Brainwave Biofeedback

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Brainwave Biofeedback

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Training Information

What is Biofeedback?

Biofeedback is a treatment technique, a kind of skills training in which you learn to recognize and change signals from your own body. A computer monitors your performance, magnifying and translating your small internal adjustments into video displays and tone signals.

Brainwave Biofeedback Training is a Learning Process

The computer acts as a coach to help you bring your brain into a particular focused state. The learning process for brainwave training is the same as the process for learning to drive a car or to perform any other action that involves both physical and mental skills. It takes time for the learning (called an orientation effect) to take hold. While some people notice improvement from the earliest sessions, it usually takes between 10-15 sessions before you really grasp what the particular brainwave state "feels" like. Clinical improvement varies according to the condition being treated. Most conditions require 20-30 sessions. After an initial comprehensive assessment, training sessions last about 45 minutes and are conducted from one to five times per week.

What is the Computer Actually Measuring?

While you are doing brainwave biofeedback training you are actually hearing and/or seeing video displays that represent brain processing activity. The functioning of the brain depends on the flow of information through elaborate circuits consisting of vast networks of neurons. Coordination among various networks is currently believed to be related to activity of pacemakers in the mid-brain, deep under the cerebral cortex. It is the combined effect of wave-like electro-chemical discharges given off by this neuronal activity that is measured, filtered, and amplified by the highly sensitive computer instruments.

What are the Different Types of Waves and What do They Mean?

Brainwaves are categorized by their frequency, which is a measurement of the number of oscillations (or cycles) a wave makes per second, and their amplitude, which is the strength of the signal. Certain frequencies, when dominant, tend to be associated with particular states of mind and mental functioning. Brainwave training protocols utilize a combination of signals, depending upon therapy goals and any imbalances that may be present among the waves themselves. There are specific protocols appropriate to different problems. Each patient's protocol is individually tailored to fit that person's specific needs.

Traditional brainwave biofeedback has emphasized alpha and theta rhythms. alpha rhythm predominance (frequencies between 8- and 12- cycles-per-second, CPS,) is usually associated with quiet, alert, internally-focused attention. Theta rhythm, 4 - 8 CPS predominance, can be associated with several different mental/physical states. Theta rhythm emerges as you drift off to sleep; theta predominance can be associated with frustration; it is sometimes abnormally predominant in persons with depression, closed head injuries, epilepsy and attention deficit disorders. However, theta and also be associated with creativity and spontaneous insight. For advanced meditators measured during deep meditation, theta is the predominant rhythm and has different characteristics from the theta waves that occur in sleep. Alpha/theta training has shown extraordinary promise in the treatment of substance abuse and post-traumatic stress disorders. Present computer enhancements have made alpha/theta more reliable and efficient than was possible with earlier equipment. Alpha/theta training is sometimes called consciousness training because it harnesses the inner resources of the deeper mind to ultimately affect conscious function.

Later-generation computer equipment has allowed development of completely different protocols, sometimes called neurofeedback, to enhance frequencies faster than alpha. Low beta (15 - 18 CPS) is associated with increased mental activity, and externally focused attention. SMR (12 - 15 CPS) is associated with highly alert, physical stillness. Such training affects brain functions which are not necessarily conscious in origin, such as attention, confusion, fatigue, depression, anxiety, irritability, and pain symptoms.

How do I Make the Signal?

You don't actually make the signal, nor does the computer do anything to you. The computer is simply translating information about the activity occurring in your brain. The signal or display changes virtually at the same instant that your brainwaves change, rewarding the desired effects of the training.

What Do I Focus On or Think About?

Divide your attention between the computer feedback and your internal feelings and sensations. The goal is for you to observe and learn how to maintain the inner sensations and feelings associated with the tone. You will discover that the desired state is serene, tranquil, quietly alert and fully aware, without too much thinking or analyzing.

Another vitally important key is proper breathing: rhythmic, slow, smooth, complete diaphragmatic breathing should be maintained throughout the session. Try to be continuously aware of your breathing pattern without forcing. This type of breath awareness greatly facilitates the learning process.

It is generally okay to examine thoughts and memories if they arise, but try to maintain the attitude of an observer and just watch. Your mind and brain can work almost automatically during the training to bring the best results.

Particularly in alpha/theta training, unpleasant thoughts or memories may pop up. Don't fight or try to suppress them (this only gives them more strength.) You will learn to ask your inner mind if these images have any meaning for you now; and what you can do about the feelings now. I some kind of healing, forgiveness or "letting go" needs to occur, try to allow it to happen rather than trying to force a change. In other words: learn to stay with feelings if they arise and allow your inner self to guide the healing process and seek to discover the message behind the images. If you have a flashback, remember where you are and draw from your own internal strength. By doing this you allow the painful images or memories to be integrated and neutralized. When you feel as though you are finished or have "worked through" any of these experiences, return your attention to the tones, re-establish a slow rhythmic breathing pattern and keep letting go.

Is There Anything I Can Do Between Sessions to Help the Learning Process?

Most Importantly:

Some Things You May Notice:

  • heightened sense of awareness
  • increased memory
  • initially, exaggerated feelings (both good and bad feelings)
  • increased dream recall
  • sometimes more/sometimes less energy, after the first few sessions
  • more energy later on
  • old memories or feelings spontaneously arise during, and sometimes after, sessions
  • sleep improves
  • more motivation
  • increased sense of peace and well-being


Last updated November 20, 1996
Maintained by Linda Mahajan

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