The human brain has approximately 80 to 100 billion neurons, which are special cells that communicate information. They work much like batteries, in that they change chemical energy into electrical energy, and vice-versa. On average, each neuron connects to about 5000 other neurons. As one neuron receives a signal from another neuron, if the signal is strong enough, the neuron passes on that information through what are called synapses, to other neurons that do similar work. When they do so, the neurons emit a very small electrical pulse. It is those pulses that we detect with an Electro-Encephalogram (EEG). We analyze these pulses, which tell us how the brain is functioning, using a QEEG, which also tells us what needs to be changed.
Neurofeedback works by showing the brain how it is functioning and then, using “rewards” like a pleasing sound, changing images, or a pleasant tactile feeling (like a vibrating stuffed animal), the brain is gradually encouraged to change its own functioning. Just like how you would teach a dog to roll over, the brain will learn a better way of functioning through this shaping process, which is called operant conditioning. The brain is being sampled 256 times a second through electrodes placed on the scalp using a small amount of conducting gel, or through a cap.
As the brain changes the way it is working, the symptoms associated with where and how we are conducting the neurofeedback, also change. Although we can usually see changes happening in the brain during the 30 minutes or so of a neurofeedback session, depending on the problem it may take a number of training sessions to start seeing a change in the person’s symptoms. Neurofeedback is very much like “going to the gym for your brain.” By exercising, changing and gradually challenging your brain to alter the way it’s working, the symptoms diminish over time. Because the changes are often subtle from day to day, it’s important to keep track of how the person is changing.
Once we see about a 50% change in the symptoms, we begin to stretch out the training sessions in order to encourage the changes to be self-sustaining.