major challenge like an illness, the loss of a job or a relationship, or even a head injury, your brain can quickly and efficiently use the information it receives from NeurOptimal® to “find its way back”. You may have some of those initial reactions (fatigue or being very activated), but they’re less likely to be as intense as they were the first time and will be quicker to dissipate the second time.
As a learning tool, and it’s best to think of progress using NeurOptimal® as shifts in the right direction rather than a sudden cure. Changes are often subtle and gradual, and it may be helpful to think about the duration, frequency, or intensity of negative symptoms when reflecting on your neurofeedback training. For example, if you came in for anxiety and are still having panic attacks after your neurofeedback has begun, asking yourself if they are happening less often, or if they are less intense, may help. Human beings have a wonderful propensity to forget just how bad things were when progress happens, so tracking changes, or communicating what you have experienced to others, may help to keep your awareness of changes. There are even times when the person themselves does not notice huge changes, but the people around them keep telling them how different they appear.
And because life rarely gives us the magic bullet, the more you think about change as a dynamic and organic process, the better you will fare. When life deals us curveballs we may need a little more help. When this happens, a session or two can help you get back on point, working at more optimal efficiency.
To maximize progress, some people with psychological issues often find engaging in therapy together with NeurOptimal® training hasa synergistic effect-- they feel they have more insights, and feel less resistance to the process. Therapy, neurofeedback, and somatic work, might be the best combination for people with long standing psychological issues, so that things are approached from multiple angles: the brain, the mind, the body.