When I first heard about neurofeedback therapy, also known as EEG biofeedback, I was immediately intrigued. Neurofeedback is a method of re-training your brain to more effectively distribute electrical energy, basically helping your brain become more effective and balanced. Neurofeedback is used to treat a variety of conditions from anxiety, and depression, to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). In addition to treating conditions, it can also simply be used to boost effectiveness in a particular area such as concentration or creativity.
Organizations including NASA, the US military, and many pro-athletes are fans of the performance enhancing neurofeedback. For instance, basketball player Tobias Harris, who plays for the Philadelphia 76ers, uses neurofeedback for 45 minutes every day while he is on the road, according to ESPN.com. NASA uses neurofeedback in astronaut training as a method to improve astronauts’ focus and mental acuity.
A neurofeedback session generally lasts anywhere from 30 to 45 minutes, and most patients have anywhere from 20 to 40 sessions if they want to experience the desired benefits. The sessions are non-invasive, and involve electrodes placed on your scalp to measure brain wave activity. The brain waves are translated into audio, and video sounds, and images which you can watch. When your brain-wave produces an undesirable pattern, you will receive a sort of negative feedback, whether it is a sound, or the video patterns change, that will ‘tell’ your brain that something is out of balance and must be adjusted.
As I myself experience a lot of anxiety and trouble concentrating, I thought this was something I wanted to try for myself. I also love trying new things, especially if they are related to personal growth and wellness. One of my best friends also encouraged me to try it by describing her experience with neurofeedback. She said, “It’s like doing a hundred hours of meditation in one hour.” That sounded great to me, and also, well, a little… too good to be true. Despite a bit of skepticism, I was game to try it to reduce my anxiety.
I found a treatment center near me that does neurofeedback. Unsurprisingly, Los Angeles is filled with them. For a period of several months, I did 45-minute sessions of neurofeedback therapy, twice a week. I sat in a comfortable chair (feels like a Laz-E-Boy lounger) as electrodes were applied to my scalp, aided by the use of a headband. I also held a mouse in my hand, and sat in front of a monitor. The monitor displayed what looked like a series of kaleidoscopic images, much like fractals, and I watched as the colors, and lines twirled around on the screen. When I lost focus, I heard a weird, somewhat uncomfortable tone in the headset I was wearing, which I suppose was re-training my brain to stay focused on the images. It could get kind of boring and monotonous at points, and on days when I felt particularly antsy, it was frustrating to sit in a chair and watch images of fractals float across the screen for 45 minutes.
The meditation analogy my friend shared with me about neurofeedback turned out to be appropriate, if not completely accurate. After leaving a session of neurofeedback, I never felt like I just did 100 hours of mediation (but then again, I have never done 100 hours of mediation, so who is to say), but I did feel more focused. At the end of my time doing neurofeedback therapy, I did feel a slight reduction in my anxiety levels. I was not as easily rattled, and it took me longer to react negatively to distressing situations. During the time I tried neurofeedback therapy, I was also doing traditional talk therapy, so it is hard to say which variable helped my anxiety the most. It is also hard to say if I perhaps experienced the placebo effect. Regardless, neurofeedback is a very interesting method of potentially helping our brain operate optimally.