If Neurofeedback is So Great, Why Haven’t I Heard of It Before? I get this question posed to me fairly often and I thought writing an article on the topic would be a good idea. While there are many reasons, I believe the most common reasons are due to the six factors I describe below.

What is Neurofeedback and What’s it Used For?

Biofeedback - issues in treatment assessment (IA biofeedbackissue00runc 0)

First of all, neurofeedback is not new. It has been around since the 1950’s and backed by decades of scientific research. Neurofeedback is a form of biofeedback and is also called brainwave biofeedback or EEG biofeedback and brain training. Biofeedback is a form of learning called operant conditioning. By rewarding a behavior that is desirable, the likelihood of that behavior being repeated is increased. Conversely by giving feedback when a less desirable behavior is expressed, that behavior will be less likely to be repeated. When one’s brainwaves are out of balance or too high in one area or too low, the process of rewards and feedback can help a person to learn how to control their brainwaves which in turn can have a beneficial effect on behavior and mood. In summary, self-regulation of brainwaves is the goal of neurofeedback.

Out of the Research Lab and Into Offices and Homes

The field of neurofeedback today owes much of its preliminary research and findings to Dr. Barry Sterman for his work creating and establishing clinical applications for neurofeedback. After earning a Ph.D. in Psychology and Neuroscience from the University of California Los Angeles in 1963, Dr. Sterman began his research, which ultimately led to the discovery of an effective treatment for a variety of neurological conditions.

In the early days of neurofeedback, the equipment was large and expensive, meaning that very few had the means to use or apply neurofeedback tools. Even though it existed as a tool, it was only for people with the passion and money to make it happen.

The advent of personal computers and, especially, the development of laptop computing meant that the speed of everyday computers was enough to provide the brain with fast enough feedback. The cost of purchasing laptops and the gear required to do neurofeedback has fallen over the past 15 years, making it affordable for more people. I suspect that as the technology improves, a greatly expanded number of people will know about and be able to apply neurofeedback in their lives. In fact, we can provide neurofeedback services to patients/clients in their own homes, via monitored remote self-training.

Drug Therapy vs Circuitry Errors

Traditionally many mood and behavioral problems such as ADHD, depression, anxiety and sleep disorders have been treated with medications to control the symptoms. In the United States drug therapy seems to be the method most used since our “health care “paradigm is based on symptomatic treatment. This system of care is known as allopathic medicine. People are used to getting a medication and they expect an effect that they can feel immediately, hence the popularity of using medication to manage symptoms.

One of the most recent books I have read had a really great forward by Sebern F. Fischer, M.A, BCN, in which the following was written, and it resonated with me for purposes of this blog article. “It is time to think differently about the treatment of emotional suffering and mental illness. We need only to look at the statistics. The World Health Organization estimates by the year 2020 there will be a death by suicide every 20 seconds. In the last 20 years, the suicide rate in the United States has gone up over 28%. Suicide is the fourth leading cause of death for young people in South Africa. 90% of suicides are related to mental illness.” She continues, “Suicide is the leading statistical indicator used by Thomas Insel, a former direct of the Nations Institute of Mental Health to show that we are failing in our treatment of mental illness and to suggest that we have to think of mental disorder and behavioral disorders first and foremost as brain disorders. He goes further. The subtitle of his article Faulty Circuits published in Scientific American (April 2010) reads “Neuroscience is revealing the malfunctioning connections underlying psychological disorders and is forcing psychiatrists to rethink the cause of mental illness”. It is true that neuroscience, particularly in the file of PTSD, is revealing malfunctioning brain circuitries, but it is less true that these discoveries are propelling widespread changes in the way psychiatrists or psychotherapists think about cause and about treatments.” [1]

As you might imagine, it takes some time to “change the brain circuitry” via neurofeedback. I am reminded of a chiropractic principle (number 6), which states, there is no process that does not require time. It takes time to recover from mental or physical trauma. In a society obsessed with production and consumption, often the time for healing is cut short.

The second BIG reason why you may not have heard about neurofeedback is the stubborn dominance of drug therapy to treat then symptoms of mood and behavioral disorders. Combined with the notion that we should somehow be able to defy physics and biology and heal quickly, fewer people are utilizing neurofeedback than drugs to manage their symptoms.

Changing Brain Circuitry Requires Personal Investment

Sebern continues, “Psychotherapists need to understand how the brain works, how its circuitry errors give rise to problems in behavior and mental state and how we can encourage it to function better regardless of its particular malaise. We can help people address the very disorder that so often lead to suicide by holding a gentle mirror up to the brain so that it can observe and change it own functioning. This mirror is called neurofeedback or biofeedback to the brain.”

The third reason, in my opinion is the stubbornness of mental health providers to acknowledge the benefits of neurofeedback as a method to help change the brain. The brain can change due to it remarkable malleability called neuroplasticity. [2]

Additionally, since neurofeedback is a form of learning, it most often is not considered for insurance reimbursement and therefore becomes a personal investment for the patient. Often when people are presented with the reality that they need pay out of pocket for a service there is less enthusiasm to spread the word about that service.

