Mapping & Reconditioning the Brain
Neuroscientists have now discovered a brain pattern that allows us to identify individuals with a biological predisposition for developing depression. This biological marker appears to be very robust, having been replicated many times in brain mapping research utilizing quantitative EEG (QEEG) and neuroimaging.
The left frontal area of the brain is associated with positive emotions and “approach motivation,” which is a desire to be involved with other people. The right frontal area of the brain is associated with depression and fear, accompanied by motivation to withdraw from and avoid other people. When there is more slow brainwave activity in the left frontal area, this part of the brain is more inactive and the right frontal area is more dominant. Such a person is predisposed to be more easily become depressed, withdrawn, and anxious. This may occur because of heredity or because someone had a mild head injury in the left frontal area. The brain map below is of a person with a long history of depression, illustrating the excessive slow brainwave activity in the left frontal area. If you would like an additional alternative to relying on medication alone for treatment, the exciting news is that we now have the technology to retrain the brain. It provides a safe alternative to medication for modifying how the brain functions and is virtually free of side effects.
In some individuals, anxiety may also be associated with a brain pattern of excessively fast beta brainwave activity. It is as if the brain is idling too fast and this individual finds it almost impossible to relax. Below is part of the brain map of a highly anxious person who has this pattern. If this person were normal, the entire map would be black.
Alcoholics and children of alcoholics, as well as individuals with insomnia, often appear like this. An individual whose brain is functioning in this way may especially be attracted to alcohol, marijuana, tranquilizers or pain-killers because these drugs increase relaxed brainwave activity. They are essentially seeking to self-treat their own brain abnormality.
Other analyses of a brain map sometimes reveal a pattern like the next one below, where the excessive fast activity (in this case at 29 cycles a second) is especially localized in the central part of the cortex. Patients with this pattern usually have generalized anxiety, worry and ruminate excessively, and have difficulty turning off their minds during the day and in falling asleep at night. One of the brain patterns that is associated with obsessive compulsive disorder also looks relatively similar to this map, with excessive fast beta activity along the center of the head, over an area of the brain called the anterior cingulate.
What is Neurofeedback Training?
Neurofeedback is a form of EEG (brainwave) biofeedback and of neurocognitive rehabilitation. We use very sensitive electronic equipment to provide a person with real-time, instantaneous feedback on a computer screen, presented through auditory and visual means, about his or her brainwave activity. Research has found that maladaptive brainwave patterns are frequently associated with a number of psychophysiological, medical, and psychological disorders. Examples include:
- Depression, Anxiety, Panic Disorder, & Insomnia
- Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder
- Chronic Fatigue, Fibromyalgia, PMDD
- Attention Deficit Disorder, with and without hyperactivity, Learning Disabilities, & Autism.
- Head Injuries, Strokes, & Following Neurosurgery
- Seizures, Tourette’s Syndrome, & Restless Legs.
- Problems with Physical Balance or Incontinence
- Alcoholics (& their children) & Substance Abuse
- Posttraumatic Stress Disorder, Concussions
The goal in providing this training is to allow people to increase their ability to regulate their own brainwaves to maintain more optimal brainwave patterns. Placebocontrolled, blinded research has documented that this cutting-edge technology can recondition brainwave patterns in a lasting manner. It is an exciting modality that provides an alternative to relying on medication treatment alone in working with biological brain disorders. Excellent research has documented lasting improvements with uncontrolled epilepsy and for the efficacy of neurofeedback with anxiety and with ADD/ADHD. In the latter case, there are 10-year follow-ups verifying that neurofeedback produces enduring outcomes.
We do not yet have large controlled research studies on neurofeedback with depression, insomnia, and with obsessive-compulsive disorder, but in our clinical work it has proven highly successful. Nonetheless, in the absence of controlled research some would regard it as still being somewhat investigational. However, Frank H. Duffy, M.D., a Professor and Neurologist at Harvard Medical School, stated in the January 2000 issue of the journal Clinical Electroencephalography that the scholarly literature suggests that neurofeedback “should play a major therapeutic role in many difficult areas. In my opinion, if any medication had demonstrated such a wide spectrum of efficacy it would be universally accepted and widely used.” He said, “It is a field to be taken seriously by all.”
How Does Neurofeedback Training Work?
Small electrodes are placed on the scalp so that we can measure and record the electrical activity in different parts of the brain, just like a thermometer measures our temperature. The procedure is painless and noninvasive. No electrical current is put into the brain. The brainwave activity is relayed to the computer where it is recorded. It is ideal to do a full brain map on each person because there are subtypes of depression and obsessive-compulsive disorder. However, a shorter, 20-minute procedure can measure whether there is a frontal asymmetry pattern that is associated with a biological predisposition toward depression. In a full brain map, called a quantitative EEG (QEEG), your brainwave patterns are compared to the patterns of extremely healthy and very normal people of your same age that are contained in a sophisticated, FDA registered normative data base. This careful, scientifically objective assessment lets us know where and how someone’s brainwave activity is significantly different from norms.
Once this evaluation is completed, the training consists of placing a couple of electrodes on the scalp during training sessions. You then watch a display on the computer screen and listen to audio tones. This visual and auditory feedback in the training sessions assists you to gradually change and retrain your brainwave patterns. With continued feedback, coaching, and practice most people can produce enduring changes in their brainwave patterns. It is somewhat like exercising or doing physical therapy with the brain, enhancing cognitive flexibility and control.
Neurofeedback training for depression usually requires about 25-35 sessions. Problems with anxiety and insomnia usually require about 20-40 sessions, and problems with obsessive-compulsive disorder may require 40+ sessions.
This Cutting Edge Technology is Available
Neurofeedback and brain mapping services are available at the offices of Dr. Barbara Paul-Blume, Ph.D., BCIA. She is board certified in EEG Neurofeedback, and a licensed Clinical Psychologist in California (PSY 10174). Dr. Blume has used neurofeedback to work with many problems including head injuries and concussions, ADD/ADHD, learning disabilities, depression, insomnia, restless legs, OCD, anxiety and panic disorder, posttraumatic stress disorder, stroke, alcoholism, drug abuse and damage resulting from substance abuse, autism, Asperger’s, following neurosurgery, for problems with physical balance, to counter effects of aging on the brain, with chronic fatigue, fibromyalgia, and uncontrolled epilepsy.