Wouldn’t it be nice if there are better alternatives to medications for treatments or illnesses? Neurofeedback can be a great answer to this question. Neurofeedback technician Cherie Jewell discusses this, including the conditions that benefit from it. She talks about the entire process of how neurofeedback works, starting with brain mapping to the time it takes to see results. Cherie also touches on the topic of ADHD and how neurofeedback can help decrease the use of medications. Know more about this amazing therapy and what other illnesses and disorders can be alleviated by it in this episode.
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What Is Neurofeedback with Dr. Trish Murray and Cherie Jewell
Welcome to our episode on Neurofeedback. We’re going to be talking about this topic on neurofeedback but also, I have Cherie Jewell with me who is our neurofeedback technician here at Discover Health Functional Medicine Center. Hi Cherie.
How are you doing?
Good, and thanks for doing this with me.
First of all, we’re going to talk about what is neurofeedback but neurofeedback is a form of biofeedback. Biofeedback you may have heard of before but you may not quite know what it means. Biofeedback is when you take a type of technology to monitor some physiologic process. For example, sometimes people are put on a monitor to monitor their heart rate and the heart pulse and the frequency of it. Sometimes people will put on monitors to monitor their blood pressure. The technology gives them feedback as to whether they’re improving if you wield the performance of that physiologic process.
Neurofeedback is biofeedback for your brain. Your brain is a computer, essentially and it has electricity that runs through it through the nervous system. If anyone has ever had an EEG or what’s called an electroencephalogram, that means that you had a test done to measure the electrical frequency running through your brain in different areas of your brain. Neurofeedback starts with doing an EEG but then the therapy or the training with neurofeedback is that the technology monitors the frequency of your brainwaves in certain areas of your brain and gives you feedback as to whether those frequencies in the speed of that electricity is either going in an optimal zone of range or is it going too fast or is it going too slow. Research over 30, 40, 50 years has shown that there are optimal ranges for our brainwave frequencies. I wanted to start with that explanation so the people have a basis to start with. Cherie, does that sound about right?
Yes, the easiest way for me to explain it is based on the brain map, we do physical therapy for the brain. We’re taking areas that are weak and imbalanced, and we strengthen it using the neurofeedback sessions.
When you say weak and imbalanced, what in your reading and understanding does that mean?
It’s when the brain is either going too fast or too slow, and it’s causing the other areas in your brain to not function properly.
What types of conditions have you found over the years because we’ve had this modality here on our office now for like five years? What types of conditions have you seen come through and benefit from neurofeedback?
ADHD, especially in children, anxiety, depression, migraines, concussion, post-concussion syndrome, addiction, food addictions. We’ve had some very significant changes.
We did a Facebook Live with the patient of ours that predominantly did neurofeedback because she was having trouble with food addiction and the ability to stay away from picking and constantly eating. She’s actually lost over 70 pounds. That was pretty powerful. The other thing that I’ve seen we get a lot of is insomnia.Weak and unbalanced areas of your brain can be re-strengthened using neurofeedback. Click To Tweet
That’s usually the first thing that people notice when they’re doing their treatments is that their sleep habits improve.
It’s been pretty amazing. Let’s talk about how it’s done. What’s the process if someone wanted to find out what’s going on in my brain and why are my frequencies in the optimal range? Are they too fast or are they too slow? How does it work?
We start off scheduling a brain map and the brain map is a two-part thing. The first part is we send an email and they’re going to fill out three surveys online. The second part is they come in for the actual brain map. The brain map is messy, so we recommend people scheduled time to go home and be able to wash up afterward.
It’s messy in what way, what happens?
They put a cap on and the cap has small holes where we’re going to end up putting gel in each of the areas that we want to test and the gel is very wet.
It’s like a shower cap with a whole bunch of little holes in it and you’re going to fill every single hole with all this gel?
That’s the hard part. The easy part is just they stare at a specific area and they keep their eyes open for six minutes, and then they close their eyes for six minutes, the test is done for them. Then, they follow up with you.
