HOW DOES NEUROFEEDBACK WORK?
Neurofeedback is based on the principles of operant conditioning. Operant conditioning is a type of learning where certain behaviours are rewarded to increase the chance of them occurring. For example, we may want to reward a calm, focused, mental state for a client who struggles with ADHD symptoms.
When the trainee enters this mental state, they are rewarded with visual and audial feedback through computer software. Participants are given instant feedback when they are no longer in the desired mental state, as the audial and visual feedback stops or is altered. Through practice, the desired mental state becomes easier to enter, maintain, and recognize.
As a result the trainee improves their ability to self-regulate their mental states. Clients learn to better understand themselves and what it means to be focused, calm, relaxed, and alert. Neurofeedback also takes advantage of the concept of neuroplasticity, the concept that the brain can restructure and reorganize itself in response to learning or other activities (for more information, we recommend reading The Brain That Changes Itself and The Brain’s Way of Healing). Neurofeedback is essentially a learning process. Information about the brain’s processing is displayed to the client and the brain adapts and improves as it learns to modify its functioning.
This method is very similar to the way we learn how to ride a bicycle. Riding a bicycle can be challenging because it is difficult to learn how to balance. No coaching or tips can significantly help you learn faster; you need to experience what being balanced feels like. The vestibular apparatus in our inner ear is responsible for our sense of balance, as it relays our body’s state of balance to our brain. This information allows us to modify our body position so that we can balance. Once we have learned to regulate our balance, riding a bike is easy.
Neurofeedback uses the same concept to teach the brain how to remain calm, focused, relaxed, and alert. Training provides clients an opportunity to exercise their ability to enter, recognize, and maintain the desired state. When enough training is done, the client improves their ability to self-regulate their brainwaves and mental state.