Neurofeedback: in Florence a new tool for psychological well-being

The neurofeedback (a word that means “return of neuronal information”) is a painless and noninvasive method. It allows to obtain information on the electrical activity of the person’s brain, so that the brain itself can regulate its activity by optimizing it. It is a very advanced methodology, the result of a century of research in various scientific fields, including in particular neuroscience .

The current neurofeedback systems derive from the Biofeedback systems first and then the EEG Biofeedback systems. Born in the 60s as devices to help people, through specific exercises, to correct their muscular and brain activity. The first neurofeedback systems that were developed (linear models) referred to a “brain model”. We tried to bring the electrical activity of the user’s brain, correcting it through specific exercises, towards this “ideal” model.

Evolution of neurofeedback and recent developments

To date, the most advanced evolution of neurofeedback systems  has led to the non-linear dynamic system. Unique in its kind, as it is the brain of each user that acts as a reference. Precisely with this subjective reference we try to optimize its functioning, in order to increase mental efficiency and emotional well-being.

It is in fact a system that continuously adapts to the individual person in every single moment. It in no way directs the activity of the nervous system. It is therefore neither a diagnostic tool nor a medical treatment. Neurofeedback provides a source of information for the brain by training it for optimal functioning. A “theoretical” normality is not set (as occurs in linear neurofeedbackk systems) but self-regulation and self-empowerment are stimulated.

Principles on which dynamic non-linear neurofeedback is based

This type of neurofeedback is based on two cardinal principles of brain functioning: neuroplasticity and dynamic homeostats . These have been clearly highlighted by neuroscientific studies. These two terms describe the brain’s ability to modify and reorganize the connections between neurons through the multiple experiences of daily life. Through learning, throughout our life, continuously seeking the best possible chemical-physical balance (homeostasis).

It was once thought that the brain was no longer able to get rich after 25 years of age. Today, it is demonstrated that over 90 years of life, the brain is able to evolve, learn and adapt to new demands and conditions. The neurons, if stimulated, continue to renew themselves and this “regrowth” contributes to well-being.

The ability of the brain to regulate itself can in fact be perturbed by various types of physical and psychological trauma. More or less important physical, cognitive and emotional disturbances ensue.

For whom neurofeedback can be useful

The nonlinear dynamic neurofeedback was recently recognized (October 2018) by the US Food and Drug Administration as a “general wellness”, that is, as a general wellness tool. It can therefore be carried out by all adequately trained operators and bring benefits beyond specific diagnostic aspects.

The use of dynamic non-linear neurofeedback appears to be promising and recommended for aspects related to anxiety and stress ( panic , insomnia , headaches ), depressive states and dermatological disorders . Very useful in behavioral disorders such as aggression , outbursts of anger and impulsiveness (eg ADHD) but also for compulsive behaviors related or not to the use of substances .

Does neurofeedback work?

The first scientific publications on traditional neurofeedback date back to the 1970s. Various authors have experienced it in the most frequent psychic disorders. For example: in anxiety, Garrett (1), Egner (2); in Obsessive Compulsive Disorder , Hammond (3); in Depression, Hammond (4) (5); in insomnia, Moore (6) and Garrett (7).

To date, the University of Victoria in Canada has collected data from more than one million sessions and conducted large statistical studies. These provide very encouraging effectiveness rates of dynamic non-linear neurofeedback training . The rates of improvement are 83.3% in insomnia, 87.2% for migraine and 72.4% in tachycardia . All conditions that significantly lower people’s quality of life.

Neurofeedback and psychosomatics

Other “psychosomatic” disorders also benefit from this method. For example, for fibromyalgia and other chronic pain, the University of Victoria reports efficacy of 73.8%. While for gastrointestinal disorders it certifies its effectiveness in 80% of cases. An Italian study is underway conducted in collaboration with the University of Palermo (Lanza, 2018) which is evaluating its effectiveness for Tinnitus disorder.. Although definitive results are expected, neurofeedback appears to be very useful for treating a disabling disorder and with little or no efficacy from other approaches. The preliminary results also show that, even in patients who do not have a decrease in the intensity and frequency of tinnitus, there is a reduction in the state of anxiety. In fact, this disorder is often accompanied by other secondary disorders such as insomnia and migraines that make the tinnitus disorder even more disabling. It is therefore essential to improve the patient’s ability to adapt and quality of life.

Neurofeedback and dermatological problems

Another field in which the University of Victoria has conducted efficacy studies is that of dermatological problems , often linked to psychosomatic aspects. In these cases, the significant attenuation of the parameters related to stress is beneficial in 70% of cases.

Dr. Jean Alvarez published an important study in the journal Integrative Cancer Therapies in 2013 on the use of dynamic non-linear neurofeedback. It measured cognitive impairment, fatigue, sleep, and emotional distress (particularly anxiety and depression) in 23 women who exhibited symptoms of chemobrain after drug treatments for breast cancer.

In the initial measurements the participants showed higher scores than the normal population on all questionnaires. After 20 neurofeedback sessions, the subjects were indistinguishable from the normal population with respect to almost all measured variables.

In the study by Ali Nazari et al. of 2011 (9) indicates effective neurofeedback training for ADHD and non-responders to drug treatment.

Dynamic neurofeedback indications and contraindications

To date, with the data available, everyone can benefit from the help provided by dynamic non-linear neurofeedback. In fact, there are no exclusion criteria with respect to age, psychophysical condition or the presence of any pathologies with the exception of severe hearing loss. The training has no side effects and is absolutely not invasive. It does not impose anything on the central nervous system but facilitates the correct processing of information by the brain. It sends back information that is not an “electrical stimulation”, but a signal that is sent to the brain through a micro interruption of listening to music.

Anyone wishing to make the most of their brain and enhance their physical and mental resources can benefit from this innovative tool. By improving attention and concentration skills, it can help anyone, from managers to athletes, from professionals to children.

Last but not least, this tool also appears promising as a supplement to psychotherapeutic treatments. Helps to overcome blocking moments and strengthen the results achieved. It can be combined with pharmacological therapies to improve their effectiveness and compliance. However, the role of the operator in accompanying the person during this experience and in his change process is fundamental.


by Abdullah Sam
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