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Natalie Baker, Advanced NeurOptimal® Trainer and owner of Neurofeedback Training Co. answers questions about neurofeedback and NeurOptimal® during this webinar.
- How does neurofeedback work?
- How many sessions are needed?
- What's the difference between neurofeedback systems?
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Webinar Transcript: What is NeurOptimal
With Natalie Baker, LMHC, Owner of Neurofeedback Training Co.
I'm Natalie Baker. I'll just say a little bit about myself so you have some sense of my background and then we'll launch into people's questions.
I am trained as a psychotherapist and have been in private practice in New York for 20 years. I'm also a long-time meditator and meditation teacher. About 10 years ago one of my meditation students asked me if I had heard of neurofeedback and he told me that it was this new technology that could really help people and brain patterns connected with all sorts of issues. I hadn't heard of it so my curiosity was piqued.
Having a therapy practice with lots of people with post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, and depression, I was always looking for tools that I thought could help my client base. That started me looking into the wonderful world of neurofeedback, what then seemed like Frankenstein technology of hooking people up to wires and reading their brain waves.
I then did neurofeedback on myself and decided I was going to start with the NeurOptimal® system because, in doing research on it, I spoke to a bunch of psychotherapists like myself, who had ventured into the world of neurofeedback and they had had really good experiences with NeurOptimal®.
Because it was a fully automated system I wasn't going to need to go back to school and learn how to “tweak” people's brains. I thought this was a good system for me and for the work that I did. I also really liked the fact that people could take it home and train at home.
Home neurofeedback made it also a less expensive price point for my clients so that also piqued my curiosity.
So anyway, I did the NeurOptimal neurofeedback on myself and also sent a couple of my pretty traumatized, Complex PTSD clients to go and try it. We all had good enough results that I thought: Okay, I should really bring this into my practice, for the benefit of my clients! That was about 10 years ago.
I started to offer people rentals as an alternative to doing neurofeedback in-office because there were lots of people who then wanted to train their family members.
One thing led to another and 10 years later we have a national home rental program. Sara St. John, who is a part of my neurofeedback trainer team and runs the West-coast rentals and in-office sessions, is on the call here to help us facilitate. A couple of years ago I became a sales representative for NeurOptimal® to help psychotherapists interested in exploring this technology, to help them along the path of learning about it.
Today's webinar is really an opportunity for anybody to ask questions they have about neurofeedback and NeurOptimal® specifically. I will do my best to answer...
Question: "Can daily training be too much if I have a chronic illness?"
It's an important question for a lot of people because people with chronic illness are a large population very interested in neurofeedback.
I wish that there was a simple answer to that question but I'm going to start out a little bit bigger and then talk specifically about chronic illness and what it may mean to train “too much” or how frequently one should train.
History of Neurofeedback
The NeurOptimal® system is what I call the second generation of neurofeedback. The first generation of neurofeedback started out when computer technology was pretty clunky. The ability to capture and feed back to the brain its brainwave patterns is very much dependent on computer speed.
In the early days of neurofeedback, computer technology was not as fast as how quickly the brain is changing states, which is by microseconds. During the early years of neurofeedback, you had an external trainer who would set protocols, taking either a diagnosis or a brain map and seeing what the individual's brain was like and how it was stuck in maladaptive patterns.
For those of you who are new to the brain's functioning; the brain is communicating electrically and chemically. With neurofeedback, it is looking specifically at the electrical communication of the brain. One of the things we understand, and only in recent decades do we understand this about mental health, is that it's not just a mind problem, it's also a brain habituation problem! So when we talk about worry we are also talking about the brain being habituated to certain brainwave patterns that it does habitually that are not appropriate for the “here and now.”
What neurofeedback is trying to address is specifically the electrical habituation of the brain that produces the symptoms that aren't helpful and that we don't want. Neurofeedback is tracking the electrical activity and the electrical communication of the brain. We do that by putting EEG sensors on the sides of the head. (With protocol based systems they have more sensors than the NeurOptimal® system, but that's a kind of another topic and I don't want to deviate into the setup of different technologies.)