In the point of all that gel is that we need to make an interface between the skull where the electricity is running and a gel frequency, basically the electrical messaging can be traveling through that gel, and then picked up by the sensor.
We’re not picking anything up around them either.
You’re picking their electrical messaging only and then that’s being transmitted through the monitors to the computer obviously, which is then developing the map to show whether the frequencies of those electrical currents are going or electrical waves are going too fast or too slow. Don’t the patients fill out a questionnaire?
Yes, it’s three surveys online.
Those surveys have to do with?
Those surveys have to do with the symptoms that they’re experiencing. Say they came in here with a problem focusing, and the brain map shows that they have no problem focusing but the survey shows that they do. When you look at those two, when the survey is saying something different than the brain, it could be an environmental thing. It might be something else that they need to be working on.
It may be that the brain is showing normalcy but the patient is feeling that they have issues with this particular problem. With that, it would mean that neurofeedback isn’t going to be able to help this situation because it’s more environmental such as diet, recreational drugs or stress or not getting enough sleep. What we also watch for is when the way a patient or a person fills out their questionnaire and when it correlates definitively with what the brain map shows in the electrical frequencies for that area.
We’ve got a match and neurofeedback is going to help.
That’s what we look for in order to determine who would be the best patients for neurofeedback. The idea here then is that it’s objective and it’s looking for correlations between patient symptoms and what the actual brain map shows. Once someone has had a brain map and they follow up with me to review it, and we do see a correlation between their electrical frequencies and their symptoms, and that neurofeedback would be indicated, how does the therapy work? What do they do?
We set them up usually for twenty sessions. The sessions are 30 minutes each. They come in, they pick out a TV show or a movie, not anything that’s going to give them any negative emotions like a scary film or something that would make them sad. They want something enjoyable and then we hook them up with two leads on the left and right side and then one on the chair and they watch the TV and enjoy it for 30 minutes.
They’re just watching TV, right?
Just watching TV.
They’re hooked up, right?
Not as many of these boxes we did with the shower curtain or the shower cap?
No, it’s not messy at all, they could go right back to work. Also, the TV is going to fade in and out along with the headphones, they’re not going to be able to hear things for just a second.
Why does it fade in and out?
That’s when your brain waves are not in the optimal range and we’re training the brain so we want to strengthen those areas and your brain likes every word. When it doesn’t work, it figures out quickly what makes a TV and the audio work.Kids tend to respond much quicker to neurofeedback. Click To Tweet
This is what biofeedback is really all about, is that any type of biofeedback but neurofeedback is we’re monitoring your brainwave frequencies and you’re watching a movie or a documentary. I watch Friends, the old sitcom because it’s light-hearted. It makes me laugh and it’s entertaining. What happens as you’re watching is that the screen, the dimness or the clarity of the screen will change if your brainwave frequencies are in the optimal zone, then you will see the screen and hear the sound through the earphones perfectly, clearly. When your brainwave frequencies get either too fast or too slow and the computer picks that up, you’re going to get negative feedback. That negative feedback is that the sound will become a little more distant and the screen will become a little dimmer. What you’re saying is that the brain’s going to what?
Very rapidly try to correct that and it’s only a blink of the eye. It does not last very long so they don’t miss a whole lot of the TV. The first session normally, they notice it but after the first session, their brains are ready on it and it’s not too hard for people to be able to watch the TV show.
It goes in and out but you can still see the screen and you can still hear the sound, it’s just this dimming and brightening and dimming and brightening and the sound becomes more clearer and then a little distant.
All your job is to enjoy the show. You’re not trying to fix anything with the brain. You’re not trying to make it work, you just want to enjoy the show.
Absolutely because consciously, you can’t make it better. It’s like going to physical therapy for your brain and you’re just sitting there physically calm but your brain is exercised. Many people have noticed that when they start out, they sleep like a baby.
They dream better, they sleep better. It’s usually the first thing that we’ve noticed. Even people that don’t even feel like they had sleep issues, after a couple of sessions they’re saying, “I’m waking up feeling much better and I didn’t even realize that I had a problem.”
How long does it take for someone to start seeing results with neurofeedback?
