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Sunday, 24 January 2021
Neurofeedback Print
Neurofeedback is biofeedback for the brain. It is a non-invasive procedure that aims to improve the client’s own abilities to self-regulate through a form of operant conditioning. Electrodes are applied at various places to the scalp. These measure brainwave activity. Research has established that particular abnormal brainwave patterns are associated with specific behavioural, learning, and emotional challenges. During treatment, if brain activity changes in the “healthy” direction desired by the therapist, the client is treated to a “reward”– usually via a video display or a pleasant harmonic tone. Over time, these healthier brainwave patterns seem to become established – with concomitant changes in behaviour, processing ability and mood. Effects appear long-lasting and even permanent, with patients reporting continued improvements months and years after cessation of treatment.

Neurofeedback is not really such a new tool. In fact, it’s been available in some places since the 1970’s. Its most common and well-researched applications are for the treatment of seizure disorders and ADHD. However, neurofeedback remains controversial, with some prominent authors on ADHD (e.g. Barkley) claiming that to the extent it works, this is a placebo effect. As always, parents would be wise to do some research themselves before committing to the treatment. A bibliography on the efficacy of EEG biofeedback documented in refereed journals is listed at http://www.isnr.org.

I knew about biofeedback because my husband’s doctor had used it successfully himself to lower blood pressure and he is a big proponent of the “relaxation response.” So I was receptive when I began hearing about neurofeedback on the Attach-China list a few years ago. Reading what our list-mate Julie Beem and others wrote about neurofeedback there, I had a gut level response that this might be a promising approach for our daughter. But there were no practitioners in our small Ontario city, and I thought that at age three, our daughter was probably too young for this form of therapy. (It turns out that it is possible to work with children this young, but generally children are at least four before beginning treatment.)

Fast forward a few years later and we were living in a different city, and the time seemed right to pursue this. I made some inquiries, found a good practitioner, and our daughter began receiving neurofeedback in November 2005. As of May 2007, she has had about forty-five sessions and has shown terrific improvements. Please note, though, that most of our PI (post-institutionalized) children will need far more training than is common for children with ADHD – a minimum of forty and up to several hundred sessions which last twenty minutes to forty minutes. Some families have found it makes sense to invest in home training equipment and to learn how to use this themselves.

At each neurofeedback session, the therapist will check in briefly with me and my daughter to see how things have been going. She then hooks the electrodes to my daughter’s scalp, sometimes places special “glasses” on her, (the glasses provide feedback via lights and sound), and my daughter either reads aloud, prints, or plays a video game. At first, M was highly oppositional in sessions and she did not want to do the work; she resisted reading for over a month, going so far as to pretend (or try to pretend) that she could not do it. The therapist did not allow her to get away with much, and with a blend of humour, firmness, and rewards (beautiful fossils and polished stones after each successful session) got her to comply. Now M (mostly!) looks forward to sessions and co-operates.

Our neurofeedback practitioners make use of other techniques such as CDs of harmonic sounds, cranial stimulators, etc. They are also licensed to perform EMDR and a special form of cranio-sacral therapy called somatoemotional release. These therapies are useful adjuncts.

We began neurofeedback primarily for help with mood instability – anger, explosions, irritablity, tendency to perseverate or get stuck and to struggle with transitions. All these symptoms have substantially improved with a combination of neurofeedback and dietary changes plus supplements. But one early and unexpected, and very stable, result of neurofeedback has been increased affection and security of attachment. This has been a wonderful bonus of neurofeedback. It seems as if neurofeedback has helped to synchronize all the other attachment focused and sensory work we’d been doing over the years. Our therapist now considers our daughter well-attached.

Used by permission of the author, Susan Olding

Websites & Articles

Neurofeedback: A Treatment for Reactive Attachment Disorder
Article describes neurofeedback and it's effectiveness in treating attachment disorder. In the article, Allan Schore's book, Affect Regulation and the Origin of Self, is mentioned where "Schore argues that the mother's affective attunement is not only the path to emotional regulation but to the regulation of its infrastructure, the brain, and further that it is from within this regulation that the infant develops her sense of self and other."
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