First Generation Protocol Neurofeedback (BrainPaint, Lens, QEEG Neurofeedback, etc.)
The way the technology works is it's capturing that electrical activity and then sending it into some sort of amplifier that changes that electricity into numbers and then those numbers go into some sort of software. In the early days of neurofeedback, the ability to give real-time feedback to the brain wasn't possible because we didn't have home computing systems that were fast enough. You had to have the external trainer setting protocols to sort of "nudge the brain" out of those brainwave patterns that were thought to be causing the symptoms and migrate that system so you can kind of think of it as like operant conditioning taking place. We're trying to teach the brain to do different brain waves. So calm brain waves if it's in hyperactive brain waves habitually so that it can function more like a “normal” brain.
Then what happened with the second generation of neurofeedback, which is the NeurOptimal® system, is integrating the advances in computer technology with the neurofeedback software.
Dr. Val Brown, who was one of the co-creators of NeurOptimal®, could see back in the early days of neurofeedback when everybody was sort of nudging the brain out and into different brainwave patterns, he could see that at some point computer technology was going to be fast enough that you could take out the middle-person.
Taking out the neurofeedback trainer setting the protocols and creating a system that was actually giving real-time feedback to the individual brain that that individual brain would see and use and self-correct, was the leap forward in design.
Second Generation Neurofeedback (NeurOptimal)
This change is part of the NeurOptimal® system's understanding – that the brain will actually correct itself - but what it needs is good information in the present moment, so that's what the NeurOptimal® system is doing. It's purely a feedback system and whenever the brain is going into a state of change and doing something, it creates a kind of electrical dance so when those electrical sensors on the side of the head, when they pick up through the the electrical impulse being changed into numbers and the software is looking for the numbers that signify state change. In that millisecond (there is music that's playing in the program) and right then there's an interruption in the music.
So the next question is why is it significant to interrupt music? How is that creating a transformation of my fear?
As animals, we use auditory sense perception as a way to orient ourselves in our environment all the time. The reason we use auditory is because we can listen even when we're asleep. We can register changes in the environment and being able to stay safe, detecting danger, auditory sense perception is the best.
We're sending the brain, through its natural orienting response, the interruptions in the music and through that interruption the brain notices something, like a call to pay attention. In that milli-second it notices two events, first, what it's doing habitually or what it's about to do habitually and then second, what's happening in the present moment.
When the brain sees what it's doing habitually that it is not in alignment with the here-and-now. Being afraid is part of the stress response and what the brain is supposed to do when it's in danger. If we see "oh I'm in a safe environment", but I'm also about to go into hyper-arousal,[fight/flight] of a stress response, [the brain will register:] “Why am I doing that?
The brain is going to naturally want to shift out of that brainwave pattern and into a state that's in alignment with the here-and-now. What happens during a NeurOptimal® session is that the brain is given this feedback millisecond by millisecond so there are "corrections" happening during a session.
But then there's also the bigger picture of change, which is that we're actually wanting the brain to learn something new. This system is actually a teaching tool; "Hey brain, I want you to learn how to function in a more efficient and effective way." That's actually what we're providing the brain. What the brain ideally learns over a series of training sessions is how to get the "good information" to make efficient and effective decisions. So then the brain starts to do this, even when it's not hooked up to the neurofeedback system.
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Regarding Daily Neurofeedback Sessions
Going back to the question about "if I have a chronic illness, can I train every day?" Again, what is the neurofeedback system doing? Well, the design is actually just like presenting a mirror so the brain can see over and over again what it's doing. Typically what happens is if the brain is tired, if we're tired, we ignore something so that's sort of the extent of what happens if we're "overtraining," the brain is just going to ignore the feedback. It's like I don't want to do it anymore! So there's no such thing when you're using the NeurOptimal system of l "overtraining" the nervous system because again we're just alerting it to pay attention and the brain will decide whether or not it wants to do anything with that information.
