Neurofeedback is direct training typically provided by health professionals such as psychologists, family therapists, and counselors. We observe the brain in action from moment to moment and that information is brought back to the person by way of the sensors. Neurofeedback is also called EEG Biofeedback, because it is based on electrical brain activity, the electroencephalogram, or EEG. Neurofeedback is training in self-regulation. Self-regulation is a necessary part of optimal brain performance and function. Self-regulation training allows the nervous system to function better.
The LENS is a specific kind of Neurofeedback that operates much more rapidly than traditional Neurofeedback and has qualities that make it much easier to use with people who can’t sit still. With the LENS, the client doesn’t need to “do” anything, and there is nothing to learn. The typical session with the LENS lasts 3-4 minutes. This means that the LENS works well for people who either cannot or will not pay attention to a computer screen for longer time periods. Additionally, the LENS works much faster than traditional Neurofeedback with the number of sessions ranging from as few as 1 to an overall average number of sessions of 20.
The LENS works well with problems of the Central Nervous System, which can be numerous. These include symptoms of anxiety-depression spectrum, attention deficits, behavior disorders, various sleep disorders, headaches and migraines, PMS and emotional disturbances. It is also useful for organic brain conditions such as seizures, the autism spectrum, and cerebral palsy. These are all signs of Central Nervous System dysfunction which result in the body’s difficulty regulating itself.
How does the LENS work?
We apply sensors to the scalp to listen in on brainwave activity. We process the signal by computer, and extract information about certain key brainwave frequencies. Through a patented process, we then bring this information back to the client down the sensor wires to the person’s skin. The results are reduction and/or elimination of the symptoms which previously interfered with the client’s quality of life. The sessions are brief (usually 3-5 minutes), gentle (usually the client feels nothing during the session), and the changes are lasting with some exceptions: with symptoms of progressive conditions such as Parkinson’s and MS, the treatment needs to be ongoing to sustain the improvement.
What conditions does the LENS help with?
It works extremely well with the symptoms of Traumatic Brain Injury, no matter how long ago the incident occurred. The trauma can be from a physical blow, a concussive injury, a psychological incident (PTSD), or any other incident(s) which results in a decrease in cognitive ability.
Many children have sleep problems that can be helped such as bed wetting, sleep walking, sleep talking, teeth grinding, nightmares, and night terrors.
The LENS can also be helpful with many of the symptoms of adolescence including drug abuse, suicidal behavior, anxiety and depression. The LENS can also help in maintaining good brain function as people age.
Do the results of LENS last?
If the problem being addressed is one of brain dysregulation, then the answer is yes, and that covers a lot of ground. Neurofeedback involves learning by the brain and if that brings order out of disorder, the brain will continue to use its new capabilities, and thus reinforce them.
At times there are unknown issues such as early-stage degenerative disease, allergies, strong reactions to some foods or pollens, or spills and falls leading to bumps on the head. In these instances longer courses of the LENS may be needed. And it may also be that some direct medical help may be the best course of action. The LENS can’t do everything for everybody. But it can and has made a difference that other approaches have not provided, and in general, in a much shorter time. Matters are different when we are dealing with degenerative conditions like Parkinson's or the dementias, or when we are working against continuing insults to the system, as may be the case in the autism spectrum. In such cases, the LENS sessions may need to be continued at some level over time. Allergic susceptibilities and food intolerances may make it more difficult to maintain the gains. Poor digestive function will pose a problem, as does poor nutrition. A child living in a toxic environment (in either the physical or the psychological sense) may have more difficulty retaining good function.
What is the success rate with neurofeedback?
It turns out that among the vast majority of clients (>95% in one clinician's experience,) the actual outcome exceeds the prior expectations. Against such low expectations, the changes that can be produced with the LENS may even appear miraculous. One EEG Biofeedback office has a sign on its front desk: "We expect miracles." If none occur, something has gone wrong." What appears miraculous in all of this is really nothing more than the incredible capacity of the brain to recover function when given a chance.
Is neurofeedback a cure?
In the case of organic brain disorders, it can only be a matter of getting the brain to function better rather than of curing the condition. When it comes to problems of dysregulation, we would say that there is not a disease to be cured. Where dysregulation is the problem, self-regulation may very well be the remedy. But again, the word cure would not apply.
Thomas Kessler, LMFT, RAS
Imagine a train racing towards you at top speed, and there you are, stuck on the tracks, a human target. Your heart races, your muscles tense, your body starts shaking, and your breath becomes labored as worry consumes your mind and manifests throughout your body. Intense, right? For the nearly 20 percent of people in the U.S. affected by an anxiety disorder every year, this is what anxiety can feel like: Anxiety is a dreadful feeling of unease and worry, perpetuated by fear, that often comes with repetitive negative thinking.
As you’re experiencing it, you can have difficulty concentrating and making decisions. Even if you haven’t been diagnosed with an anxiety disorder, chances are you’ve felt the heart pound at some point and know the struggle is real.
What’s Going On In The Brain?
In states of anxiety, the brain is affected by stress hormones like cortisol and excitatory neurotransmitters, such as norepinephrine. These factors can lead to a decreased ability to regulate negative emotions, excessive negative thinking, and difficulty relaxing,” he says.
At the same time, the amygdala, or the emotion center of the brain, becomes overactive, which makes it harder for higher brain centers (those in charge of cognitive functions like learning and memory) to regulate emotional and physiologic states to calm down mentally and physically.
The amygdala decides what emotions to give you from moment to moment by providing a constant threat assessment about your environment. When it determines something isn’t dangerous, it does nothing and you feel calm. When it looks at something it perceives as dangerous, it rings an alarm to warn you about the danger and motivates you to do something about it—that’s what anxiety is, it’s the alarm system.
For someone with a fear of dogs, for example, when they see a dog, the amygdala rings the alarm and tells them the dog is dangerous, and the person becomes anxious. That motivates them to get away from the dog. When the danger is gone, the alarm shuts off and the anxiety goes from high to low.
As humans we are wired to repeat actions that make us feel good and stop actions that make us feel bad. Because the anxiety went from high to low by running away from the dog, this kind of avoidance behavior becomes reinforced and we’re more likely to repeat the same behavior the next time we see a dog. It’s an evolutionary response; the body says, ‘anxiety kept me safe, I better get anxious again.’”
Why Does Anxiety Keep Coming Back?
When the body experiences symptoms of anxiety, the brain interprets these signals from the body as cause for concern, worsening anxiety by creating a vicious cycle. The more anxious we get, the more nervous we feel; the more nervous we feel, the more anxious we get.
The important thing to know is not why you have anxiety in the first place, but what’s maintaining it now. The basic idea is short-term avoidance of anxiety leads to long-term maintenance of anxiety. When someone tries to make themselves feel better in the moment (avoiding a dog), it guarantees more anxiety the next time they’re in a similar situation.
How to Calm Anxiety When It Arises
By practicing a few helpful strategies on the regular, when a bout of anxiety strike, you’ll be more likely to get in the habit of doing them automatically—and dial down your angst.
If you or someone you know is experiencing anxiety there are many ways one can learn to overcome chronic anxiety.
Thomas Kessler, LMFT, RAS
Marriage & Family Therapist and Registered Addiction Specialist