What is neurofeedback?

For over 40 years, analysis of brain function using quantitative EEG, followed up with treatment of symptoms and signs with EEG neurofeedback, has been effective with a wide range of disorders including developmental trauma, particularly those that are more severe and not responsive to talking or medication therapies.

Neurofeedback trains the brain away from habitual excessive scanning for threats and diverting brain resources to deal with them. Once brain function is re-set through calming neurofeedback, many people cease to have a DSM-5 diagnosis, and almost all have significantly improved life performance.  Others may still have a diagnosis, but talking and medication therapies are then more effective, so they feel and perform a lot better.  Neurofeedback is not a cure all, but it is an enabler of improved brain function and life performance.

To illustrate this, the NSW Service for the Treatment and Rehabilitation of Torture and Trauma Survivors (STARTTS) treats around 7,500 refugees with every type of trauma and high severity of disorder.  Since 2003, QEEG analysis and neurofeedback has been found to be the most effective way of treating the most severe trauma and PTSD, with the results virtually permanent.  

STARTTS needs more clinicians to be trained in these skills to match refugee demand, let alone to treat the very large number of severely traumatised people in the general community. 

How Neurofeedback helps people with developmental trauma

At the headspace Early Psychosis Youth Service in Western Sydney in 2021 it was found that almost all the young people had histories of significant developmental trauma.

A small case series showed they all had abnormal QEEGs compared to a normative database. They all responded to neurofeedback, including a woman with treatment resistant schizophrenia (despite four years of the world’s best practice recovery programme).  She had a history of severe developmental trauma and despite trials of all the relevant medications, psychotherapy and recovery activities, she was still disabled by psychosis.  After a course of neurofeedback, she became calm, could sleep properly, became organised in her thoughts, and had improved confidence and mood. 

She no longer needed illicit drugs to temporarily feel better, she learnt to drive and left her abusive boyfriend.  She remained on a low dose of clozapine medicine, as appropriate for schizophrenia, to prevent relapses.  She stated she felt 300% better, and when followed up one year later, said that all the benefits of neurofeedback continued. She has organised for her sister to have neurofeedback.

The emerging application of qEEG assessment and qEEG guided operant conditioning neurofeedback (Sitaram et al 2017) could drive major changes in diagnostic categories and treatments, that utilise the developing brain’s plasticity in correcting dysregulation. This includes improving the speed of communication where there has been excessive pruning in adolescence (Whitford et al, 2011), improving cognition, and the ability of the cortex to more effectively inhibit and fine tune emotions and behaviours. It is possible that the main cause of cognitive decline with psychosis is due to developmental trauma effects, well before the symptoms of psychosis emerge (Bora & Murray 2014), and possibly able to be improved by neurofeedback (Surmeli 2016). There is evidence that the operant conditioning by neurofeedback produces statistically significant upregulation of functional connectivity in the salience network (Ros et al 2010 & 2013).”

A/Prof Roger Gurr

What is a DSM-5 diagnosis?

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, or “DSM,” is a reference book on mental health and brain-related conditions and disorders.

The American Psychiatric Association (APA) is responsible for the writing, editing, reviewing and publishing of this book. The number 5 relates to its fifth edition.

DSM-5 is used to diagnose mental health and brain-related conditions, organising them into groups that help healthcare providers diagnose conditions and tell them apart from conditions with similar signs and symptoms

How does neurofeedback work?

It works through re-training the brain – the client watches a special computer game or video that only responds when the brain adjusts its activity to match what the therapist has determined on their computer. 

Nothing is done to the brain – it finds its own solution to re-train, and this has been used safely for many years. With training, the brain more easily and frequently produces the desired brainwave activity leading to improved self-regulation and reduction in

What is QEEG?

QEEG (Quantitative Electroencephalogram), also known as ‘brain mapping’, is a non-invasive assessment method that records brain electrical activity in the form of brain wave patterns.

QEEG assessments are used to identify patterns in brain activity that may help to understand clients’ psychological, cognitive and emotional symptoms and assist in making well-informed decisions about their treatment.