Frequently Asked Questions

What is EEG Neurofeedback?

Neurofeedback (NFB) is an advanced form of biofeedback, meaning that it uses feedback from the client’s own physiology to guide them in a healthier direction. Essentially, NFB is exercise for the brain, a way of training the brain to give us more of what is helpful and less of what’s not. NFB allows a client to train his/her brainwaves in order to strengthen healthy patterns. Feedback comes in the form of sounds and images from a computer screen. Our brain learns to recognize these signals as rewards and to repeat what is being rewarded—the emergence of healthier brainwave patterns. And since brainwaves influence behavior, sensation, and emotion, NFB helps the client to reduce stress, improve concentration and strengthen performance. Most beneficially, after a sufficient number of sessions the brain holds onto the gains it has made, and tends to sustain them long-term. NFB is a gentle, supportive way of working with the source of our emotions and perceptions—the brain.

What is it used for?

Neurofeedback has been reported to be effective in treating a number of conditions commonly seen in clinical settings—anxiety, depression, ADHD, OCD, sleep disorders, and behavioral issues, among others. It can provide support to those dealing with addiction issues or in sobriety. Case studies have also indicated effectiveness in dealing with migraine headaches and other stress-induced problems, bipolar disorder, eating disorders, and learning and developmental disorders.

How can it help so many problems?

The electrical activity in our brain is responsible for control of our attention and thoughts, our behaviors, and the regulation of all our bodily systems. Therefore, any changes in brain function can have a profound impact on a person. NFB allows us to train the brain to correct irregularities as the brain learns about itself, strengthens communications, and develops better self-regulation. The results include changes in cognitive function, mood, behavior, and decreased frequency of events related to brain irritability—e.g., headaches, panic attacks, depressive episodes.

spring leavesHow is it done?

Sensors are attached to the client’s scalp with a conductive paste. The sensors only measure brainwaves that are already present. There is no signal or charge being delivered to the client’s brain! The brainwaves show up as an EEG on the therapist’s computer. The therapist uses this information to set thresholds representing a healthier brainwave profile for the client. The client then ‘plays’ a simple video game using his/her brainwaves to do so. A pac-man will move forward and eat dots when the client’s brainwaves are meeting the threshold challenges; or, pictures will emerge piece by piece on the screen until the picture is complete. These are rewards that the brain recognizes and learns to seek repeatedly, creating new and healthier patterns in the brain. The therapist adjusts thresholds to encourage this learning. This form of learning is called operant conditioning, a form of learning in which an individual modifies behavior according to the consequences of that behavior. Operant conditioning has proven successful in other forms of biofeedback for decades.

How can I do well?

Just pay attention to what is happening on the screen. Brainwaves change constantly, and the system will signal with a beep when it catches your brain making the desired pattern. The brain recognizes the beeps and the visual progress of the game as a reward, and seeks to create more of the optimal pattern. We can’t consciously control our brain waves, and efforts to do so will likely increase tension and lead to fewer beeps. So relax and pay attention without straining. Good nutrition, regular sleep, and other stress-reducing techniques will enhance results, as well.

How does it work?

Scientists have recently proven that the brain is a lot more adaptable or ‘plastic’ than originally believed. What this means is that, even as we age, our brains retain the ability to form new connections in the process of learning. Therefore we can continue to enhance our potential and performance. The brain learns by building connections between nerves cells. These pathways are strengthened through repetition, making them more readily available for use. When first learning how to ride a bike, for instance, we had to think about each part of the process; eventually, however, these movements became automatic because our brain had learned them. Similarly, in NFB the brain learns to make adjustments to its own patterns. With practice it maintains and strengthens these changes.

