You may have to “hook up” the beeps, clicks and mp3 files the first time you use a design. If you don’t hear beeps or clicks when you should, go to the Score object and verify that Enable is checked. Then click the … to the right of the Sound field and navigate to the appropriate sound in YOUR media folder.
When using Alpha Theta, which uses MP3 sounds, select each of the Audio Players in the Objects menu and, if the file shows a red X in front of it, Remove it, then Add the file from your Media folder.
Medications and Training
If you begin training while a client is on meds, as most of us do, you don’t need to stop while the brain is working off the chemicals. Whatever is the brain and whatever the drugs, that’s the brain you have to train. I believe you can assess–and train–whatever brain comes before you. In the US, if we didn’t train people who were on medication, there would only be about 150 people in the whole country we could do neurofeedback with!
The key to clients on medication is to ask them to learn from their doctor what the symptoms would be of over-medication and watch for those. If you begin to see them, then the client works with the doctor to start reducing her dosage until, hopefully, it is all gone.
Most anti-depressants cause changes in the way the brain works chemically, and stopping them–especially cold turkey–can often have severe negative effects. With SSRI’s, as the client began to produce posterior 10Hz alpha, natural release of serotonin increased and they were able to back off the medication without the usual related pain. I’ve also seen low-alpha clients who did not reduce the meds as they began to be able to hold the alpha state themselves and went from being anxious and unable to sleep to being depressed and unable to get out of bed.
There’s very little research on the EEG effects of individual drugs–which of course no one ever receives anymore–much less the combined effects of the huge number of potential combinations of drugs.
Any neurotransmitter or other chemical in the brain has a range of blood levels within which they support high function. When the level of that chemical is either too low or too high, performance falls off, though often in different ways. A brain that produces little EC alpha, for example, probably shows low levels of serotonin. Taking an SSRI drug will artificially increase availability of serotonin in the synapses, hopefully into the desired range. Training the brain to increase its ability to produce alpha will also have an effect increasing serotonin–since it is a normal result of increased alpha. Either one by itself could be very helpful in terms of performance, but doing both at the same time, it would be easy to push past the peak performance level. They you can either stop doing the NF, if the client really wants to keep taking the med, or start cutting back on the dosage of the SSRI.
Toward the end of my time working with clients in Atlanta, we began to screen out of training clients who came in on 4 or more psycho-active medications, because we simply didn’t have much success with them. I know of others, probably some on this list, who do work with even more heavily medicated people. In my opinion, if a client is on 3 (e.g. stimulant, anti-depressant, anti-convulsant), few–if any–physicians can tell you anything about how they interact, because there’s simply no literature (at least there wasn’t when I was looking) on such a combination. They are the equivalent of a chemical baseball bat.
I would not include chemotherapy in the same category with other medications. Chemotherapy is a slow poisoning of the body, and it slows the brain significantly. I guess if I were going to train someone doing chemo, I would focus on trying to keep alpha peak up and reducing slowwave amplitudes.
When a client comes for training while on medication, getting off the meds should almost always be a high-priority goal. I explain to clients that, if the medication has had a positive effect, it has changed brain activation. However, because chemical intervention has a temporary effect and doesn’t produce lasting changes in the brain’s energy patterns, neurofeedback is a better option. One result of training is that, as the energy patterns become more functional, the chemistry of the brain changes automatically. As that happens, the brain goes from having too little of something to having too much. As the brain produces parietal alpha, for example, levels of serotonin increase naturally. The result of a serotonin reuptake inhibitor drug is to push the levels of Serotonin above the levels the brain prefers, and there are effects of over-medication.
I just looked up side-effects for zyprexa and found ” Common side effects of Zyprexa include: asthenia, dizziness, drowsiness, extrapyramidal reaction, hyperkinetic muscle activity, akinesia, cogwheel rigidity, drug-induced parkinson’s disease, dyspepsia, mask-like face, and xerostomia.”
I usually suggest that the family or client (or sometimes the trainer) check with the physician, a pharmacist or on the internet or the pill package and make a list of the things to watch for in the client that could indicate over-medication. When these appear, the family should approach their physician to get a plan for titrating off the medication. In some cases, when a physician is rigid about the dosage, families may choose to work off of it themselves.
Monopolar vs. Bipolar Montages
Monopolar (or referential) montages are channels in which one electrode (usually the active, but that’s not necessarily true) is placed over an active EEG site on the head. Bipolar (or sequential) montages are channels in which BOTH active and reference electrode are placed over active EEG sites. T3/A1 has one electrode over a head site and one over a relatively inert site (the earlobe), so it is monopolar. T3/T4 has both electrodes over head sites, so it is bipolar.
A bipolar montage does not have to be inter-hemispheric (another common confusion). T3/A2 is an interhemispheric placement (one electrode is reading from the left, the other from the right hemisphere), but the right electrode is not over an active EEG site so it’s monopolar. F3/C3 is not an interhemispheric placement (both electrodes are on the left hemisphere), but both are over active EEG sites, so it’s bipolar.
Each channel has an active and reference electrode. Therefore you can have a one-channel monopolar or bipolar (three electrodes including the ground). If you use five electrodes (on most systems, though some require a ground for each channel), you are using two channels and either one can be monopolar or bipolar.
The ground can go pretty much anywhere on the body.
