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Neurofeedback For Resolving Chronic Health Conditions

Neurofeedback is the process of “feeding back” sensory information (auditory, tactile, visual) based on the performance of the brain in live time. At our Calgary and Red Deer clinics in Alberta we measure brain activity at the surface of the brain as well as in deeper layers through something called LORETA analysis.

Neurofeedback uses the age-old principle of operant conditioning to function. When the brain is adjusting itself, or training itself, towards the norm, a reward is achieved in the form of visual, auditory, or tactile output. This could be in the form of a movie or a song fading in and out as the client focuses on achieving an ideal brain state. Training usually takes place in the form of 30 to 60-minute sessions.

Neurofeedback tends to be arbitrarily thrown around the Neuro industro and often used as an umbrella term for different neural reconditioning technique,s whether they are truly neurofeedback or not.

Who is neurofeedback for?

The answer is simple – anyone looking to improve their health. it is important to keep in mind that neurofeedback is simply a tool in the toolbelt and the best results are acheived when used in conjunction with functional medicine and qEEG brain mapping – depending upon your condition. Who we have seen gain the most benefit are:

  • Those suffering from cancer
  • Anyone with a severe head or neck injury, even if it is years later
  • Folks that have chronic and unknown conditions – often there is underlying early physical or emotional trauma associated
  • Those with depression
  • And the list goes on…

If you are willing to do the work, show up and persevere when faced with challenges then neurofeedback is right for you. The individuals who see the most robust changes are the ones committed to the work and patient throughout the process. Many clients tell me the journey isn’t always easy but the benefits far outweigh the work involved.

Different types of neurofeedback

Let’s first review traditional neurofeedback; it incorporates elements of both operant and classical conditioning techniques. These forms of conditioning are also present in other areas of our lives; how we are able to learn a new language or a skill like swimming. During the session a 3D, visual representation of what the trainee’s brain looks like is displayed on a screen in front of them. Each unique protocol is superimposed on the brain and appears in a pattern of dots and connecting lines which represent the specific networks and areas being targeted. The goal of the session is teaching the trainee’s brain to recognize when they are getting the ideal visual, auditory and sometimes vibrotactile feedback. In turn, their brain and nervous system regulate and normalize those targeted areas. The implied positive feedback is reinforced each session and eventually, the ways our brain and nervous systems communicate will also change. An analogy we often use is to picture their protocol as a blueprint and the closer their brain mimics that blueprint the more positive feedback they’ll get reinforcing this new, optimal mode of functioning.

Examples of the other neural reconditioning techniques we use at Neurvana include but are not limited to low-level laser and infrared light therapy, transcranial direct current stimulation, infraslow fluctuation training, vagal nerve stimulation. 19-channel LORETA neurofeedback training and biofeedback through heart rate variability training.

I’d like to take this opportunity to further elaborate what biofeedback is. In our experience, it is a term that is often used to describe many different approaches and can be very confusing. It is similar in concept to traditional neurofeedback but varies in the bodily processes we target. At Neurvana, we teach the concept of biofeedback as providing the trainee with both visual and auditory information about their heart rate (or a biological process) while actively participating in relaxation techniques like heart-focused or diaphragmatic breathing. Through biofeedback, we are striving to create a balance in the nervous system to be able to easily shift between the fight or flight response and the rest and digest response. The greater the depth or variability of our heart rate as we breathe the greater balance we achieve and this ultimately equates to improved resiliency in our nervous system response to both internal and external stressors.    

How long does it take?

The amount of sessions somebody requires to obtain self-regulation and see an improvement in symptoms varies significantly. Improvements are seen within 10 sessions, and major improvements can take up to 60 or 80 sessions. The exciting aspect of neurofeedback is that it can ‘train’ or ‘educate’ both the conscious and the unconscious minds. This allows brain behaviour and functioning to transfer into everyday life. For example, if somebody with anxiety (as seen in these qEEG maps) can learn to self regulate, both consciously and unconsciously, significant improvements in symptoms can be seen with long-lasting effects.

There is no clear cut answer to this as our training programs are created on an individual basis, therefore, changes are unique to each individual. Some people notice shifts in their symptoms after a handful of sessions while others are not able to pinpoint changes until 20 training sessions in. It is important you are patient and follow the between-session recommendations in order to maximize the frequency and intensity of changes.

Man wearing electrodes

Is it safe?

Neurofeedback practitioners are regulated by the Biofeedback Certification International Alliance (BCIA). Board Certification demonstrates professionalism and adherence to carefully developed standards as a healthcare provider. Biofeedback Certification International Alliance (BCIA) procedures follow the Department of Health & Human Services Guidelines. Healthcare professionals who achieve BCIA Certification demonstrate commitment to professionalism by completing basic degree and educational requirements, endorsing a rigorous code of professional conduct, learning to apply clinical biofeedback skills during mentorship, and passing a written examination.

BCIA is the only institute recognized worldwide that grants certification to biofeedback practitioners. The Association for Applied Psychophysiology and Biofeedback (AAPB), the Biofeedback Foundation of Europe (BFE), and the International Society for Neurofeedback and Research (ISNR) all endorse BCIA certification. BCIA was established in 1981 to certify individuals who meet education and training standards in biofeedback and to progressively re-certify those who advance their knowledge through continuing education. Currently, more than 1,500 healthcare professionals have achieved this certification in 25 countries.

girl receiving neurofeedback

Are the changes permanent?

Now, you may also wonder whether the targeted changes are intended to leave permanent, lasting effects. Before I answer that question I’d like to outline a few things about the human brain. It is a habit machine – so active participation, changes in our behaviour and lifestyle are vital to maintain the positive effects in the nervous system you’ve achieved during the training phase. We often provide tools to practice with at home as well as educational documents to reinforce the work being done in sessions. So long story short, yes these processes are meant to last but not without your active participation.

At Neurvana Health, we utilize techniques of functional diagnostic testing to properly assess health problems and the underlying causes of symptoms. We view issues such as anxiety, depression, headaches, insomnia, panic, OCD, pain, and fatigue as symptoms driven by other underlying causes. These can be biochemical, emotional, or mental and often times there are several causes of any given symptom or condition. Utilizing neurofeedback has been amazing in resolving these symptoms and it’s because of this that we integrate it with nearly every client. Neurofeedback allows difficult health issues to be relieved and often times resolved.

References:
Cannon, R.L., Baldwin, D.R., Shaw, T.L., Diloreto, D.J.,Phillips, S.M., Scruggs, A.M., Riehl, T.C. (2012). Reliability of quantitative EEG (qEEG) measures and LORETA current source density at 30 days. Neuroscience Letters. 518: 27-31.
Ghaziri, J., Tucholka, A., Larue, V., Blanchette-Sylvestre, M., Reyburn, G., Gilbert, G., Le´vesque, J., & Beauregard, M. (2013). Neurofeedback training induces changes in white and gray matter. Clinical EEG and Neuroscience. 44(4): 265-272. DOI: 10.1177/1550059413476031
Thatcher, R.W., North, D.M., & Biver, C.J. (2012). Diffusion spectral imaging modules correlate with EEG LORETA neuroimaging modules. Human Brain Mapping. 33: 1062-1075.
Yucha, C. & Gilbert, C. (2004). Evidence-based Practice in Biofeedback and Neurofeedback. Association for Applied Psychophysiology and Biofeedback Inc. Wheat Ridge, CO.