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Best Kept Secret in Mental Health, Part 3

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Best Kept Secret in Mental Health, Part 3

By Anna Raab, M.A. MFT, BCN

Part 3:  Normalizing Brain Wave Activity

In my last article I explained how we “map the electrical universe.”  Through brain mapping, or creating the electrical traffic map, we are able to measure the brain’s electrical activity in order to assess abnormalities and how they are affecting the individual.  I also explained how therapeutic this can be for the individual as they are able to see that their issues are real and measurable.  In this article I am very excited to explain how these abnormalities are also treatable!

When I describe Neurofeedback and how it works, I like to use the metaphor of how we learn to ride a bike.  The brain is a learning machine and it is an adaptive organ.  So much of what we learn and repeat is based on what we get rewarded for, and as we learn we become more and more adaptive.  As you learn to ride a bike the feedback loop is almost exactly the same as how the brain learns to produce normalized brain wave activity.  On a bike you are consciously aware that you do not want to fall down right? Your brain, through a constant do this and don’t do that feedback loop, figures out (learns) what it's doing to keep you upright and after multiple attempts memorizes (adapts) what it is doing and repeats all the complex processes required to keep your bicycle upright.  All the while, all you’re really thinking about and aware of is “I don’t want to fall down.”  Hence, while your brain is actively focused on that end, there are untold number of subconscious processes hard at work to keep you from falling over.  The brain learns and adapts and, voila, you’re riding a bike.  As the old saying goes, “you don’t ever forget how to ride a bike.”  In the same amazing way, with sufficient training, your brain can also learn to produce and permanently repeat normalized and more adaptive electrical functioning.

This kind of reward feedback (not falling over) is actually called operant conditioning in psychology.  Operant conditioning is a learning process through which the strength of a behavior is modified by reinforcement or punishment. We basically learn to ride a bike by being rewarded for not falling down.  In the same way, Neurofeedback trains the brain to produce normalized brain wave activity by rewarding the brain for producing normal activity.  In our office this literally comes by way of watching a movie!  Yes, that’s correct, you can heal your brain by watching the movie of your choice.  All we have to do is put your brain in a position where it has to work to see the movie.  So, in this case, the reward is that while your brain is producing normalized activity it is rewarded with a bright full picture of your movie.  When brain wave activity is veering off in the wrong direction, you experience a very fast darkening of the screen, which of course for any modernized person, is like punishment.  In order for the client not become too frustrated by these interruptions, however (because many people ask), we set the training level so that each individual is getting an optimal and encouraging amount of reward while experiencing enough resistance to change and normalize brain wave activity. 

And there you have it, just like that, your brain is on the road to recovery.

On this journey we will continue to take a closer look at how Neurofeedback operates, and the common types of abnormalities and resulting issues Neurofeedback works to resolve.