It appears that in any montage you are training those pyramidal neurons (which exist only in the cortex, cingulate and hippocampus) which are between the active and reference electrodes that happen to be oriented closest to parallel to the line between them and closest to that line. My interest in this topic has pretty much been limited to the more practical elements of it. I use a variety of bipolar montages that I have seen effective over a number of clients for various types of problems. Ditto monopolar montages. It makes absolutely no sense to me that T3/T4, which I use often, is measuring this way, since I don’t understand what is being measured. Are the electrodes measuring in a straight line between the two (in which case some neurons in the temporals and perhaps in the hippocampus are all that’s being measured) or do the electrodes somehow pick up signals in a line that runs all the way up over Cz and back down again? Since the distance between an electrode and the neuron being measured reduces the effect of that neuron, what the heck are we really measuring? Since many–perhaps most–of the pyramidal neurons in that line will be oriented up-and-down or side-to-side across that line–not parallel to it–itt seems like a crap-shoot.
So yes, I get the theory, but I haven’t really found that it helped most people (maybe including myself) to “understand” what they are doing. So my mantra remains, it it works, do it. Certainly sometimes I’ve worked with clients for whom bipolar montages worked really well for specific issues. And I respect Noel and Jorge who basically train ONLY that way. But I’ve also seen clients who didn’t respond as well to C3/C4 as they did to Cz/A2/g/C4/A2; some folks I’ve worked with love T3/T4, and others prefer T3/A1/g/T4/A2 sum/difference training or just amplitude training.
In any channel, you are training the difference between the signal at the active and reference electrodes. In a monopolar placement with an earlobe or mastoid reference the reference is very close to 0. Whatever signal reported is happening at the active site. Whatever changes occur in the signal during training will be due to changes at the active site.
Bipolar montages combine active and reference signals from brain sites–and report the difference between them.
Two sites could produce a theta value of 6, for example, in a bipolar montage with 15u at one site and 9u at the other; or 23 and 29, or 2 and 8. A bipolar signal really doesn’t tell us anything about the amplitudes in various frequencies. It tells us about the difference in the amplitudes. You can train to increase the difference (Reward) or decrease the difference (Inhibit) between the signals.
One of the ways to do that is to change the phase relationship between the two signals. When two signals are synchronized, with peaks being subtracted from peaks, the result is a very small number, no matter how much of the frequency is actually being produced at the two sites. Active CH1 shows 28u of low theta; Reference CH1 shows 25u. The trainer will see a reading of 3u.
ANY differential signal is actually reading all the pyramidal neurons between the active and reference electrodes that are more or less parallel to the line between them. Neurons are oriented in all different directions in the cortex, because of the folding of the cortical sheet. So the further apart the electrodes are, in general, the greater will be the average amplitude there, and the closer together they are, the smaller (on average) will be the amplitude. This is partly because of the larger number of neurons being measured and partly because most brains can produce synchronous activity more easily over shorter distances. Even those people who really understand the physics of the brain aren’t absolutely positive about this stuff (our knowledge of that organ has changed hugely in the past 20 years and is still changing, as are the various models for explaining the unexplainable) you can spend a lot of time on it–or you can just recognize that people who work with the brain to produce changes have discovered that, in many cases, certain things work to achieve certain results. If you need to know why, then keep asking. If you want to use the technology for change, then do what works.
I’ve only seen one or two people with global coherences even in the 80’s. In both cases there was severe tension (scalp tension is harder to see). What causes most signals to be coherent is that they are coming from the same source.
Some clients I used to run into in Atlanta would have excessive levels of muscle tension that was “invisible”. I could never find anything tense, yet they produced very high EMG levels no matter what they did. Usually training them, SMR was a good option, with whatever signal we could get, would slowly bring it down within a session and the “interference” would go away. It would take a number of sessions for the release to last.
Asking about signs that NF is not working or is having negative effects is perfectly valid and answerable. It’s not working if the desired changes aren’t starting to happen within about 10 sessions or less. I know lots of folks (with knowledge bases 14 feet wide and 3/8 inch deep) who keep slogging along (at the client’s expense) for 30, 40, 50 or more sessions doing the same thing religiously and getting the same results–none. You can tell brain training is having negative effects in the same way: by looking at the client. If the client gets irritable or foggier or has pain or headaches or can’t sleep when he could before or…well, you get the idea…after a session, you take notice. First you would wonder, is this really a thing that hasn’t happened often before. If a kid who has headaches 6-8 times a month has a headache after a session, did the training cause it? Unlikely. Still you want to know it and factor it into your planning. If a kid who is sweet and quiet and pliable kicks the dog and bites his sister in the several hours after a session, then you;d probably look at changing your approach.
Normal and Ideal Brains
As to the question about the “ideal brain”, I would ask you: For what? Do you want to be an ideal accountant, an ideal artist, therapist, engineer, businessman, lover, soldier? Every brain pattern has its benefits and costs. Ideal, I guess, if there be such a thing, would be a brain with a tremendous amount of flexibility in terms of activating up and down the range and a good deal of stability in terms of being able to hold a state quite effectively once in it.
