High Tech That Heals
The Use of Neurofeedback in the Treatment of Eating Disorders
Very simply put, neurofeedback is the science of reconditioning and retraining brain wave patterns. Although still considered "new," this learning technique has been widely used since the 1960s for stress reduction and the treatment of epilepsy.
At Mirasol, we know that eating disorders don't just exist in a vacuum. They often occur in conjunction with other conditions such as OCD, anxiety, depression and sleep disorders. These collateral disorders are very easily and successfully treated with EEG Biofeedback.
Mirasol clients receive a neurofeedback assessment within their first week of treatment. The assessment pinpoints the area/s of the brain and the bandwidth of brain wave deviations.
During neurofeedback training sessions, sensors are placed on the scalp and ear lobes. An EEG biofeedback unit provides instantaneous audio and visual displays of brain wave activity. This "feedback" is what allows the individual to influence and change brain activity.
Through individualized neurofeedback training, the brain learns to increase or decrease certain brainwave frequencies in order to function most efficiently for the task at hand. The changes are temporary at first but become permanent over time.
Frequently Asked Questions About Neurofeedback
What is an EEG?
An EEG, or electroencephalogram, is a recording of electrical activity in the brain using sensors (electrodes) on the scalp. The presence of different brain frequencies was first demonstrated by the German psychiatrist Hans Berger in 1929. The EEG has long been a valuable tool of neurologists in the diagnosis of epilepsy and other brain disorders.
What is EEG Neurofeedback?
This is a learning technique by which the brain improves its function by receiving information about the frequencies it is creating. Dr. Barry Sterman, UCLA professor emeritus of neurology and psychology, pioneered this area of operant conditioning while doing animal research in the 1960s. In the decade before, experiments by psychologist Joe Kamiya, Ph.D., at the University of Chicago showed that brain waves were not totally involuntary as had been thought. The brain can be nudged to produce more or less of a certain frequency by the simple feedback of audio tones, for example. Also known as Biofeedback, EEG Neurofeedback enhances the brain's communication network in a painless and noninvasive way. In some cases, it can reduce a client's need for medication. The field of EEG Neurofeedback has grown rapidly and internationally since the 1980s. Its practioners include neurologists, psychiatrists, psychologists, and counselors.
Who can benefit from EEG Neurofeedback?
EEG Neurofeedback was first applied as a tool in managing epilepsy, Attention Deficit Disorder, and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. Today this learning technique is employed to treat a wide variety of conditions, including brain injury, depression, anxiety, and disordered eating. The broad application of EEG Neurofeedback stems from its support of the innate regulatory function of the brain.
Why would EEG Neurofeedback be applicable to eating disorders?
Supported by current research, Mirasol approaches eating disorders as chronic stress-related conditions. They begin as an individual's adaptation to stress, and subsequently gain increased control over a person's life and choices. Stress chemicals have detrimental physiologic affects on brain structure and function. We also know that the developing brain is positively impacted by emotional nurturing in childhood. EEG Neurofeedback is a valuable complement to other stress reduction therapies at Mirasol. It supports the formation of the brain's essential communication pathways and helps clients live more effectively with a variety of emotions. Commitment to balanced nutrition that includes complex carbohydrates is necessary for a client to reap the maximum benefit from neurofeedback therapy.
What occurs during EEG Neurofeedback training?
Sensors on the scalp pick up information about the waves of electrical energy the brain is producing. A computer amplifies these complex signals and displays them on the monitor as small groups of energy at specific frequencies. This information is "fed back" to the client, often through audio tones. Some training involves the use of computer games like mazes or races.
What kinds of brain waves can be displayed?
Beta rhythms reflect "fast" activity-frequencies activated when we are alert, problem solving, or being anxious. Rapid consolidation of information produces frequencies in the highest range, known as Gamma. Alpha rhythms are the most frequent wave patterns, and they occur when we are relaxed and detached. When we close our eyes, the brain produces Alpha. Theta frequencies reflect even deeper relaxation, occurring as we slip closer to sleep and form mini-dreams or images. The brain during deep sleep produces the slowest waves, known as Delta. Through training, the brain learns to increase or decrease certain frequencies so that it is functioning in the optimal way for the task at hand. EEG Neurofeedback produces greater efficiency and flexibility as the brain moves between different states.
What types of training are selected?
The stress of living in today's culture produces particular wear on the nervous system, but we now know that we can play a role in balancing this stress. Problems of brain self-regulation fall into three general areas: instability (which is the case in epilepsy and other conditions), under arousal, and over arousal. Training Beta activity is often selected to treat manifestations of under arousal such as depression, poor attentional/focus, and frequent awakenings at night. Symptoms of over arousal, such as anxiety and difficulty falling asleep, commonly respond to training in a frequency just lower than Beta, called SMR. Alpha training is appropriate for some individuals with anxiety because of its calming effects. Deep relaxation training with Alpha-Theta brain wave feedback has been used to successfully treat addictions and PTSD.
Where can I find more information about EEG Neurofeedback?
For more information about neurofeedback, visit the EEG Spectrum the International Society for Neurofeedback and Research web sites. See also A Symphony in the Brain: The Evolution of the New Brain Wave Neurofeedback (2000), written by Jim Robbins and published by Atlantic Monthly Press.