What is Biofeedback?
A conversation with RenuYou Biofeedback Tulsa
Could Biofeedback Be for You?
While many people may have heard the term neurofeedback or biofeedback, they often don’t know what it involves and what uses it has. To find out more, we sent some questions to Cyndie Gardner, who owns RenuYou Biofeedback, along with her husband Dr. Barry Gardner. Marie McCabe, MA, LMFT, BCN, a partner with the Gardners at RenuYou in Tulsa, answered the questions below.
Q: Briefly explain what neurofeedback is and how neurofeedback works.
A: Neurofeedback, also called EEG Biofeedback, is a state-of-the-art, non-invasive method for teaching the brain to function in a more balanced and healthful way. It does so by shifting the way the brain produces and distributes its electrical energy.
Q: How does it work?
A: Everything in our brain is electric…every thought you think, every sensation and emotion is due to the electrical firing of neurons. We begin with a qEEG (quantitative electroencephalography), also called a “Brain Map,” which measures the electrical activity in the brain using sensors placed on your head to measure the brain-wave activity of the various frequency bands. Our equipment will then analyze this information and generate a series of images that will identify which areas of the brain may be too active or not active enough.
The Brain Map provides an invaluable overview of what is going on in the brain and will be used in conjunction with information provided by the client to develop the training plan. Using sophisticated computer software, a customized protocol is developed to address the individual’s unique needs. For example, ADHD is often the result of too much Delta brain wave in the frontal cortex; when we see that, we target the treatment to bring the Delta down to improve focus and attention.
At RenuYou, we use reward biofeedback, based on self operant conditioning. The client watches a video of his choice. The video fades slightly, in and out as the brain increases the desired frequencies while decreasing undesired frequencies.
Neurofeedback takes advantage of the brain’s ability to change itself through a process known as neuroplasticity. It utilizes the same learning process that occurs whenever we acquire a new skill. The brain learns by forming connections between nerve cells and utilizing important pathways that connect different locations in the brain. Quite simply, neurofeedback offers the perfect learning conditions, since it facilitates awareness of when the brain is producing healthier brainwave patterns, provides reinforcement for the positive change and multiple opportunities to provide practice during a training session.
Q: There is some research that shows that neurofeedback can be used to help athletes, artists or even just regular students improve their focus and help them perform better. Can you talk a little about this, and maybe give a brief example or two from your experience?
A: Neurofeedback can retrain brainwave activity to enhance optimal performance in athletics, acting, choreography, dancing and music…in fact, virtually every area that involves the need for calm, sustained attention. Neurofeedback can quiet the mind, improve concentration, focus, improve cognitive function and emotional control.
It is extremely helpful following concussions and head injuries, and increases physical balance in gymnastics, ice skating, skiing, golf, tennis, football, baseball and many other sports. One of the most well-known examples is the Italian Soccer team that won the 2004 World Cup final in Germany against France. To prepare for the tournament, Italian soccer players used neurofeedback techniques to train focus, concentration and getting “into the zone.” The Wall Street Journal also reported how neurofeedback helped beach-volleyball stars Kerri Walsh-Jennings and Misty May-Treanor to win the London 2012 Olympic gold medal.
One professional MLB baseball player, treated by RenuYou said that, “when I am in the zone…the baseball looks like a bowling ball.” Another young student who played soccer, and came in to treat ADHD, was thrilled when his coach noticed that he was sharper focused and asked him what he was doing to improve so much.
We also have treated many football players who have suffered from mild to severe concussions and helped them get past the rage and anger often associated with traumatic brain Injuries.
Q: Neurofeedback has been used to help children and adults cope with anxiety. Can neurofeedback help students who have test anxiety?
A: Severe test anxiety can be a performance-inhibiting and traumatic experience for some students. According to a 2010 study, test anxiety affects 10-40 percent of students and it appears that the higher the stakes, such as SAT or ACT, the greater the anxiety. At RenuYou, we have countless testimonies of students who have achieved a more calm and focused brain, which in turn allows for a more relaxed test-taking experience. If you or your child feels a rapid heartbeat, shortness of breath, sweating, stomach pain or lightheadedness before a test…then you could be a good candidate for neurofeedback. In addition, research shows that ACT scores can increase 3-7 points. The most recent report we received was an increase of an ACT score from 23 to 29 upon completing a neurofeedback protocol of about 30 sessions.
Q: What about other anxiety issues?
A: A child can actually be born with an overstimulated brain- wave pattern. Oftentimes this gets diagnosed as ADHD, when it is in fact overstimulation of the brain, which is anxiety. We know from our research that if the biological mother was dealing with anxiety during the pregnancy, the fetus feels everything the mother feels at 5 1/2 months, so a child can actually be born with an overstimulated brain-wave pattern that will look similar to ADHD. We do what is called a Theta/Beta Ration where we divide Beta brain waves into Theta…if we get a 3 or above, we know they fit our criteria for ADHD and if it is below 3, we know it is anxiety driving attention difficulties.
Q: Can neurofeedback be used in conjunction with talk therapy or medication?
A: When we do the Brain Map, we can see how much of the symptoms are neurological and how many are psychological. This is very important because if we see that we have a number of psychological implications, then we know to also recommend some talk therapy, in addition to the neurofeedback. We have licensed professional therapists on staff to assist with that.
Q: Can you explain a little about that. How many sessions do people need?
A: If we see that an individual is also dealing with psychogenic symptoms, as determined by the brain mapping, we may then have them meet with a therapist to determine if they may also benefit from talk therapy or other therapy modalities that we use at RenuYou. The licensed therapist, will determine a diagnosis as well as how many treatments may be needed. We provide EMDR, Trauma Focus Therapy, Clinical Hypnotherapy, Licensed Professional Counseling, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy.
Q: What ages of people can use neurofeedback?
A: We treat from ages 5 to 90 plus.We have just as many children as we do adults. Sometimes we start as early as 4, but it would depend on the situation.If we do that, we have a standard protocol that we would use that would not require a brain mapping until the child was 5.
Q: What types of patients (children) do you see the most?
A: Mostly we see kids with anxiety, ADD/ADHD, autism, and depression. The majority of adults we see come in for anxiety, depression and also to achieve peak performance. We have politicians, CEO’s of corporations, physicians, attorneys and athletes who just want to achieve optimal performance of the brain and improve memory, focus and sustained attention.
Q: Do you work with pediatricians or other healthcare professionals as treatment partners with some patients?
A: Yes, we get many referrals from physicians and professional therapists who even come in themselves or bring in their own children. Client referrals from physicians range from symptoms of concussions, TBI’s, PTSD, and emotional trauma and ADD/ADHD.
Q: Is there anything else you’d like to add about neurofeedback?
A: In my opinion, it is one of the greatest breakthroughs of this technological generation because its safe, non-invasive and will actually cause the brain to re-route and forge a new neuropathway. I continue to be amazed at how lives are completely turned around.