Open vs. Single-Pointed Focus
Training to synchronize all brain sites in alpha means that the brain is essentially in the Zone/Flow state: cortical neurons are all in the ready/resting state rather than popping into beta briefly when there is not call for beta. Les Fehmi calls this resting/ready state (what I call stillness/presence) open focus. Closed focus is when the cortical neurons have de-synchronized from the alpha generators in the thalamus and are performing tasks. There’s not a problem with getting the frontal lobes to synchronize with the rest of the brain. However, unless there is a good reason to do so, training up alpha coherence or synchrony in the frontals alone can have a negative effect on processing (the frontals are more beta country than alpha.)
What’s really interesting is how HARD it is for many people just to FOCUS. That doesn’t mean thinking about something (since that’s inside your head). It doesn’t mean “trying”, since that’s oriented toward some future outcome. If you were just observing something very interesting, that would be single-pointed focus. That process demands a lot of the PFC. If you were watching something and thinking about it or whatever else…it wouldn’t be single-pointed focus. If you were watching something and judging whether it was good or bad, again, you wouldn’t be focused on what WAS.
I get that it’s hard. But the idea that if you could just read more or understand the numbers better or whatever, THEN by golly it would have an effect is your conscious mind playing back the very BS that you probably are trying to get away from by doing HEG. Brain focus is not mind focus.
It’s amazing how quickly and easily the kids I’ve worked with get this. And how quickly things start to change for them. They just don’t know enough to complicate it.
There’s an old story of an eastern master who is approached by a student who commits himself 100% to working with the teacher to learn enlightenment. The first lesson the teacher gives the student is very simple, and the student goes home and does it and comes back for his second lesson. After a brief conversation, the master gives the student exactly the same task. The student is a little disgruntled, but he goes home and goes through it again. At the third lesson, the master does the same thing. And the fourth. Finally the student bursts out and says, “teacher, you keep giving me the same lesson over and over again!” And the master says, “yes, I know. And I will until you actually learn it.”
Don’t think, don’t try, don’t judge. JUST PAY ATTENTION. (can be a video, can be a graph, can be a DVD, can be reading a book, can be looking at a flower and drawing it.
The key is single-pointed focus: pay attention to just one thing (for me, it’s the point where the graph comes out of the right side of the graph. When you are thinking, you aren’t concentrating. When you are trying, or judging your performance, you aren’t concentrating. A member of the group (sorry, I’ve forgotten who it was) pointed out some time back that the issue of intention was also important.
Attention: You watch the point–nothing else in the world.
Intention: You know you want the line to go up but you don’t get upset if it doesn’t and you don’t celebrate if it does–because both of those remove you from the focus state.
Don’t think about it. Don’t try to figure out how to make it do anything. Don’t judge how well you are doing. Don’t pay attention to breathing or to anything else. Just pay absolute attention to that one point. You may actually feel (if you have a very busy mind, as it sounds like you may) as if you are zoning out when you suddenly notice that the line is rising., because you are using your prefrontal cortex to BLOCK all that stuff you usually do–the stuff that led you to get the Peanut in the first place. In order to achieve spf, your PFC must block all the other things your brain wants to do, and that’s a very demanding task, so it draws blood into the tissue and causes the Red/Infrared Activation ratio to rise. That’s it. I had one client who only learned how to do it after I taped a piece of typing paper over the screen, so the only thing he could see was the half-inch of the line on the very right of the graph. He knew he wanted that to go up, and with a little practice–with nothing else to try or think about or judge, it did.
Other Approaches to Training
The Q is based on the concept of comparing an individual brain against a normative database in dozens, if not hundreds, of measures to determine where the brain varies from “normal”.
The TLC does not focus on making a client’s brain normal. It focuses on making it the most possible the way the client would like it to be. It does not compare against norms. It compares relationships in the brain itself, between sites, between frequencies and between states ( e.g. eyes closed vs. task). We don’t look for high Z-scores, which denote measures that vary significantly from the norm. Rather we look for activation patterns that help explain difficulties the client is having in performance, mood, behavior, control, etc. The Q is essentially a research tool. The TLC has one simple (well, maybe not so simple) focus: To provide a set of working hypotheses for montage/protocol combinations that can be tested within 4-7 sessions to determine which one(s) most effectively move the client toward the desired training outcome.
The TLC is a brain-based assessment of activation patterns.
Alpha peak frequency is the dominant frequency in the range. For example, if you looked at bars on the power spectrum in the alpha range, the bar that was tallest would be the peak frequency.
This is another way of looking at level of activation. Alpha peak frequency should be around 10Hz (especially in the front) in most adults. Lower peak frequencies indicate EEG slowing with the problems related to that (language and attention difficulties, depression, etc.); higher peak frequencies in the front indicate fast EEG with potential issues of anxiety, compulsivity, etc.
Alpha peak frequency slows as we age beyond about 50, and also in people who run very fast EEG’s over a period of years (just one more way stress ages us prematurely). It is also slower in children, generally with a peak around 8 for 8-year-olds and then sliding up to ten as we mature.
Peak frequencies in the back of the head can be higher without necessarily indicating anxiety; there is even some evidence that faster PF in the back relates to better performance on IQ scores, though not all studies agree on this.
Beta PF is a good measure of OCD, addictive and anxiety issues. For most adults it is around 16-20 (depending on how high up you go with the range you are measuring), while addicts have been found to have PF in beta up in the middle 20’s or above.
