Neurofeedback Technician Charlene Simpson discusses Neurofeedback Treatment Therapy and the advantages and positive effects it has during recovery for drug and alcohol addiction.
Neurofeedback works with 90% of the population, so there’s that 10% that does not respond. It’s interesting because you don’t have to believe that it works. You can even be pessimistic about it and it will still work.
Neurofeedback is basically a way to train your brain to function more efficiently. It involves using electrodes, a computer, an amplifier, and basically the electrodes read your brain waves. That information is then sent through an amplifier which scrambles the information and it makes it readable to just a laptop computer. Then the laptop computer displays your brain waves as pictures and sound, so that it’s like putting a mirror in the front of your brain for the first time, your brain is getting an opportunity to look at itself and to hear itself, because the brain waves are displayed in pictures and sound.
The brain is looking at itself and based on the feedback, on that feedback that it’s receiving about itself it starts to make corrections. An example is if you have a lot of anxiety, it will start to make some changes so that your anxiety will decrease. An analogy that they use to explain it is, let’s say like, for example, when you learn how to ride a bike. No one can really explain how you learn how to ride a bike. You basically get on the bike and you start trying to move forward and you wobble and you’re really unsteady.
Your brain then is receiving feedback of your body and gravity and motion, so based on that feedback it starts to make changes to your body, meaning it’s telling your body to move to the right or lean to the left until eventually with enough practice you always know how to ride a bike straight. This is the same thing. The feedback that the brain received of the body in motion and gravity, instead here the brain is receiving feedback in the form of sight and sound, so it makes corrections based on what it sees and what it hears.
Neurofeedback I know has been around for years. At the beginning it was used in the hospitals and it was a big giant machine, and they probably used it for research and stuff. I know that they were using it for migraines, but that may be a little more recently than in the beginning. But there is a whole history. Because of technology the scientists have been able to use the technology we have and shrink down all the systems so that it’s just a simple small little setup, a computer, some electrodes, and an amplifier that you can take anywhere. It’s very mobile.
It’s been used for people with autism and their symptoms, it’s been used for some of the veterans who come back from war, who have PTSD. It’s very, very effective for people with PTSD and trauma and flashbacks. It’s used for people with migraines who have not found any other way to get some relief except from neurofeedback. It’s used even, even I have clients who are CEOs or I have athletes who are trying to just get that competitive edge on somebody else. So they’ll do the neurofeedback to sharpen their brain so that they can maybe just get that win over the other person.
It really has a range of uses all the way from a two-year old boy with autism to somebody who is very highly functioning and just wants to be better, be a better person, be more motivated, feel more energized. It’s funny because I’m not a scientist by trade, so the way that I learned about it is I was giving all these little analogies. Another one that I heard, which was very helpful for me is someone told me once that it’s like when you’re born, your brain runs smooth, it’s like a smooth river.
Then life happens, and you have a little bit of trauma and boulder falls into this smooth river and now it’s going off in a little bit of a tantrum. Then branches fall down, and that could be something else negative like maybe you’re drinking too much, so the brain is not running smoothly anymore. With neurofeedback we’re just taking the branches back out, taking the boulder out so that the brain can run smoothly again the way it was indented to.
it works with 90% of the population, so there’s a 10% that does not respond. It’s interesting because you don’t have to believe that it works. You can even be pessimistic about it and it will still work. But for some reason there is a 10% of the population that it just doesn’t help. They don’t know why yet.
Some of the research that I’ve seen shows that it is very, very, very helpful for ADD ADHD, for those symptoms. Then there’s other research that I’ve seen that shows that it is not helpful, as helpful for people with OCD and … what was the other one, it was OCD and depression. Those are very, very difficult to see improvement.
But yes, in fact I’ve had clients with ADD who have completely gotten rid of the symptoms that were bugging them down, like they were always loosing things. Yeah, in fact just recently, this young guy I have. He had ADD ADHD, a diagnosis, and he was constantly putting his keys down and looking. He was spending a total of like I think it was two and half hours a day looking for his stuff. He did more than 40 sessions with me and he ended up, he achieved all of his goals for ADD. In fact when I asked him, “Are you now spending no more than a minute a day looking for something that you might’ve misplaced?” He looked at me and just said, “You know what Charlene, I haven’t misplaced anything in the last month that I can remember.”
What they say, the magic number of sessions is 43.
Don’t ask us why it’s 43, but that’s just what the evidence shows. Not 40, not 50, but 43.” But basically it takes 43 sessions to kind of … they don’t use the word cure or solve because they never promise that a cure is anything or solves any kind of problem, but it helps to alleviate symptoms. It takes 43 sessions scientifically speaking to alleviate the symptoms that a person comes in complaining about.
Now, if they want they can then come back maybe once a month and have a tune up session, but these are supposed to be permanent results because you’re changing the brain. Now, if you go and you have your 43 sessions and you’re feeling much better and you’re not really experiencing anymore symptoms, but then all of a sudden you have some horrible trauma or you’re an addict and you go back to drinking and using drugs, you’re going to start to undo all the good that you’ve done. But, as long as you continue to live a healthy lifestyle and you are living in a way to support the progress that you’ve made, that should be permanent.
One of the immediate ways that it helps is it will help … When an addict comes into treatment there’s a lot of stuff going on. First of all, an alcoholic. Let’s say a person has been drinking for X number of years and they go into treatment. All of a sudden now that alcohol has been taken away, it’s been removed. The brain views that alcohol as a survival mechanism. We’ve taken away that person’s survival mechanism. The brain, the primitive part of the brain, the part that can’t be reasoned with, the part that reacts automatically, it’s the fight flight response, that part of the brain goes into fight or flight, because that part of the brain is flipping out where is my alcohol.
You’ve got clients who you bring into treatment. They’re automatically in fight or flight. So how the heck are they expected to sit through groups, sit in a therapy session, when the brain is in fight or flight it’s really difficult. They’re really, really struggling, and the struggle is internal. You can’t see it. Yes, you can see some of the symptoms of a detox.
What we’re doing with the neurofeedback is we’re helping to take the brain out of fight or flight to give them some relief so that then they will be more participatory in groups, that they won’t avoid groups, that they’ll be willing to attend therapy sessions, that they’ll be more open minded and instead of saying, “Oh, this doesn’t work for me, or this doesn’t apply to me,” saying, “You know what, I want to learn as much as I can while I’m here.” That’s what we’re doing with the neurofeedback.
Then we’re also helping to alleviate a lot of the negative symptoms that they’re experiencing. A person who’s been addicted to Xanax, we’ve taken away their Xanax. Now they’ve got all this anxiety that they’re trying to deal with. We’re helping to make the anxiety less severe. We help with detox, because we help them with having less intense, severe symptoms. It helps with sleep, it improves their sleep.
A lot of people, heroin addicts, they can’t sleep for days and days after detoxing off of heroin. They have sleep problems. It helps to improve their sleep so they can get better sleep. All this works hand in hand for people in treatment because when you’re sleeping better, you feel better, yeah, etc, etc.
Nothing, no pain, you don’t even feel anything. Now the way I do it is instead of putting the EEG piece on the electrode and then putting it directly on the head, because then the EEG piece gets in their hair, I’ll put it inside of a sponge that’s been soaked in a little bit of a sailing solution that way. Yeah, so they’ll feel a little bit of cold water against their scalp. That’s the extent that you do not feel a thing. They love to tease me and joke, “Oh it’s my electro shock therapy, ha, ha, ha,” but for the most part, once I tell them they don’t feel anything then they feel fine. Yes, I do have to explain to each client who comes in what this is, what we’re trying to do, why we’re doing it.