EEG Biofeedback (also known as Neurofeedback) is extensively and successfully applied to help people, among other things, achieve calm and focus, improve mood, mental state and productivity, and even relationships. This is according to occupational therapist and Bio/Neurofeedback practitioner Megan Hofhuis, who is also affiliated to Akeso clinic Kenilworth.
“Biofeedback is the process of giving you information (feedback) about what is happening with your body (bio) in real time so that you can achieve greater self-awareness of body changes and what thoughts are caused those changes. In this way, you can learn what type of thinking or state of mind has the desired effect on your physiology,” explains Hofhuis.
Her patients include a scientist with chronic fatigue, and an engineer with schizophrenia, to a student with a sleep disorder and mood disorders, and an entrepreneur with an excessively busy brain and poor memory. “In all of these instances – and many more – Biofeedback has proven invaluable.”
How it works
“Different sensors placed on your body take measurements, which are then displayed on a computer screen so that you can see what your body is up to and what leads to changes in these measurements. For example, when you think about performing on stage, your heart rate shoots up, or when you’re sitting in a meeting at work your breathing becomes shallow and fast, or when you have too many tasks on your to-do list, your brainwaves go into overdrive.
“You can see how the situations, even if only imagined or remembered, negatively affect your mind and body’s ability to stay calm and focused. But with the help of a Biofeedback practitioner, you can learn skills and ways of thinking that can help you better regulate or control your body and your mind,” Hofhuis explains.
“This same effect can be achieved with muscle tension, heart rate and brain waves, so that the next time you are in a highly stressful situation, you’ll be able to control these, and therefore decrease the stress response in the body and mind, and allow yourself to keep performing optimally,” she adds.
Who can benefit?
The list of difficulties people experience that can be addressed by Biofeedback is extensive, Hofhuis stresses. “It will commonly be used at sleep clinics, for children with attention deficit disorders, people with epilepsy, in the field of addiction and mood disorders and with peak performers such as Olympic athletes.”
According to Hofhuis, Biofeedback is highly recommended when medication isn’t working or when someone would rather not take medication for their condition. Parents of children who struggle with something like attention deficit disorder, for example, might be hesitant to start their child on medication, hence they may opt for Biofeedback first. Also, when someone appears to be treatment resistant, which can often happen in cases of addiction and schizophrenia, then Biofeedback is indicated.
Even people who are on medication can benefit from Biofeedback training, especially Neurofeedback training, as it often results in a decreased need for the medication. “If a person does take medication, they must ensure that they regularly consult their doctor in case dosages need to be altered. This is especially true for diabetics,” Hofhuis cautions.
According to Hofhuis, generally Biofeedback assists you to control your heart rate, breathing, temperature, muscle tension, sweating, blood pressure and brain waves. Some practitioners also do pelvic floor muscle retraining, which is very helpful for people struggling with incontinence.
What to expect
One or more sensors will be placed on your skin. Where the sensors are placed is dependent on what you want to measure or change. For example, if you want to learn a specific breathing style to assist with stress management, you’ll have a breath sensor placed around your middle. Or if you want to improve your memory, then a sensor will be placed on your scalp at the corresponding area of your brain that needs training.
“The sensor picks up on the activity of the area being measured and a computer screen will show this activity in the form of waves. Through different games, music and other forms of feedback, you will learn how to consciously control your mind and body. With enough practice, you will be able to do this at will, without the computer or practitioner.
Practitioners will recommend that you attend sessions twice a week for at least 15 sessions to notice changes and for those changes to be sustained.
The Neurofeedback side of Biofeedback
“Before training starts, a client will have their brain waves assessed. This is done by conducting a QEEG (a quantitative electroencephalogram). From this, the clinician can determine how the brain is ‘talking’ to itself. It is talking too fast or too slow? Too loud or too soft? At the same time? There is a very specific balance of brain waves that is optimal for the brain and through training, the client and their coach try to achieve that balance,” Hofhuis explains.
For more information on Biofeedback, visit calmfocus.co.za. A reliable list of Biofeedback practitioners can be found at www.biofeedbacksa.co.za/Practitioners/