Overall PF can be another good measure of overall slowing or speeding of the EEG. Around 10 is pretty good. Much higher suggests fast EEG; much lower suggests slow EEG.
One of the things we talk about that differentiates Whole-Brain Training and the Trainer’s Q from pop-Q assessments and z-score training is that they compare you to averages. WBT aims toward peak brain patterns. The peak brain doesn’t require hundreds of micro measures and someone’s definition of “normal”. It is much easier to describe: A peak brain can
1. idle in a pure awareness state when there is no task at hand,
2. activate necessary areas when there IS something to do,
3. integrate multiple areas efficiently,
4. sustain the activation until the job is done and
5. return to the resting/ready state as soon as the work is done.
One of the greatest keys to this ability is the recognition of what can be controlled–and what cannot.
A huge amount of energy in most brains is wasted trying to control things that cannot be controlled. This is a habit ingrained in the activation patterns of our brains, often from very early in life. The one thing we CAN control (ourselves), we do not. Instead we try to control others, control our environment, make things happen or keep them from happening.
Many years ago, when I was in a big-time MBA program, I found myself surrounded by people who believed in formulas, algorithms, computer models and systems that could control their businesses, their governments, their economies, investments, their employees and family members and even the natural world. I was 30, married with two kids and nearly a decade outside schools in a real world, while my fellow students were in their early 20’s, people who had gone through 17 straight years of school, working only in summer internships. My professors were in their 40’s and 50’s, people who had lived 20, 30 or more years in academia.
I discovered early on that my “real-world” experience of management didn’t jibe with their theoretical one. They seemed to believe that life was a river and their businesses were powered by 500HP Evinrudes. They picked a spot on the other side of the river and just blew straight across (in theory). My experience was that most businesses were like canoes, and all I had to drive it was a paddle. Going straight across the current of events—or roaring upstream—were not options. I had learned that my job was to pick an area on the other side that looked good then closely watch the currents and steer myself into those that seemed to be going most closely in that direction.
Going with the flow instead of against it was the way to get somewhere.
I had to be willing to adjust my plans and even my directions at any moment, and if I didn’t pay attention all the time to what was in the river and on the shore—and in myself—I would end up nowhere—and spend a lot of energy getting there.
So, when we stand our brains in front of that feedback mirror for 40 minutes or an hour a few times a week, the key to effective training is not to worry about how to control our brains or control the screen. It is not to wait for some magical thing to happen. It is to seek that place within ourselves where we are still and present and aware. To let go and pay attention and let our brain learn what that feels like from the flow of feedback.
Every type of training in your WBTP shows the brain that state from a different viewpoint. Coherence training, amplitude training, symmetry training, deep-states training—even HEG LIFE training—respond best when your brain enters or passes through or inhabits that place in ourselves we call the Center. Seek that place in your training, and practice finding it in yourself between sessions. Eventually it will be come easy to reach, easy to stay in and easy to leave when task require. And that will change your life.
Pete’s First Rule of Neurofeedback
Pete’s first rule of NF, is “when you see something strange or unusual in the brain, first assume it is something you did or the client did, before you assume it is the brain.”
A corollary could be, “if you see something strange in the signal that you can’t fix, assume it is something the client is doing.”
You might also recall one of the most basic of Pete’s Rules of Brain Training: when you find something that works, keep doing it!
I don’t know any reason why making a prospective mother calmer, happier, more focused, better centered or whatever would have anything but the most positive effect on her (during a stressful period) or her child. Just make sure to increase your prices (training two for one!)
Reacting to training
For very stressed people, tingling in hands and feet as a reaction to neurofeedback can be a result of shifting into parasympathetic mode, so the blood gets back out to the extremities. Whole body tingling might just be a person actually being in touch enough with his sensory inputs to actually be aware of himself as a sensing being. Wild guess.
Reaction vs Rebound
The rebound effect is an autonomic phenomenon.
When a person has high levels of autonomic tone–they have a tendency to be stuck in sympathetic (fight-or-flight) mode, the brain and body believe they are in an emergency situation. That often appears as high levels of fast-wave activity, often in the back of the head and/or on the right hemisphere. It is fairly common for some brains to respond to this very demanding and tiring state by learning to produce alpha (often slow alpha) as a kind of self-medication. In the alpha state, you can numb out those feelings of fear and anxiety. When someone tells your brain to stop doing that, it’s no big surprise that the brain responds by suddenly revealing the underlying emotions being covered up by the alpha.
Strictly speaking, that’s a reaction, not a rebound. Rebounds (like panic attacks, migraines, irritable bowel, etc.) are physiological responses. When the brain is convinced that the world is a dangerous place, it believes it must maintain a high level of vigilance and readiness. That sympathetic state draws energy from the parasympathetic functions of body maintenance, including sleep, digestions, circulation, blood pressure, heart-rate, breathing, etc. When a person who is highly self-stressing is suddenly led to relax–by training or a reduction in some external event one finds stressing (e.g. end of work, completing the budget, etc.) the brain shifts back to parasympathetic (rest and digest) and stops being vigilant. For a while. But in many cases, the brain will suddenly “realize” that the security guards are all taking a nap at the same time and in a panic “rebound” into sympathetic mode. Suddenly anxiety explodes or the heart begins racing or you can’t catch your breath, but there is no “reason” identifiable. That’s a sympathetic rebound (panic attack in those who experience anxiety physically).