Now with chronic illness, it leads us into the next part which is the.... I wish I could give you a simple answer to this...The only thing NeurOptimal® is doing is it is giving the brain the opportunity to see clearly. See clearly pieces of information... We wanted to see [habitual brainwave patterns] so it can then use that to change itself.
What does the brain need to change itself? With chronic illness, if we have underlying conditions that are preventing the brain from functioning at its best. Dr. Brown will often use the analogy of gravity.... The brain is designed to use its energy efficiently and effectively so the brain is going to want to improve itself when it gets the feedback from NeurOptimal®. Then the question is, "What would get in the way of that?" With chronic illness where we have sort of mystery factors that are affecting our ability to function fully right that can get in the way because the brain needs certain things in order to be able to function at its best.
If you have gut issues, one of the things we've learned which is so cool is that if you have gut issues you can have mood issues, right? Neurotransmitters are produced in the gut that help the brain function. If there's something wrong with our gut and we're not producing neurotransmitters okay, well that that chemical piece that the brain needs might be missing. When people have a chronic illness and they ask me; "What can NeurOptimal do for me" I always come back to the stress response because whenever we have a chronic illness we tend to also have some degree of stress and so to whatever extent the brain can come out of the stress response the brain will do that itself. It is a huge support because we know that the stress response and chronic stress amplify whatever underlying conditions we also have because it negatively impacts immune functioning…
Neurofeedback and Stress
Why is neurofeedback so good for the stress response?
Because the stress response is supposed to be what the brain does in imminent danger! Danger means in less than a minute, there's going to be bodily harm to this being. I should rev up or shut the system down and go into hyper-arousal or hypo arousal - fight-flight or freeze - to respond immediately to the danger and then come out of it and go back into regulation. That process stuck what chronic anxiety and depression. The brain assumes there's danger all the time when there actually isn't.
When the brain gets the opportunity from the neurofeedback to see it's safe....there is no imminent danger it will naturally want to correct that stress response. So any chronic illness that has some degree of the stress connected to it, NeurOptimal® can support.
How often should you train? You can train daily. But what I say to people is listen to your body because one of the things that happens is the lines of communication between the brain’s unconsciously automatic functioning brain, which is really the part we're training, and the prefrontal cortex, the conscious brain part, is that line of communication becomes clearer. I always say to people; "Listen to your body!" If you feel like you don't want to have a session today trust that instinct and maybe pass on having a session. But you can't "overtrain" because remember, the brain will just ignore the feedback if it is tired, and doesn't want to listen to it.
I understand one cannot get side effects with NeurOptimal. But how come I get a headache after a session?
I was just chatting with a nurse practitioner who uses NeurOptimal® and she said regarding the headache. She said it’s most often dehydration! She said that's the thing that she sees the most that comes out for people is that they're not drinking enough water and that's what's producing their headaches. I thought that was really interesting. But again, NeurOptimal® doesn't produce headaches because we're not adding anything to the system. But what does happen is awareness happens! Remember what I just said about going more of the line of communication? If the unconscious, that automatic functioning brain, can send a clearer message to our conscious selves then we are more likely to go out there and do the things that the brain needs to function optimally.
One of the really common things that happens with New Yorkers when they do a neurofeedback session is they come out and they go, "Oh my gosh! I'm exhausted!! That thing made me exhausted.” And then I say to them, "how much sleep do you get a night?" They answer; "Oh, well, I get somewhere around five hours of sleep a night," and I say, "No, your system is showing you 'I'm exhausted'. Please sleep more!"
One of the things that I love about NeurOptimal® is it's shining a light. We're a system that needs all sorts of things to function optimally, right? So throw out the idea that there's like a “one pill wonder,” but to appreciate that optimal functioning of the brain includes whole food diets, minimal sugar and alcohol if we can do that, proper sleep, exercise, laughter, time in nature, healthy relationships... all of those things help the brain! The brain is then going to start to ask for these other things that it needs.
