What Is Neurotherapy?

Human brain, illustration

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What Is Neurotherapy?

Neurotherapy, also called neurofeedback and electroencephalogram (EEG) biofeedback, is a drug-free treatment that helps people improve their brain function. It's based on the idea that you can consciously alter the way your brain functions using real-time displays of your brain's electrical activity (known as brainwaves).

Types of Neurotherapy

There are seven types of neurotherapy for the treatment of various conditions:

  • Frequency/power neurofeedback
  • Slow cortical potential neurofeedback (SCP-NF) 
  • Low-energy neurofeedback system (LENS)
  • Hemoencephalography (HEG) neurofeedback
  • Live Z-score neurofeedback
  • Low-resolution electromagnetic tomography (LORETA)
  • Functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI)

The type of neurotherapy recommended depends on the condition or symptoms you are trying to address.

Techniques

During a typical neurotherapy session, you'll sit in a chair with electrodes on your scalp. This is completely painless. It's similar to the doctor using a stethoscope to listen to your heartbeat.

Your therapist will guide you through some simple activities while the EEG records the electrical impulses in your brain. Depending on your treatment plan, you may be asked to watch images on a screen, play a video game, or listen to music. 

The electrodes provide instant audio and visual feedback about your brain activity. If you're watching images on a screen, for example, the screen will become brighter when your brain produces favorable brainwave patterns. When it produces less harmonious brainwave patterns, the screen dims.

This instant feedback helps your brain learn what it needs to do to make the screen brighter. Over time, your brain figures out how to develop and sustain the desired brainwave patterns (and minimize the production of undesired ones) that keep the screen bright.

A neurotherapy session typically lasts between 30 and 60 minutes. Standard neurotherapy usually involves 30 to 40 sessions. The number of sessions a person needs varies, but it's rare for a person to need more than 40 sessions.

The techniques learned in neurotherapy can also be practiced when you're engaged in normal, everyday activities at work, school, or home. This practice helps you train your brain to respond in a healthier way in the environments you spend most of your time.

What Neurotherapy Can Help With

Neurotherapy addresses brain dysregulation. A variety of conditions and symptoms are related to brain dysregulation, so there are many applications for neurotherapy. Some of the most common conditions treated with neurotherapy include:

  • Anxiety disorders
  • Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
  • Autism spectrum disorders (ASD)
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Chronic pain
  • Depression
  • Fatigue
  • Learning disabilities
  • Migraines
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Sleep disorders

Neurotherapy can also provide a clearer mindset, which is helpful for making more positive decisions, such as choosing to abstain from an addictive substance or behavior.

Benefits of Neurotherapy

The benefits you can experience from neurotherapy depend on your treatment protocol. Commonly cited benefits include enhanced memory and focus, decreased impulsivity and anxiety, better mental clarity, and more restful sleep. Neurotherapy may even reduce the desire for addictive substances and provide relief from withdrawal cravings.

But there are several advantages to neurotherapy that set it apart from other treatments, including:

  • It is non-invasive. Neurotherapy only involves placing electrodes on the scalp to monitor your brain activity. Electrodes only read what's happening inside your brain. They don't transmit any type of signal to your brain.
  • Provides long-lasting effects. A review of studies published in European Child & Adolescent Psychiatry shows the effects of neurotherapy last long after the training itself has stopped, specifically among children with ADHD. Because the brain has learned how to perform more efficiently, it will continue to do so.
  • Produces no side effects. Medications have the potential to cause side effects that can contribute to the already existing challenge. Neurotherapy, however, produces no known side effects.

Effectiveness

Research has found that neurotherapy can be an effective treatment for a number of conditions.

  • ADHD: Research has shown that neurotherapy induces a state of relaxed attention, and works comparably to ADHD medications. In fact, the American Academy of Pediatrics named neurotherapy a "Level 1 Best Support" intervention for attention and hyperactivity behavioral, on par with medication.
  • Addiction: According to a comprehensive review published in 2016, neurofeedback may offer positive results for people who are addicted to cocaine, alcohol, and computer games. It may even decrease food cravings.
  • Anxiety and depression: One study revealed that after 30 neurotherapy sessions and heart rate variability training, 57% of people with severe anxiety and 45% of people with severe depression showed normal brain activity.
  • ASD: A few scientific reports suggest that neurotherapy can improve ASD-related behaviors such as stimming, emotional outbursts, and ritualistic behaviors.
  • Migraines: In a 2010 study, 62% of participants using neurotherapy reported major or total improvement in their migraines.
  • PTSD: A controlled study showed that 24 neurotherapy sessions significantly reduced PTSD symptoms. Other studies suggest that neurofeedback improves executive functioning and reduces medication use. More research is needed to confirm these findings.

Neurotherapy can be used on its own, but it is more effective when used as an adjunct to traditional therapy approaches (such as cognitive behavioral therapy).

Things to Consider

While neurotherapy may help treat many conditions, there are also a few disadvantages associated with this approach. They include:

  • Cost: It is an expensive treatment option.
  • Time: It can be time-consuming.
  • Commitment: It may take months to work.

Factors such as these can make neurotherapy less appealing than other treatment methods for some people.

How to Get Started

Your doctor may be able to refer you to a local neurotherapist. It is also helpful to check with your health insurance company to see if your policy will cover any or all of the treatment. If so, you may have to use a specific neurotherapy provider.

The International Society for Neuroregulation & Research also offers an online directory that you can search based on your geographical location or the provider's area of specialty. Doing a search for "neurotherapy near me" or "online neurotherapy" may offer additional results.

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12 Sources
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