A parasympathetic rebound happens when the effects of releasing the emergency response cause an excessive physical change. When we are in fight-or-flight, commonly blood is drawn out of the extremities of the body into its center to be ready to go to war. Hands and feet may get cold. Blood is released from the brain (no need to think, we’re just in reactive mode). When suddenly the emergency mode ends, blood can rush back to the extremities (tingling hands or feet) or to the brain. In the latter case, if the brain doesn’t have a robust system for handling all that blood, it’s like 5 o’clock traffic hitting all at once and there’s a traffic jam. The result is a sense of pressure and throbbing (the heart trying to push blood into an area that has no room for more) which we call a migraine. Or a sudden burst of activity in the digestive system out of sync with normal digestive activity (irritable bowel.)
The key to avoiding these is often to focus on training the underlying anxiety patterns while at the same time slowly working to reduce autonomic tone.
Reading Placement Montages
Just to repeat one of the conventions we use, when a montage is listed, it should be listed as Active/Reference.
If we follow that convention, then if someone writes C4/P4, it means that C4 is active and P4 is reference.
A two-channel montage would be C4/A2/g/P4/A2.
There are three kinds of 2-channel (or multi-channel) references:
Independent references, where each active electrode is measured in relation to its own reference. A classic example of this is C3/A1/g/C4/A2. C3 links to A1 and C4 links to A2.
Common references are where both actives link to the SAME reference. For example, C3/A1/g/P3/A1. Both sites are using A1 as their reference. By using a jumper between the reference plugs in the amplifier, you can plug a single electrode into either end of the jumper, and it will serve for both channels.
Linked references, where the two references are plugged into the two inputs on the jumper, so they are averaged to give the same signal for both references.
There’s a difference between common and linked references. If you are doing, for example, F3/A1, you are actually measuring from the cortex between the two sites (more specifically, primarily the neurons that are parallel to the line between the two electrodes). So if you use a common reference in the assessment, say at A1, then you are measuring from C3 to A1 and from C4 to A1. Generally the greater the distance between the two sites being measured, the greater the amplitude will be (and the lower the coherence). So a common reference may give you an inaccurate comparison of C3 and C4. If you use linked ears, comparing C3 to A1 and C4 to A2, the distances are about the same and you are measuring the same are on the opposite sides of the head.
In assessments and in coherence training and in symmetry training, linking is critical. Most two-channel protocols, though, don’t need linked ears. For example the T3/A1/g/T4/A2 montage should have linked ears when assessing, but you don’t need them (though you could link if you wished) for training.
The reason the linked ears are important is that they remove any effect of differential activation patterns in the temporal lobes. Since the earlobe or mastoid references, which are largely but not completely inert, do pick up fields from the temporals, if the temporal lobes are quite different, that difference will appear throughout the EEG.
Results Not Lasting
If you did 40 sessions as an adult and the effect is not stable for you, you may have been training more to palliate the symptoms than to change the underlying problem. If you had to bring down amplitudes each time you trained, and didn’t see that they actually stabilized at lower amplitudes, that would suggest you were taking aspirin for a chronic headache instead of finding out what was causing it and fixing that. It feels good as long as you keep doing it.
Rotating Training Cycle- The Birth of Whole-Brain Training
Since I’ve been in Brazil, I’ve been doing workshops in Portuguese and establishing 6-month-long supervision arrangements with individual (or, ideally, pairs of) trainers. It has been a great improvement in being able to stay connected through their development, and it has been great for me, since it allows me to learn from them as they develop.
One woman in particular has a practice where she trains brains for (originally) a neurologist and (more recently, based on results) a couple psychiatrists. She’s very busy and an excellent trainer, but she hasn’t been interested in learning to do her own training plans, so she meets with me online for 1-2 hours to go over her new clients and get a training plan. That’s been going on for more than two years, and it’s been great for me because I’ve gotten to hear the feedback on the clients we’ve previously worked up.
I was speaking with her on Monday past and she mentioned that we had just passed 100 clients where she’d implemented training plans. She mentioned that there had been 2 of that group who had not been successful in their outcomes, and I was astonished! She doesn’t judge this herself. These are the reports from the clients and their families to their physicians and the physicians’ evaluations as well!
I told her I needed to come visit her and have her teach ME a course in how to train! Anyone who’s been around NF any length of time has heard the ubiquitous stories of trainers who fix everyone and everything, though there is rarely any data or corroboration for these claims. I’ve always felt that if I got close to 80% in resolving the issues a client brought to training, that was pretty good. But 98% confirmed by tough evaluators is nearly impossible.
She is a very simple woman, and she wouldn’t accept that her training had been responsible for her results–it was all my plans. But I know that I and others who use the plans produced from the TLC don’t get those results, so I finally got her talking about what she did. Fortunately, after all the times I’ve told her how to implement a brain-trainer training plan, she did it her own way, and I learned some very interesting things from her that are changing the way I work with clients–and hopefully will work as well for me as they do for her.
