Neurofeedback: Enhancing Performance for Daily Life

By Dr. Gail Sanders Durgin Ph.D. Published in Art of Well Being Spring 2001.

What is this thing called neurofeedback? It is a method that enables people to learn to train their brains. It is a non-invasive, and painless training program for many learning, behavioral and physical problems as well as a method of learning to enhance the performance of athletics, performers, executives, etc. Neurofeedback is sometimes referred to as "biofeedback for the brain" or EEG biofeedback. It has been studied and used by universities, NASA, and the Defense Department in addition to clinicians and schools. Now the public is becoming aware of neurofeedback through the media.

Why is neurofeedback so effective? Like learning to ride a bicycle, once a person learns to manage his brainwaves, the brain remembers. The new connections within the brain remain and sustain heightened brain functioning. Neurofeedback is not therapy; it is training. It does not change your personality. It teaches your brain new ways to process information.

How does it work? It is a learning strategy that enables the client to modify the way his/her brain works by teaching the brain to operate in different frequencies. The client is connected to a biofeedback system using sensors on the scalp and the ears. The biofeedback computer displays the actual EEG while communicating data to a second biofeedback computer. The second computer runs a special video game that the client plays by controlling his/her brainwaves. As long as the client keeps his/her brainwaves in the proper frequency, the game will play and the client will earn points. If the brainwaves slip out of the proper frequency, the game will stop. Using this basic positive reinforcement, the client s brain will learn to self-regulate. Over time, the brain will learn to reach a state of optimum brainwave regulation.

Who can benefit? Children and adults with attention problems, hyperactivity, sleep problems, academic deficits, oppositional behaviors, developmental disorders and reactive attachment disorder. Adults with Age Related Cognitive Decline can benefit from "brain brightening." Adults and teenagers who want to excel in their chosen activities can benefit from Peak Performance training to enhance athletic abilities, performing arts abilities, and creative and business pursuits. This type of training is currently being used by Olympic athletics, professional and serious golfers, opera singers, dancers, and top business executives.

Jimmy came into the office one morning not knowing what to expect. His mother brought him in for an evaluation for his ADHD behavior. He was currently on a type of stimulant medication but Jimmy was still having problems in his third grade class at school. Jimmy was always on the go and had trouble paying attention to his teacher. He was easily distracted by the other children and was always fiddling with something. Jimmy was always losing his homework or misplacing his books, or forgetting to bring home his homework assignments. His mother had to sit with him at the table every night to focus him on his homework assignments. Without his mother s constant attention, Jimmy would find ten other things to be interested in rather than his homework. Jimmy also had trouble socializing with other children and was not often invited to play at other children s homes.

At the office of Gail Sanders Durgin, Ph.D., Jimmy had an evaluation that was somewhat different from the previous ones. Jimmy was asked to complete the TOVA (Test of Variables of Attention). After that, his mother answered a lot of questions about Jimmy s behavior. Then Jimmy had sensors attached to his scalp and Jimmy played a video game with his brain waves. Dr. Durgin looked at his actual brainwaves on her computer, but Jimmy watched pac-man eat his way through the mazes and controlled pac-man with his brain waves instead of his hands. Jimmy started coming for regular training sessions. Within a few weeks, Jimmy had started improving in school. He could sit for a longer period of time without fidgeting. He started to perform better on his tests and he started to enjoy reading. His teacher was pleased with his progress but the thing that Jimmy liked best was the fact that he was invited to a sleep over for the first time. Jimmy was starting to make new friends.

Neurofeedback practitioners work collaboratively with other professionals, therapists, counselors, coaches (sports and personal), physicians, teachers, trainers, etc., to ensure coordination of training, learning or treatment goals. Recent articles about neurofeedback or EEG Biofeedback can be found in Newsweek, June 19, 2000; New York Times, Sept. 26, 2000; Family Therapy Network Magazine, Jan/Feb., 2001; Discover, March 2001; Cooking Light, March 2001; New Scientist, 3 March 2001; Outside, April 2001.

Gail Sanders Durgin, Ph.D. has over 20 years of experience in mental health, developmental disabilities, and stress management.