It has been said that “Thoughts are real things”, that the way we think can directly impact our health—for the positive or negative.
Scientists have taken this idea and put real feet to it, and the result is neurofeedback, a form of therapy intended to help rewrite your brain, so it functions more effectively and in a healthier manner.
Does this sound too good to be true, or too impossible to believe?
Read on to find out everything you need to know about neurofeedback, including how it works, who it can help, and what (if any) risks there are.
By the end of this page, you’ll have a better understanding of this fascinating form of therapy—and you might even consider trying it for yourself!
Neurofeedback, also called neurofeedback therapy, is a form of therapy that literally lets you see your brain functioning in real time. The mind-body technique is intended to help you gain more voluntary control over an involuntary bodily function (your brain waves) so you can see the physiological processes and emotional responses and become more aware of things you might otherwise be unaware of.
During the neurofeedback therapy session, you’ll likely start off with some relaxing activity in a calm setting to help “set the mood”. Ideally, you want to enter the session as serene and comfortable as possible.
You’ll be connected to a special cap, headband, or helmet with built-in electroencephalography electrodes. These are highly delicate sensors wired to detect the electrical signals in your brain, transmitting them to a computer. (Don’t worry, no needles will be involved at all!)
As the therapy begins, you’ll be exposed to different audio and visual stimuli, such as a video, music, or a series of images. You might also be asked to participate in a game or activity.
All throughout, you’ll receive feedback from the technicians watching the monitors displaying the electrical data recorded by the electrodes. They’ll tell you what your emotions are, how your mood is changing in response to certain activities or stimuli, if you’re feeling more stressed or relaxed, and so on. Your goal is to focus on how you’re feeling throughout the session and keep your emotions trending toward the positive.
You will be able to see how your attempts to regulate your emotions are working—for example, when you experience positive emotions, the screen color will grow lighter, or the screen will grow darker if you experience a negative emotion. By getting this direct feedback, you become more aware of what you’re feeling moment by moment, and your being more conscious of your feelings allows you to have more control over them.
Fair warning: neurofeedback isn’t just a one-session treatment. Typically, a course of therapy will last anywhere from 6 to 20 sessions, all of which last from 30 minutes to as long as an hour. This is because your brain needs repeated training in order to learn how to regulate and reorganize its patterns and responses. It’s a slow, steady progress that, over time, can help you gain exponentially greater control over the way you react in any given situation or to any stressor or stimulus.
Your central nervous system will literally be taught during these training sessions what is the best, most positive way to respond.
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Research has suggested that children with ADHD can benefit from neurofeedback therapy . One study found that just 4 weeks of neurofeedback therapy led to a drastic reduction in “ADHD core symptoms” among the children participating.
Neurofeedback therapy is also used to treat a number of conditions, including :
Anxiety and depression
Age-related cognitive loss/decline
Sleep problems, including insomnia
However, one important thing to note is that neurofeedback therapy is still a very much emerging discipline, and research into its effectiveness and utility remains “inconclusive”.
Typically, it’s recommended alongside other established therapies or medications that have been proven more effective at managing and treating the conditions listed above. Further research is needed to determine the extent of its true usefulness in clinical settings.
You might be thinking, “If this therapy is tinkering around with my brain, there’s got to be some kind of downside, right?”
You’ll be glad to know that the non-invasive therapy is “considered a safe practice and is associated with minimal risk.” 
The risks associated with this therapy are:
Discomfort caused by the headset
Drowsiness (which was actually perceived as a positive effect among PTSD, insomnia, and TBI sufferers who struggled to sleep)
Agitation, irritability, and anxiety (among patients with CNS impairment and depression)
However, these side effects were far from common, and they tended to be fairly mild and short-lived.
Really, the greatest “risk” of neurofeedback therapy is that it doesn’t work for you, and the money you spent on the sessions will be “wasted”.
Otherwise, it’s mostly a safe form of therapy that may offer a lot of benefits.
As you’ve seen above, neurofeedback has the potential to be a truly effective solution for re-wiring your brain and training it to respond differently to the typical stressors and stimuli that you face on a daily basis. If you’re looking for a solution to change the way you react, it may be a fascinating option to consider. If nothing else, at least you can learn how you respond in a wide range of situations, and even if it doesn’t cure your mental health problems, it will give you a better understanding of yourself. That alone is invaluable information that can help you make changes in your life that will improve your mental, emotional, and physical health!
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