Biofeedback Therapy and Neurofeedback For Mental Health Strengthening

16th October 2023

Biofeedback and neurofeedback are related methods that are being used with reported success in the treatment of mental health disorders such as ADHD, bipolar disorder, OCD, and for anxiety and stress, as well as a host of other mental health issues.

Neurofeedback has become an accepted treatment for ADHD, and considered in official sources to be "probably efficacious," meaning there is evidence that neurofeedback is effective, though more professional studies are needed to further document its effectiveness. Biofeedback can be differentiated from neurofeedback in that biofeedback involves more than just the central nervous system, but also can include the monitoring and feedback of other physical body functions. Neurofeedback is what is more commonly used in the treatment of ADHD and mental health disorders, and focuses solely on the central nervous system.

Neurofeedback, specifically, provides feedback from the monitoring of the client’s EEG brain waves. Visual graphics on a computer screen are manipulated by the client, using only his or her thoughts, while the brain wave activity in the form of EEG waves of this focused and directed concentration provides continuous feedback to the client. The client learns to focus the attention of specific areas of the brain, and the feedback becomes a type of reward system. The client then learns to focus his attention in an area of the brain—the frontal area in the case of ADHD—thus strengthening that area through training.

Early neurofeedback device, 1980s.

David Rabiner,Ph.D., research scientist at Duke University, defines neurofeedback, also known as EEG Biofeedback, as an approach for treating ADHD, in which individuals are provided real-time feedback on their brainwave activity, and taught to alter their typical EEG pattern to one that is consistent with a focused and attentive state.

According to neurofeedback proponents, when this occurs, improved attention and reduced hyperactive/impulsive behavior will result. Rabiner cites 14 clinical studies which, using the American Psychological Association (APA) 5-level system for grading the evidence for efficaciousness of mental health treatments, scores neurofeedback Level 3, "probably efficacious" in treating ADHD. Some empirical evidence from controlled studies is still lacking for a higher rating. Previously, CHADD had rated neurofeedback as Level 2, "possibly efficacious," though the results of new studies on neurofeedback have warranted a higher rating.

The goals of neurofeedback are:

  • Stabilizing overall brain function by strengthening the brain's ability to routinely produce brainwaves in healthy ranges.
  • Improving the ability of the brain to shift from one brainwave state to another smoothly and effectively and then stay there as long as needed.
  • Improving brain functioning in localized areas of the brain associated with specific problems an individual is experiencing.

Neurofeeback has also been used for anxieties, bipolar disorder and other mental health difficulties.

Is Neurofeedback/Biofeedback an Effective Treatment?

Is neurofeedback, or biofeedback, an effective treatment for ADHD? There is no universal agreement on the subject, though it seems as if it can be an effective treatment for many sufferers. The National Resource Center on CHADD's information center, lists the following ratings for neurofeedback/biofeedback:

1.The American Psychological Association (APA) considers biofeedback or neurofeedback for ADHD to be "Probably Efficacious," the third category in a scale of 1 to 5.

2. CHADD (currently) holds that neurofeedback is a valid "Option" for treatment of ADHD one level below Clinical Guidelines in terms of the four-level rating system of the AACAP. Three (3) on a scale of 1 to 4.

4. The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (AACAP) uses a four-level scale and rates neurofeedback as reaching the third level of the four-level scale in terms of "Clinical Guidelines" for ADHD treatment, one removed from the highest rating. Three (3) on a scale of 3 to 4.

How biofeedback works

Neurofeedback/biofeedback shows promise in the treatment of bipolar disorder, OCD, panic attack control, and other mental health disorders.

Why Neurofeedback and Biofeedback Work

Neurofeedback might be likened to mind-strengthening exercises. Biofeedback also helps strengthen the mind's control over mental and body functions. If there is some sort of physical disability, such as a stroke that weakened use in one hand, a physical therapist might encourage squeezing a rubber ball for several sessions each day.

Neurofeedback functions according to the same basic idea for the mind, training you to control it and sustain concentration. It provides regular sessions whereby you can exercise the brain, concentrating and controlling your thoughts in a fixed location or direction. Thus the client gains self-control and more strength over his will and behavior. Neurofeedback/biofeedback can also target specific emotions to try to control.

This is why art is also so effective in similar mental health disorders, the principle being very similar to that of biofeedback. Art as therapy or self-help trains a person to focus his attention on a specific point over an extended period of time. It requires concentration and precision. It requires concentration and precision. The artist loses a sense of time, and the extended focus develops mental strength, which can lead to a better sense of self-control and self-efficacy.

Biofeedback Therapy and Neurofeedback Conclusion

Art as therapy or neurofeedback/biofeedback are not the complete answers to mental health disorders. But they can be a part of an effective non-pharmaceutical program that can help a person successful overcome a number of mental health disorders in a way that is possibly more effective than reliance on pharmaceuticals—and with no side effects, short or long-term. Any side effects from neuro- or biofeedback are positive.

The conclusion is,that neurofeedback and biofeedback can be effective though costly tools for some children and adults in conjunction with other therapy methods, self-help and lifestyle changes.

Biofeedback and Neurofeedback Page References:

1. Attention Research Update. David Rabiner, Ph.D., Duke University, September 12, 2007 newsletter.

2. National Resource Center on AD/HD.: A Program of CHADD. Neurofeedback; An Effective Alternative Treatment for AD/HD? NRC News ADHD Newsletter. March 31, 2008.

3. New Review of Neurofeedback Treatment for ADHD - Current State of the Science, David Rabiner, Ph.D., January 2012. Attention Research Update 4. Neurofeedback Today, Dr. David Bissette. Retrieved April 2, 2008. Off-site link