In the1960s Dr. Barry Sterman, a researcher at the UCLA School of Medicine, discovered that cats could be trained to produce more of a particular EEG rhythm when they were rewarded with warm broth. Later, while conducting a separate study, he discovered by chance that those same cats were resistant to seizures normally provoked by a compound in rocket fuel. This led to successful experiments that reduced seizures in persons with epilepsy. It turned out that humans could also be trained to produce more or less of a specific EEG rhythm simply by rewarding them with beeps when they were doing so. It was then observed that, in the process of treating seizures, the symptoms of ADHD also improved. Since then many other studies have expanded the applications and demonstrated the clinical evidence of this technique. Many physicians, including many neurologists, may be skeptical of this approach because they have not heard of it or are unfamiliar with the evidence-based studies supporting it. You may refer them to the websites and references provided on this site.

Are there any adverse effects?

In most cases there are no adverse effects provided that the sessions are supervised by a well-trained professional. This is a major advantage over many medications. Occasionally following a session an individual may feel a little hyper or a little cloudy, indicating that the training setting was a bit too high or low. This adjustment is easily made in the next session. It is essential that the client reports as accurately as possible any changes or reactions that occur between sessions; this input helps guide treatment.

Are medications an issue?

Many clients begin NFB while taking medication. Some clients may find it possible to decrease or eventually go off medication when using NFB therapeutically. Clients need to discuss any potential changes in medication with their prescribing doctor. Peak Neurotherapy will work with doctors to help in this process.

How should I prepare?

Please bring any relevant medical/psychological/educational information. Come as well-rested as possible. Most importantly, come with an intention to make positive changes; a motivated client tends to make progress more quickly. Clean hair does help the therapist get a better signal. If you are ill or coming down with something, it is best to reschedule your appointment, as your brainwave profile will be different when you are sick.

green leavesHow long will it take?

The initial interview will be an hour. Sessions thereafter generally run around 30-45 minutes depending on the amount of training necessary. Training twice a week is optimal; sessions once a week are helpful but may not improve conditions as quickly.
How many sessions it takes to see a difference will depend on the individual and the issues involved. A client’s symptoms may be an expression of a simple brainwave irregularity or a more complex situation that requires training at multiple sites over an extended period of time. Some conditions such as sleep problems may resolve relatively quickly; others will take more time. Again, think of it as exercise for the brain: a few trips to the gym will not suddenly get us into top shape, but many regular trips to the gym will. A client should realistically count on doing at least 20 sessions in order to see some improvement. For a child with uncomplicated ADD the average number of sessions is 40, although this can vary depending on individuals and severity. Like exercise, it is not recommended to do a certain number of sessions and then suddenly quit. Sessions may be tapered toward the end of treatment, with occasional review sessions recommended post-treatment. Some children with ADD may need a few review sessions as they change hormonally. Adult clients may benefit from ‘touch-ups’, as well.

How Do I Know It Will Work?

There is strong evidence for success in training the conditions listed above, but as with any therapeutic treatment (or, for that matter, medical interventions), it is not possible to predict an individual’s response. The best results often come when NFB is combined with other forms of therapeutic treatment and ‘homework,’ such as breathing exercises, muscle relaxation, meditation or yoga. We will work to reduce or eliminate not only the immediate symptoms of an issue, but the underlying causes of those symptoms as well, to lessen the likelihood that they will recur. Lifestyle, diet, and self-care practices will be addressed. Strong commitment, motivation, and full participation on the part of the client are essential to success.

What will it cost?

Insurances do not generally cover NFB. This is likely to change in the future as its effectiveness continues to be clinically demonstrated. At this point, however, NFB services at Peak Neurotherapy are out-of-pocket. The initial assessment is $150. NFB sessions are $90/session or can be bundled into ten sessions for $810.

How do I contact Peak Neurotherapy?

Please call us at (207) 807-9210 to schedule an appointment. We are located at 110 Auburn Street in Portland, Maine. We serve clients from Westbrook, Portland and the Greater Portland, Maine area. If you have had an evaluation or other sorts of testing done previously, please let us know when you call and bring the information with you to your first appointment. Peak Neurotherapy will work with each client to best determine their individual needs, including referrals when necessary.