Neurofeedback – Training the Brain to Balance

NeurofeedbackAs an integrative pediatric practice, we care for your whole child. In addition to physical markers you would expect any pediatrician to look at, we consider the mental, emotional and developmental aspects of health and well being. Looking at the full picture of your child’s health allows us to get to the root of any symptoms your child may be experiencing. We created StressWell because we know that addressing stress and the related symptoms children experience  is critical to promoting health in all its dimensions.

As adults, many of us have a variety of techniques in our toolbox to help deal with feelings of stress and fear that can arise for us on a given day. A variety of different scenarios may be triggering for each of us, setting into motion a cascade of mental processes and physical symptoms that can leave us feeling unsafe even though, logically, the situations are not dangerous. For example, for some of us when we fly, our heart rate goes up, our stomach hurts, and these physical symptoms occur even though we know rationally that flying is much safer than driving a car. But what do we do to calm down when our minds and bodies get activated? Perhaps we consciously breathe deeply (activating our vagal nerve), feel our feet on the ground, and try to be as present to the moment as possible because these techniques help the brain and body know that we are safe. Often we learn tools like these as a part of talk therapy, the approach of traditional mental health providers. These tools can be incredibly helpful, but they also require us to access our thinking brain to shift our physical state. When you’re feeling the overwhelm of fear and stress, simply remembering the tools, never mind using them, can be really challenging and children have less capacity to make this shift based simply on brain development.

Fortunately, there are many ways to train and heal the brain so that feelings of safety are maintained in situations that, historically, produced un-ease and worry. Neurofeedback is one of these methods. It is a bottom-up approach which teaches your “lower brain” (which regulates many bodily activities, including heart rhythm) to have different types of brain patterns. Coming back to the fear of flying example, the brain can be retrained so as not to initiate a stress response at the prospect of getting on a plane. There are many applications of neurofeedback – this is merely one simple example.

We are excited about this stress-busting modality and we’re offering it at GetzWell for our patients age 6 and up. Dr. Rachel Gilgoff is a general pediatrician and integrative medicine specialist with a passion for helping kids find greater well being using a broad array of methods including neurofeedback. Neurofeedback can be helpful for a wide range of issues including:
  • Attention and focus
  • Regulation and impulse control
  • Sleep issues
  • Stress
  • Mood and behavior issues
  • Addictions
  • Learning issues (dyslexia, dysgraphia, etc.)
  • Migraines and headaches
  • Depression
  • Chronic pain and fatigue
  • ADHD
  • Autism spectrum disorder
  • PTSD and trauma
  • Anxiety

Below are answers to some common questions about neurofeedback, as well as some details about neurofeedback sessions GetzWell.

What Is Neurofeedback?
Neurofeedback is a painless, non-invasive technique used to increase mind-body awareness and decrease the effects of stress. The patient receives screen-based visual cues that train the brain to become stronger, more flexible, and more resilient. The specific program and cues are tailored to the patient’s individual needs to address the areas in the brain that would benefit from some relaxation or up-regulation.

How Does Neurofeedback Work?
Neurofeedback training requires the use of computer equipment and the placement of sensors on the scalp in order to collect electroencephalogram (EEG/brainwave) data. This information is used to provide feedback into brain-body mechanisms through auditory signals and visual displays. In other words, you watch a screen and the brain learns from the “game” to naturally improve its own performance and functioning. The experience is similar to riding a bike. You don’t think “stay up and go forward” when you learn to ride a bike. Rather, your brain eventually learns how to balance and recognize how it feels to stay upright and pedal at the same time. Neurofeedback sessions help your brain reorganize itself to develop patterns which help you feel, think, and behave in healthier ways.

What does the Initial Evaluation Process Look Like?
Before starting a neurofeedback program, Dr. Gilgoff asks patients (or parents) to fill out a questionnaire to get a sense of the symptoms the child is experiencing. She may also conduct a physical exam, order some lab work and likely measure things like heart rate variability in order to determine what is happening biologically as well as neurologically. Neurofeedback sessions, which each take about 50 minutes, can then be used to support other holistic approaches to help alleviate symptoms.

How Many Sessions Are Needed?
Generally, it takes 10-20 in-person sessions to create new brain patterns, but that number can vary depending on the individual. It’s helpful to remember that you are truly training your brain. It took some time to create the dysregulated pattern, so it will also take some time to create a new one. Of course when you’re learning anything new, practice is key. Ideally, to start, 50-minute sessions occur twice a week for 5 weeks. The more the brain uses the new pathways, the stronger the new pathways become; meanwhile, the dysregulated pathways are used less and become weaker.

Measuring Progress
Dr. Gilgoff will be with you every step of the way, monitoring your sessions, checking in on symptoms, and offering a re-assessment as needed.

Unlike the general tools that talk therapy teaches us for managing stress, neurofeedback can be specifically tailored to the individual and their symptoms. In addition to feeling progress subjectively, we can measure it objectively during the sessions.

If you are interested in learning more about neurofeedback, please contact us. We look forward to answering your questions and helping you determine whether this treatment would be helpful for your child.

Want to know more?

We are committed to providing the best pediatric care in the Bay Area. If you want to learn more about our practice, please contact us.