Neurofeedback is a Tool, Not a Field

Most people have heard of occupations like chiropractor, acupuncturist, psychologist, or teacher. Occupations usually have some professional, guildlike organizations behind them that promote interest in the field and increase awareness. Neurofeedback, however, is not an occupation, it’s a tool. The people who use neurofeedback span many occupational categories, including tutors, coaches, occupational/physical therapists, chiropractors, spiritual guides, doctors, mental health care providers, and enthusiasts with no related occupation at all. The result of this broad usage means that because neurofeedback doesn’t belong to any one field, it doesn’t have any one champion. Most people end up hearing about neurofeedback from a friend who’s had a good experience.

Research Challenges

Neurofeedback is a gentle teaching tool for the brain, but many skeptics treat it like it’s a pharmaceutical and argue that because there aren’t enough double-blind, placebo-controlled studies, it must not be a valid tool. One of the problems researchers run into when trying to create this gold standard type of study, though, is that many trainees can tell when their neurofeedback is sham training, so an approach more like doctors use with surgical techniques is probably more useful. Moreover, when someone is trying to use neurofeedback for mental health reasons, they often run into the problem that the brain does not subscribe to the committee-created diagnoses contained within the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5). For example, researchers who are studying people with depression, may not be looking at study participants with similar looking brainwave patterns.

The system we use is a qEEG based bio-psycho-social assessment instrument designed exclusively for the purposes of neurofeedback and not for medical intervention, nor for psychological diagnosis. It does not employ the DSM paradigm. It measures behaviors, symptoms, symptom levels, relates them to brain locations and related functions. It then assesses electrophysiological status to confirm or disconfirm client symptom reports. Then it statistically evaluates neurofeedback training locations and determines the most likely optimal locations for intervention as well as the best frequency training strategies

All that said, there are many well-done studies on neurofeedback showing that it works. The bigger problem is not the issue of how to design double-blind studies, it’s determining what is “enough.” Someone who has a bias against neurofeedback will never accept its validity no matter how many studies get published in peer-reviewed journals. Add this to what appears to be a concerted effort from the pharmaceutical industry to undermine the reputation of neurofeedback, and it is enough to keep some people dubious about whether neurofeedback works.

Neurofeedback Requires Significant Investment in Education and Training

Like all fields of complex study, including human medical training, to become competent in neurofeedback requires an investment of both time and money. My initial foray into this subject matter was very basic, and as I learned more about the field and was exposed to seasoned neurofeedback practitioners, I realized I needed a LOT of studying to up my level of education. Thankfully, there is a blueprint for learning that those interested in providing top notch service can follow. The Biofeedback Certification International Alliance (BCIA) has a path to learning for those interested in becoming board certified in neurofeedback. “BCIA’s certification programs are based on scientific evidence published in refereed journals. BCIA rejects narrow, unsubstantiated perspectives and the conflict of interest that exists when certification depends on a specific vendor’s equipment, databases, and protocols. BCIA certification is based on a reading list, Blueprint of Knowledge, and Professional Standards and Ethical Principles that were developed following an extensive job analysis and that are regularly updated by a task force of international authorities in biofeedback. BCIA continually gathers data to validate and revise its exams through the psychometric process to ensure the relevance, integrity, and value of our certification program.” [3]

Becoming board certified in neurofeedback (BCN) is an important undertaking that requires a considerable amount of time and concerted effort. This being the case, I believe there are fewer neurofeedback practitioners with enough training to meet the needs of the public and as a result this is another reason why some people may not have heard of neurofeedback.

The bottom line is not to let the absence of positive media coverage of neurofeedback stop you from considering using neurofeedback for yourself or a loved one. If you do your homework, you’ll find that neurofeedback is safe, effective, and powerful—so powerful that it’s used for many reasons by people from all walks of life—and the future looks bright for neurofeedback.

Check out my Introduction to Neurofeedback video for more information

Schedule a Free Evaluation (or call (586) 488-4818) and see for yourself how beneficial the Michigan Brain Health neurofeedback program can be for your health challenges.


Always remember one of my mantras., “The more you know about how your body works, the better you can take care of yourself.”

For more details about the natural approach I take with my patients, take a look at the book I wrote entitled: Reclaim Your Life; Your Guide To Revealing Your Body’s Life-Changing Secrets For Renewed Health. It is available in my office or at Amazon and many other book outlets. If you found value in this article, please use the social sharing icons at the bottom of this post and please share with those you know who are still suffering with chronic health challenges, despite receiving medical management. Help me reach more people so they may regain their zest for living! Thank you!

ALL THE BEST – DR. KARL R.O.S. JOHNSON, DC, BCN – DIGGING DEEPER TO FIND SOLUTIONS  

References:

1. A portion of the Forward by Sebern F. Fisher, M.A, BCN in the book Neurofeedback; The Non-Invasive Alternative written by Helena Bester, BCN (2nd Edition)

2. Closed-loop brain training: the science of neurofeedback. https://www.nature.com/articles/nrn.2016.164/

3. Why Choose a BCIA-Certified Professional? https://www.bcia.org/i4a/pages/index.cfm?pageid=3692