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What are the main differences between NeurOptimal® and other neurofeedback systems?
The main difference is that the expertise is taken from the external trainer. The older systems, the protocol systems, where you need a diagnosis or you need a brain map, the trainer reads that protocol and goes "Ah, your alpha is way too high. You've got not enough beta. All right, I'm going to entrain and migrate through feedback giving your brain feedback so that it comes into what we consider more of a normal brain pattern.” And so they're kind of nudging the system so you can get some temporary side effects.
When you have the protocol systems, they are very effective, especially when you have someone who's doing it a long time, so there's really no problem with protocol-based systems. With the NeurOptimal® system, the big shift with the design of the system is giving that real-time feedback. The trainer does not need to be the expert. The expert is the individual's own brain and the theory is if you give real-time feedback to the brain it knows what to do with it to then apply the principles of neuroplasticity and rewire itself.
The most dramatic condition I see change with is head injuries. You give a head injury patient NeurOptimal® sessions and boy, do they change quickly! Because what neurofeedback training is doing is it's saying "Hey brain! You're not finished with your work yet. Pay attention to what you see. Pay attention!" The brain's like; "Oh my goodness! I'm going to keep working here. I'm not done!" So then sleep regulates and sensory overload diminishes. The ability to focus increases and so on... So the big difference with NeurOptimal® is the expertise is in the individual brain. It is purely a feedback system. Interruptions in music, millisecond by millisecond, when there is a state change. It is global functioning focused. So it doesn't matter if you have ADHD/ADD or you actually have trauma or you have anxiety...or insomnia. It doesn't matter!
Can Neurofeedback Help With Head Injury Symptoms? Listen to a conversation between a trainer and a client. Learn more
All of the maladaptive patterns of the brain are shown to that brain in real-time so you don't have to try to figure out; "Should I do the protocols first for insomnia?" And then do the depression? Or should I start with the depression and then do the insomnia? Which is kind of a challenge… That's where people who are really experts know what order to do them. That's one of the big differences with the NeurOptimal® system. It shows the brain everything that it's doing! So it doesn't pick and choose. The individual brain is the expertise. It's in real time. It's non-invasive. And it's not really by number of sessions as it really is the individual tracking their own progress and seeing the shifts in whatever they want to see and then deciding to either keep training or to stop training. It's really the user's choice. There isn't an external decider who tells you how many sessions you do.
We have tons of information on our website [click here] so we'll send out some blogs or things people can read more about to follow up, but of course, you're welcome to email us or call us individually, and we're more than happy to answer questions.
I see someone has a question about borderline personality disorder. Borderline personality has a lot merged with trauma. There's no borderline personality without trauma. What is trauma? Trauma is stuck in those dysregulated stress response patterns so neurofeedback and NeurOptimal® would be a very helpful support for somebody with borderline personality disorder along with DBT Therapy. That's a really great treatment modality for borderline personality.
I guess the thing I would say is to really think about neurofeedback as brain health being part of the big picture. The brain gets stuck in patterns. That's how we get a lot of our symptoms. We're helping that brain register when it's stuck in patterns, that aren't appropriate for the here-and-now. There are lots of things we do to help re-regulate ourselves and knowing that NeurOptimal® is one piece and specifically what it's really great for is anything that has to do with the stress response or parts of the brain that are the automatic functioning brain. Because impulse control, hyperactivity, anxiety, depression all those things are the automatic functioning brain happening that's not our willful selves. So we're really giving that part of ourselves the support with NeurOptimal®.
Download full transcript to continue reading answers to the below questions...
Are there any research done for ADD & ADHD and kids?
Are there any research available within NeurOptimal® on working with addictions
How is NeurOptimal different from the Fisher-Wallace® system?