First: I usually tell people to test the options in the training plan one time through, then pick the best one(s) and focus on those. She doesn’t do that. She trains through the whole set of 5-6 sessions…then she does it again and again. I’ve heard from others who have done this because they couldn’t get good information from their clients to decide which protocols were best, but I don’t know of anyone else who is doing this as a regular approach. It made sense to me when I thought of it, though. Each recommendation in the plan is specifically designed to move something that appears related to the client’s issues. The brain may not respond it a training the first time, but may catch it the 2nd or 3rd time around. It struck me that this was like a brain training version of circuit training or doing various types of aerobic exercise instead of always doing the same one.
Second: I tell trainers, if the brain doesn’t like a particular training, stop doing it. She doesn’t do that. Instead of dropping a session if the client finds it irritating, etc., she talks with the client about it: what is there about this training that bothers you? How did you feel when you were doing it, and why is that unpleasant for you. She skips the next session and does just HEG and breathing work for a session, then she returns to the rotation. She reports that often the next time around, the client will find the session he/she resisted to have an especially positive effect. It reminded me of arguments I used to have with Paul Swingle when we were finishing up the FutureHealth Foundations of Neurofeedback course over several years. Paul would train to increase slow activity in the back of traumatized clients’ brains and when they found it scary or unpleasant, he’d basically tell them to “suck it up”; no gain without pain, etc. I’ve always taught that the brain may not be ready for that training, so let it guide the training, but I realized that by doing what I’ve been doing I may very well have been cutting off the most powerful change-oriented protocols in the plan. By focusing the client on why he or she didn’t like the training instead of blaming the training itself, we give the brain a different message.
Third: She starts each client off with a couple sessions of just HEG and RSA breathing before starting the EEG.
Fourth: She bugs me throughout the training planning sessions asking “what is this protocol for?”, “what should this help with?”, etc. I tease her about that, but she told me in our conversation that she uses this with the client. She explains why they are doing this and what should happen as a result. I don’t do that, because I don’t want to set up expectations or tell the client what they SHOULD feel. But I’m going to start trying it.
If any of this helps any of you, great! It has already helped me, and I hope I’ll start seeing even better results with those clients I train as well!
She’s doing 30 minutes of EEG training and 10-20 of HEG per session. Sessions depends on client response and the initial problem. She’s worked with a number of young head injury clients, and they run beyond 40 sessions generally. The majority of children are 35-40 sessions and most adults are 25-30. The plan might include 3 trainings of 10 minutes each, for example F4 with F7 2channel, then C4 with T4 2 channel, then P4 with T6 two channels, all inhibiting 19-38 and rewarding 6-13. In other words the 2-3 trainings in each session generally train the same thing in several areas or train the same are with several challenges (e.g. increasing coherence between Fz and Pz, training down slow alpha at both sites and perhaps training down 2-11 and increasing 13-21 at Fz and Cz, all 2 channel.
I don’t know that it’s changed the speed of training, since those are about the numbers of sessions I’d expect.
Seizures and HEG
I don’t think there’s any reason not to do LIFE HEG. Seizures are generally related to lesions in specific areas of the cortex–generally not the prefrontal. They are the result, simplifying a bit, of a very slow brain area which slides down toward sleep and results in an idiosyncratic response where the brain bursts into very fast activity to wake up. If that move results in kindling of the beta–so it spreads across neuron pools in a highly coherent way–you get a seizure.
Improving function in the PFC should, if anything, improve control, not reduce it.
When we set up designs, we don’t know if the trainer will be working in sessions that combine HEG and EEG (as most pros do), or doing EEG only, doing 1 exercise per session or 3. The choice of training time is usually based on the degree of activation involved.
If you are training to speed up brain activity–increase energy expenditure–then most of those protocols will be run for shorter periods. If I have a really slow brain, I may train for as little as 1-2 minutes per segment, give the client time to “catch his breath” between segments. So I might do 5 segments of 2 minutes. In the same way, if you start doing aerobics with someone seriously out of shape, you don’t ask him to start running 5 miles.
For middle speeds, like alpha or SMR, I will often use a training segment of 5 minutes–time enough for the client to get into the stillness, but not so long that his brain can’t sustain it. So I might do 2 segments of 5 minutes each.
For deeper states, I often use 10 or 20 minutes as a training period, so the client has time to get into that deeper place.
Each trainer needs to select how long to train each segment (usually based on how many EEG training minutes are feasible in a session and the number of protocols/exercises to be trained). It’s easy to change the training period by going to the Session menu and selecting “Timer”. You can turn on or off the timer, ask it to play a tone at the end of each segment and set the length of the segment.
I usually figure 15-20 minutes for HEG, ten more for cap placement and removal, which leaves me 30 minutes for EEG. If I’m doing 3 protocols, that’s 8 or 9 minutes per protocol. I like to do shorter exercise sets like that, at least in the beginning. After that, we may decide that one of the protocols is not particularly useful and drop it. Or we may find something that works really well and include it in other blocks. I often do 6 minutes of BAL4C RH and then another 6 of C3/C4 SMR% together.
As for EO and EC, I try half the training time one way and half the other to see how the response differs. After a few trials, we might switch to doing the whole block with one or the other.
Sleeping during training
If in fact one has an unchangeable lifestyle that doesn’t allow one ANY down-time, no wonder he sleeps as soon as he has a chance to sit still for a few minutes! One of the questions an assessment would focus on is how effectively he is able to shift into neutral throughout the day when there isn’t any specific demand on his brain other than monitoring. Lots of clients with whom I work wear themselves out because their brains don’t know how to take micro breaks during the day.