It depends on the person, the diagnosis and the age. Kids tend to respond much quicker. Adults, usually around the seventh or eighth session, they’ll start to notice an improvement. On average, I’d say an adult would need between 20 and 60 sessions, depending on their diagnosis. Neurofeedback treats OCD. OCD is one of those things that we’ll take a look in more sessions.
An OCD is?
Obsessive-compulsive disorder, and that’s something that’s a little bit more difficult so we need more neurofeedback.
They’ve also talked about people who are hypersensitive or more sensitive to medications may also be more sensitive to neurofeedback.
They respond quicker.
They respond more quickly, again children will tend to respond more quickly. If you ask yourself, it’s like how long has the condition been going on? If it’s been going on years and years, then it’s going to take a little while to change that pattern. Children are lucky in that they haven’t had all the years to build up all the issues that all of us adults have had.
I have a son who has ADHD and by his fourth session, his principal called us to find out what we were doing differently because he noticed such a significant change that week.
It’s been nothing but positive since.
Are there any side effects to neurofeedback?
Not really, people that begin it, the first five sessions sometimes, their symptoms tend to get a little bit worse so we’d ask people when they’re scheduling to try and get the first five sessions quicker but then after that, there’s nothing negative.
What I understand is that if their brainwave frequencies are in a place in which they live on a daily basis and you start to train them to a new place, there’s going to be some speed bumps on the road as you train from where you are now to where optimal might be. You have to go back through that person’s past history if you will from frequencies of where they’ve been before. There may be bumps in the road where someone may not necessarily sleep well for a night or two or their anxiety may be bumped up a tad. What’s the answer then? Is it for them to not come?
No, definitely to continue and I’ve also seen with people that come for PTSD, the twelfth and thirteenth session for some reason is a trigger. It will backspace for just one session and they’ll be right back on feeling much better afterward.
What caused you to become so interested in neurofeedback and in this modality?
Since I was a small kid, I was sick with asthma and I’d have an asthma attack and I’d lose oxygen in my brain. I’ve realized that my vision will get fuzzy, my hearing would not be optimal as normally it should be and I would be really way off. I’d be telling people I was fine but I was not breathing, I can barely breathe. Since a small kid, I was just fascinated that my brain had so much control over everything including vision and hearing. As I grow older, I’ve had my four kids, one with anxiety, two with ADHD, I’ve seen how much using neurofeedback has improved all my kids.
Some of the biggest research in neurofeedback and brain entrainment modalities has been in the ADD, ADHD world, particularly for children, and the research has shown that it can improve and decrease the use of medications. It can also improve someone’s grade-level performance by one to two grades in school. It can improve a child’s IQ from five to fifteen points has been documented and neurofeedback as a modality has been rated as a class 1 evidence-based modality by the American College of Pediatrics. What that means is that there has been double-blind type studies done with children to show that neurofeedback is a definitive modality that can benefit children with ADD and ADHD. It doesn’t have any side effects like medications and a lot of times, the medication used for ADD, ADHD is a speed-related medication. There are side effects to that for anyone.
We’ve had several people that did neurofeedback that was able to go off their ADHD medications and it also makes a lot of sense. Even people that do not have ADHD, I think you’ve experienced it as well when you’re doing neurofeedback, you realize everything calms, your mind is clearer. Imagine somebody whose brain is going on all different directions of very sensitive to hearing and sounds, their brain is able to calm a little bit. I hear that a lot with people after a couple of sessions that they just feel like they’re more clear and they’ve got more energy because they’re able to focus on things, even with people without ADHD.
In your experience, what other research have you read about modalities that areas that it can help?
PTSD is another big one.Neurofeedback is biofeedback for your brain. Click To Tweet
What’s that called? PTSD stands for?
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. We’ve also seen patients with depression, that’s another one. There are a lot of studies on with depression and it’s one of those things that neurofeedback tends to help quickly. Anxieties is another one, that’s a big study.
There are also studies out there in the neurofeedback world, in the brain entrainment world on addiction and it is not the end-all and be-all. In the addiction world, there is no one answer. There’s no silver bullet but neurofeedback is used, when we talk about drug addiction, alcohol addiction worlds, they’re using neurofeedback more and more in different groups, multi-modality therapy programs.
