What is Neurofeedback? The Big Picture
What is neurofeedback, exactly?
Neurofeedback has and continues to experience an identity crisis. Is it medical, is it education, is it self-improvement, what is it?
Looking at an industry accepted formal definition (International Society for Neuromodulation Research)
Neurofeedback is a non-invasive method of direct brain function training. It is a type of biofeedback, and is also called EEG Biofeedback. The International Society for Neurofeedback and Research (ISNR) defines biofeedback as “a process that enables an individual to learn how to change physiological activity for the purposes of improving health and performance.
Based upon principles of self-regulation and optimization, it is an outlier to most mainstream fields. It is not strictly medicine, because it is not recognized generally by insurance, and is not in common practice in the medical world. It is not exactly health care and self-improvement, because it does not fit squarely into the same model of diet, exercise, or other “evidence-based” systems. Neurofeedback is a tool that enables the brain to learn. This does not in itself determine in which domain the practice lies. It is not unlike a scalpel, in that devices can be used in either a medical or a nonmedical context. The distinction lies in the intended benefits, and the user’s scope of practice.
While being registered with the US FDA and internationally as a “medical devices,” neurofeedback systems may be legally used by any licensed professional for the indicated purpose of relaxation training and stress reduction. Applicable licensure can include fields as diverse as medicine, psychology, counseling, occupational therapy, education, rehabilitation, hypnotherapy, nursing, massage, among others. The possible uses under this definition are vast, as illustrated for example by the over 300 international publications using our equipment, for applications ranging from clinical treatment to nonmedical uses such as meditation, sports performance, and self-awareness. Currently, neurofeedback is in fact used more often outside the mainstream medical arena, and insurance rarely covers any such treatments for typically covered mental, emotional, or physical disorders.
In the post-WW2 era, television opened up new avenues not just for entertainment, but also for education and life improvement. One of the early formats included live exercise programs in which a noted individual (think Jack LaLanne, Paige Palmer) demonstrated and led the viewer in the basics of fitness, diet, and lifestyle. This led the way for celebrities like Jane Fonda and Richard Simmons, and countless trainers, authors, and business innovators to create the multibillion dollar fitness/wellness industry. These were performers, not doctors, and they led toward positive outcomes through behavior and attitude. It would be interesting to estimate just how many heart attacks, strokes, or diabetic episodes have been averted by those who followed these guidelines. However, despite the extent of these benefits, exercise, diet, and lifestyle maintain a strong non-medical presence.
At the same time, under extreme circumstances, these very factors can be come medicalized quite rapidly. A patient who presents with highly atypical weight, body fat, blood pressure, glucose levels, or other deviations may quickly receive a prescription for any number of medicines designed to counteract the clinical findings. A similar process has occurred with regard to other mental concerns such as anxiety and depression. There was a time when such problems were to be dealt with, through self-reliance, the support of friends and community, and so on. The time came in the 1950’s when we discovered that you can take a pill and feel better. Today, if the first pill isn’t working, there is a second or even third pill to take, as anyone who watched television commercials would know well. We live in a society addicted to chemicals, as evidenced by the widespread use of psychoactive agents at all ages, as well as high rates of addiction to both legal and illegal substances.
A similar process has affected neurofeedback. While in the 70’s and 80’s it was considered a “soft” practice, impacting only general relaxation using alpha waves, the picture changed with the emergence of ADD, ADHD, and related disorders as bona fide medical conditions. Whereas one might be able to claim “improved attention” in 1980, by the 1990’s, “attention” was firmly entrenched into the medical world as something that elevated the need for clinical testing and medical intervention.
The bottom line: Neurofeedback is “a form of brain and mental health care”.
And that is where BrainMaster comes in. Here is our mission statement, unchanged since 1995:
Our Company, BrainMaster Technologies, Inc., one of the fruits of the BrainMaster Project, aims to help put low-cost, effective electroencephalographic (EEG) brainwave monitoring and analysis into the hands of everyone with the interest or need. We provide information and resources on the development and use of small EEG brainwave machines for a variety of uses such as Neurofeedback or EEG biofeedback. Over the years, thousands of people have used this project and the internet to learn about important uses of brainwave technology, Neurofeedback, and EEG biofeedback.
As of now, we have documented over 6000 practitioners using over 12,000 systems, and 600,000+ clients having been served over 23 million treatment sessions. There have been over 300 published research reports from over 30 countries, documenting the use of our equipment in a full range of applications.
We see ourselves as a global supplier of hardware, software, systems, education, and training in the broad field of brain and mental health care, operating without boundaries or limitations, finding use in any field in which the health of the brain and mind are relevant and important, which is just about every field that exists.