Depending on the type of training one is doing, the appearance of being asleep does not stop the brain from receiving feedback signals and learning from them. But if someone is working with me and sleeps during sessions after the first 5 sessions or so, I suggest that one major goal of the training should be to learn the difference between being still and being asleep. Sometimes we have to do very short training segments–a minute or two–and pause to talk about what’s happening and how he feels. Then we can build up the training period from there.
Slow Brain Speed
There are several things I like for pushing up brain speed.
1. The Sample Session 1C PacMan is a good one, especially if you tighten the threshold to around a 50% reward rate.
2. The F7/CP5 and F8/CP6 montage with the FRE4C Squash design is also good, especially while doing “Naming”, “Reading Aloud” and some of the other beta games.
3. I also really like the 1C, 2C or 4C BAL Difference designs. (either theta-beta or slo-fast).
There are 3 keys I aim for in slow-brain training: Simple, Short and Intense.
When training very slow brains use a single target. That makes it SIMPLE for the trainer to set–and for the client to understand. You have 1, 2 or 4 channel options in the designs above. With the third you can train four active sites across the frontal lobe or train the left hemisphere front-to-back. And you are asking the brain to make a significant general shift. T-B trains to reduce the difference between theta and beta–either increase the fast or decrease the slow–or reduce the difference between slow frequencies and fast. But it all comes down to ONE threshold and training target.
A second key is to require INTENSE concentration to pass the target–with 40 or 50% auto targets that form the training baseline. Working with two or more targets complicates the setting. With one target you can set it so the client passes 50% of the time and that will be the % of time he scores. With two thresholds, each set to 50%, a client could get as little as 25% feedback (50% of 50%). Because the target is difficult, it requires intense concentration to hit it–and the results of losing focus even a little are pretty immediate.
A third key is to keep training periods SHORT. Train for 1-3 minutes in each exercise with breaks in between. As training progresses, you can begin to bump up the training period and reduce the re-charge period. Very much like HEG climbing.
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I usually start with the Naming Game until they can name 140 items in their environment in 3 minutes without stopping.
Then I move to reading aloud (alternating with them until the build some stamina)
Stump the jock comes next. No game is too difficult if you start easy and build up.
Then note-taking if we get that far.
Each of these is for 3 minutes in each session.
BTW, mental math probably increases theta. I’ve used a page with 100 addition/subtraction/multiplication and division problems and have them write the answers as quickly as they can in 3 minutes, then correct their paper. We track the number they get correct with ensuing trials.
I use click sounds only (with the score object) for feedback.
Slow Cortical Potential
SCP refers to Slow Cortical Potentials. The brain produces both AC signals (the kind we usually train using neurofeedback), which oscillate between positive and negative numerous times per minute. When you train a signal at 14 Hz, for example, it has 14 positive and 14 negative pulses each second, which we see on the screen as peaks and valleys above and below the baseline on the raw waveform. However, the brain also produces DC signals, which you might see when someone rolls their eyes with electrodes near the front of the head: the whole baseline of the raw waveform, including the up-and-down oscillations, rises up above the baseline and then drops back down below it for periods covering a number of peaks and valleys.
EEG pulses are produced in various parts of the brain, even though we measure them in the cortex. For example, much of the 6-8 Hz theta activity we see is actually produced in the hippocampus, and when neurons on the surface are performing memory tasks, they “tune in” to that station and pulse to its rhythm. The source of most of the very slowest pulses in the brain, including DC or SCP signals, is the brain-stem. The brain stem is the oldest and one of the most basic and critical areas of the brain. It includes, among other things, the reticular formation, which mediates arousal throughout the whole brain. It has been described as the “on/off switch for consciousness”.
We haven’t been able to train SCP with readily available software and hardware until very recently, because the signals are generally slower than 1 Hz (one pulse per second), and we can’t filter those signals. Same as we couldn’t, for many years, train signals above 35 Hz, because hardware didn’t pick up signals that fast and software didn’t have filters to pick them out.
SCP training involves training either positive or negative potentials for different tasks. It has been researched in Europe (by Birbaumer and others) for a number of years, and the results appear to be very exciting. Main areas of training have been in the area of seizure disorders and in attention disorders. It is reported to be quite easy for clients to learn and rapidly effective.
Obviously slow potentials will be very prone to artifact from eye rolls and blinks. The use of an additional sensor is one of the options for dealing with this–especially with amplifiers that are DC amplifiers. However, SCP training can also be done with AC amplifiers (just like the PET can do AC training), and the solutions to the technical problems are different.
Special Protocols for Brain States
To produce your own protocols, assuming you understand digital signal processing and the theory of feedback, etc. it’s the software (BioExplorer) you would have to learn to manipulate. The amplifiers do what the software tells them to do.
I fear you have an extremely simplified view of the brain, however, if you believe that there is (even just for you) a “desired brain state” that will work for everything. You will be looking at and training up to 4 sites at a time (out of 20 we measure). You will be looking at frequencies ranging from 2-3 firings per second up into the low 40’s. More importantly, you will be looking at where certain frequencies occur, how synchronous they are, how variable and symmetrical they are, etc.
Your request is the equivalent of asking a mechanic to tune your car based on how the engine was running when you were cruising on a nice highway with no traffic on a sunny day. That’s swell, but the result won’t be much use when you are climbing a hill or driving down a winding mountain road or driving in city traffic, etc.
