Katherine Leddick, Ph.D., BCN
Licensed Psychologist, Manhattan (Union Square)
Dynamical neurofeedback is cutting-edge technology for self-regulation. The technology tracks emergent brainwave activity and gives your brain information about its own functioning. This information allows your brain activity to optimize over time. Neurofeedback training allows your brain to operate more efficiently by letting go of ways of being that are no longer useful – and maybe never were that useful. The learning isn’t about a specific skill. Skills would need to be continually practiced or they would fade over time. Rather the learning that occurs with dynamical neurofeedback involves functional reorganization and overall conservation of energy within the brain.
In the usual course of living, humans put most self-regulating brain processes on auto-pilot. Once we’ve learned how to walk, for example, we don’t walk with much conscious awareness at all. The same is true with regulation of basic emotions, attention, sensory-motor integration, etc. We save our conscious attention for novel and interesting experiences that enrich and sustain our lives. It’s a shame when too much of our time and energy is taken up by attention to dysregulation or symptoms and their consequences in our lives.
That’s where dynamical neurofeedback and psychodynamic therapy can help.
What actually happens?
With sensors pasted on the head, a computer and encoder read moment-to-moment shifts in the electrical voltage changes (EEG) on the scalp. EEG (brainwave activity) is always changing. The changes are analyzed in real time to detect turbulence. Turbulence (wobble) always precedes transitions in the brain. When turbulence is detected (thousands of times per session, as neurological change happens in micro-seconds), feedback (signal) is given to the brain by a brief interruption in an ongoing audio and visual display. The signal (feedback) orients your brain just before each shift in non-conscious regulatory activity. Importantly, it is your brain that makes the shifts, not the computer. The key is in orienting your brain to relevant possibilities in each present moment. The brain is oriented to relevant choice points that occur, before symptoms appear. We give the brain opportunities to work out better, more efficient, more effective ways of being in the present. There are thousands of opportunities per session, and most people feel somewhat differently after a single session.
The neurofeedback software responds to each brain uniquely, providing customized feedback for each person during each session. The software assesses the brain’s response to the timing and amount of information offered. Adjustments are made continuously to optimize each person’s response.
Let me say some of this again for those who want to understand more. This time I’ll use language that is more technical. Please continue reading only if your curiosity is piqued! It is not necessary to understand how it works in order for neurofeedback to be effective. The language to describe this process is evolving.
Dynamical Neurofeedback (DN) monitors ongoing movement in the EEG for turbulence. Turbulence (wobble) always precedes a phase state shift in the brain, and turbulence is readily detected mathematically by a computer. A phase state shift is any movement in the domain of all possible movements of the brain. There are a vast (but nevertheless limited) number of possibilities (or degrees of freedom) in the phase space of the human brain. Each movement within that space is preceded by turbulence that is detected by the neurofeedback equipment. Feedback (signal) is given during the turbulent moment, just before an impending phase state shift. The power of DN is that it signals your brain at the precise moments that the brain is actively constructing experience–illuminating options. DN functions like a set of mirrors, allowing the brain to see options not previously perceived. In this way, DN operates directly at the most basic level of the detection of difference (perception) that occurs in the brain, offering choices where options were not previously noticed. You could say the mirrors allow your brain to go off auto-pilot or to go off-map, discovering ways of being in the world that are easier, more efficient, less painful, because that’s what our brains do when we’re not caught in overlearned “basins of attraction,” i.e., habits of being.
There are many, many phase state shifts (opportunities for change) that occur before any emotion, thought, or conscious experience emerges. Usually we use conscious experience as our guide or feedback. For example, we use strategies to calm ourselves when we are already afraid or angry, attempting to correct a feeling that has already developed. So under usual conditions (not hooked up to DN), the real-time information signaling an impending choice point in the development of a feeling is not available to the brain: only the consequences of these non-conscious shifts come to awareness–which is not always very helpful. The difference with DN is that the potential shift into an experience or mood is signaled in advance, and thus more optimal experiences can be constructed before the consequences of the symptoms and behaviors take hold.
After all this language, the best way to see what dynamical neurofeedback can do for you is to come to try a session.