What is Neurofeedback and How Can It Help Us?

What is Neurofeedback and How Can It Help Us?
Valeria Sabater

Written and verified by the psychologist Valeria Sabater.

Last update: 15 November, 2021

Neurofeedback is a type of advanced technique that gradually trains the brain to self-regulate. It can improve certain psychological problems such as anxiety, stress or insomnia. In addition, it can enhance the performance of our cognitive processes and improve attention, memory and learning.

It is very possible that many people, on hearing the word “neurofeedback” will visualize a person with different electrodes placed on different parts of their head, and about to receive electric impulses. Nothing could be further from the truth. Neurofeedback is not invasive, is painless, and it doesn’t use electricity, nor any type of medication.

“Neurofeedback is cutting-edge technology that brings us face to face with our most intimate dimension: the brain”

-Barry Sterman-

With just a few sensors connected to a computer and some simple engineering we can get an idea of brain activity and its connectivity in just a matter of seconds. Thanks to this amazing brain analysis software (or QEEG brain mapping) you can identify, for example, which areas are overstimulated, or which areas are not coordinating their activity as they should be.

How neurofeedback started

The technique of neurofeedback is not new. It all began in the late 1950s and early 1960s, with Joe Kamiya (doctor at the The University of Chicago) and Barry Sterman (doctor at the The University of California). Both worked on a project for NASA and trained numerous astronauts with neurofeedback parameters to improve the brain’s adaptation to the outer atmosphere. Later, they used this same approach to reduce seizures in patients with epilepsy by up to 60%.

Nowadays, we can find more and more centers specialized in this type of therapy. This approach is not exempt from criticism, however. One area in which very positive results have certainly been achieved is in the treatment of attention deficit disorders , with or without hyperactivity.

Let’s have a look at some of the facts.

Girl in from of computer

What is neurofeedback?

Neurofeedback is not a cure. It is not like medication to get rid of our anxiety. Nor can it solve the after-effects associated with a stroke. It is rather a method to manage or regulate brain patterns so that our brain works in a healthier, more effective way.

The normal method is a minimum of 20 repetitive training sessions using a computerized neurofeedback program. This program teaches our central nervous system to reorganize and regulate brainwave frequencies.

To understand it much better, let’s look at an example…

I can’t sleep, I’ve tried everything and my quality of life is suffering

Sarah has been suffering from serious sleep problems for almost six months. She’s tried everything. It’s now reached the point that she can barely concentrate. She hardly dares to take the car in the mornings to go to work, and she feels that she is completely losing control of her emotions.

  • Her doctor recommended that she starts neurofeedback sessions.
  • To do this, she would have to follow some basic steps. The first step would be to perform a psychiatric evaluation. This would be followed by a neurological test, and finally a brain map or QEEG.
  • When the specialists carried out this last test, the computer program discovered that, as suspected, Sarah’s brain is on maximum alert.
  • The areas involved in emotional reactivity and anxiety were working at 3 times the normal rate. They discovered that her underlying anxiety was using up all the resources of her brain. The result is that she cannot sleep, she can’t focus and neither can she control her emotions effectively.
  • After this first diagnosis, the specialists drew up a specific neurofeedback training plan for Sarah. Through the connection between the computer and the Central Nervous System of the patient, they would start some training sessions involving a series of images, sounds, phrases, music and other stimuli. By doing this Sarah’s brain pattern activity will become healthier and more relaxed. It will optimize, and give her the quality of life that she so desperately needs and deserves.

Neurofeedback, meditation with high technology

It doesn’t hurt, it’s not intrusive, no medication is involved, and we don’t even experience any tingling sensations either. Neurofeedback can be compared to enjoyable meditation sessions where we are face to face in front of a mirror. In this case, of course, the mirror reflects the activity of our mind. Our fascinating, sometimes chaotic mind, which we find so difficult to control.

Neurofeedback helps us to have more control over our brain activity, and to manage our cognitive processes and our emotional world better.

Just sitting in front of screens is enough to help us to learn to think differently. It allows the flow of our brain waves to vary, thus creating a state of relaxation and deeper concentration. It will help our brain to be more resourceful and more productive. Some people will need more sessions, but there are many patients who, after a simple session of 30 minutes of alpha wave training, achieve a greater cognitive performance by completely reducing the erraticness of their mind. Each person will need their own personalized training sessions, depending on their personal situation and needs.


A relief for depression

In this way, neurofeedback is very useful in patients with depression, migraines, obsessive-compulsive disorders and insomnia. It is also useful for those with dependence on certain substances, and especially in children with ADHD. With sessions of just over 20 minutes or half an hour, once a week, there are many children who have improved greatly. Their attention span, concentration and the capacity of their working memory have improved markedly.

Without a doubt, this is not a miracle cure. In many cases, such as depression or anxiety, what neurofeedback can achieve is to reduce the symptoms, but never the source of the problem. However, as the experts in this field tell us, there is continual research in this area and this is a therapy that is being continually developed. The hope is that, as they get to know the operation of the brain in more depth, neurofeedback will improve its effectiveness in the coming months and years. We await these new developments with excitement and interest.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.