The best study showed neurofeedback and some type of therapy combined. That’s where they get the best results.
The other thing that we’ve used it and as you eluded to before, we mentioned a patient who’s lost over 70 pounds as a result of weight loss. We have our multiple services here to help people with chronic diseases particularly through diet, detoxification, exercise, nutrition and stress management. When people come to me, I’ve noticed that some people will come and the biggest issue for them is weight loss. They’ve said to me, “Trish, I’ve tried so many pads to try and lose weight. I’ve been in this group and that group.” Some people were even in in-hospital or live-in programs or they’ve done no solid foods and only liquid foods for a month at a time. They dropped a lot of weight but then what typically happens is they go back to their normal behaviors and their addictions to food, if you will, so they put the weight back on plus more. What I’ve noticed is that if someone comes to us with those sorts of history, I have suggested that they do a brain map. What have we found along the way?
Usually, they’re showing signs of a type of addiction and that the neurofeedback has been able to help with lowering their sugar cravings, their late-night food cravings. Part of the thing with late-night cravings is they’re not sleeping that well and the neurofeedback corrected that. From there, it’s a domino effect where they’re starting to feel better with other things.
We’ve had this modality here at Discover Health Functional Medicine Center for over five years now and Cherie Jewell is our technician. We’ve been talking about this neurofeedback here. Overall, what percentage of patients that proceed into neurofeedback have you found benefit from it?
It’s a very large number, I would say about 98% of them.
That’s high. Whenever you have a modality, I can remember several years when we first started having neurofeedback, because neurofeedback is not something that most people are familiar with. We started having it, whenever you offer a new modality to a community, the people that are the worst of the worst and having the worst time with different things that they can’t find answers for come through the door. I can remember that early on, we had a woman come in who talked about the fact that she was driving down the road on a regular basis and wanted to drive into a tree. That particular person I recall, by the time she finished 20 to 30 sessions of neurofeedback had no longer any suicidal ideations and was doing much better. Another one I recall from very early on was a young girl, probably nineteen years old, who had anorexia nervosa, she was starving herself. She weighed 98 pounds or less than that and her mom brought her in tears because she had already been through multiple different therapies and in-hospitalizations for her anorexia. Anorexia is almost like a death march in essence. There are not a lot of things that can help.
That’s how the mom was feeling at that time also that they had not very much hope, not much of anything could help.
I remember it was around March when there’s a spring newspaper health section. We did an article in the paper about neurofeedback and they saw it and they said, “Oh my goodness.” They walked through the door and they asked about it. How many sessions of neurofeedback did this young lady do?
She was up to 60.
Neurofeedback is not an overnight answer.
She also had OCD.
She also had obsessive-compulsive disorder so that takes more sessions than other issues. This young lady is now probably about 23 years old. She weighs about 125 to 130 pounds. She has a job, she has a boyfriend and she is living an essentially normal life.
And every one in a while, her mom or she will contact me and let me know how they’re doing.
We’ve been talking about neurofeedback and with Cherie Jewell, our technician here at Discover Health Functional Medicine Center. Thank you, Cherie.
About Cherie Jewell
Cherie completed her CNA license in 1995 and received credit at White Mountain Community College as well as Gateway College focusing on health, psychology and childhood development. In 2002, she began working as the head medical secretary at Saint Raphael’s Dialysis Unit in New Haven, Connecticut for several years before moving back to New Hampshire. She began working for Dr. Murray in 2012 as an Office Manager. Over the years she has also taken on the role of Neurofeedback Technician.
She’s a mother of four children. She was born and raised in Connecticut, then resided in Pennsylvania for a year and a half, followed by spending six months traveling across the US before moving to the Mount Washington Valley in 1994.
Her hobbies include gardening, painting and hiking. She loves seeing people get their health back and live life without limitations. She enjoys encouraging and inspiring people to make a change in their lifestyle. She loves to hear about the life-changing testimonials from clients who have gone through our programs.