It would be really nice (I guess) if we could just say, “oh, do this and you’ll be creative and intelligent (and even-tempered and motivated, etc.)” But then the brain would not be a brain. Brains are as incredibly powerful as they are, because they are so highly individual and so highly responsive to different environments (internal and external). As much as you may be told that going to a lecture or playing the piano or exercising or reading a book will move your brain into a peak state, they won’t. Those are all (hopefully) pleasant activities, but they are far from being prescriptive. For example, do you really believe that playing a new piece you’ve never seen or heard before will produce the same state as playing one of your long-time favorites, or doing scales and exercises, that playing ragtime and Chopin are the same, that playing with a trio in front of an audience is the same as playing alone in your parlor? Fortunately your brain responds to each of those situations differently.
The solution is really quite simple: Assess your brain first to see how it is already operating. With our training packages, you can do this in 30-50 minutes measuring the 20 key sites that provide a fairly complete picture of brain function. Second, determine what you want to change. Sure, your brain has been to many lectures and read many books, etc., but I assume, if you are looking for some way to improve it even more by training it, there are still things that you would like to be able to do faster, better or more easily, feeling habits you would like to change. If not, then forget training. Heck, just keep playing the piano and reading and attending lectures and enjoy a level of satisfaction in your life that few people achieve. But if you can define changes you’d like to experience in your life–even after all you’ve done to “boost” your brain–develop a plan for changing the patterns that exist in your brain and produce new “energy habits” to stabilize these changes. Then you’ll be developing a brain that is more fully able to help you become the best “you”.
Spike in 30 Hz range
A high spike around 30 Hz can be a result of electrode offset. Try new electrodes, all the same age to reduce offset potential.
When a person maintains a high level of stress or anxiety over a period of time, his autonomic nervous system can get locked in fight-or-flight mode–sympathetic activation. In that state a lot of physical changes take place: faster heart rate, higher blood pressure, blood retreating from the extremities, etc. If a person who is overly sympathetically activate suddenly relaxes (a good alpha training session could do that), the brain’s alarm system can realize after some point that the emergency response, which is such a basic part of that brain’s strategy for dealing with the universe, is turned off and throw the switch (in the hypothalamus) to turn it all back on all at once. You would experience that sudden rush of fight-or-flight sensations and body changes, but in response to nothing. No danger, no emergency, no “reason” for the response except that it is the brain’s habit. That would be called a panic attack, or a sympathetic rebound.
When you have a session that moves the brain in a positive direction, especially if it’s pretty rigidly connected to a specific strategy, it’s not unreasonable to expect there to be a rebound. As long as it’s not severe and the baseline behavior appears to be moving, I’d say it’s worth continuing–especially if you’ve tried your other options and this seems the best.
The rebound generally happens within a couple hours of the relaxation event in my experience. If you have rebound activity, you probably need to be doing something other than relaxation training. Chances are that there are temporal or reversal issues that would be more effective.
The trick with Tone issues is to reduce the level of parasympathetic tone, which brings the more flexible sympathetic tone down with it. RSA breathing techniques and (some say) heart-rate variability training do this without resulting in the rebound effect.
Here’s the way I look at the question of automatic versus manual thresholds:
1. Assuming one is talking about amplitude training only (i.e. not synchrony, variability or other options), generally a more healthy and mature brain produces lower amplitudes and lower variability. Even if you say you are training theta down and SMR up, you will most likely see BOTH go down, though theta will go down more, so the relationship between them changes.
2. Since the brain changes every day, every hour, if you just set a manual threshold and use it for the same client every session, some days it will be too high, some days it will be too low, some days it will be effective.
3. The argument for manual thresholds is that once they are set, the brain is working against a fixed target. More feedback means it is moving in the desired direction. The argument for auto thresholds is that, whatever the brain is doing, they always adjust themselves to where the brain is now, so there are no periods of 95% feedback or 40% feedback which can be boring or frustrating.
4. The brain-trainer approach as set in the Options protocols used to train amplitudes, is to start all thresholds in Auto mode to allow the software to adjust to the brain’s activity at that moment. After 20-40 seconds, all INHIBIT bands are switched to manual automatically. All REWARD bands remain in Auto mode. With this approach, as the frequencies we are challenging the brain to reduce work against a fixed target (though in BioExplorer, you can easily reset them if the original values turn out not to have been good training targets). At the same time, by leaving the Rewards in auto, we avoid the potential for those frequencies to go down (along with the rest of the EEG, which is probably what we want: see 1 above) and block feedback when the brain is doing exactly what we want it to do.
My approach in general is to start thresholds in Auto mode and let them stabilize with the client just watching the screen. The software figures out where the brain is today and tells us where to set the targets to achieve X% success. I then prefer to set inhibit thresholds to Manual. This places the targets for the things we want to reduce at a baseline level. If the client succeeds in reducing the target activity, his/her percent of success increases and feedback is stronger. If the target activity increases, the scoring level falls.
I like to leave the reward frequencies in auto mode. When the brain reduces activity in active frequencies, in many cases it reduces in ALL frequencies–including those you want to increase. For example, training to reduce the theta/beta ratio from 4, you might begin with Theta of 12 and beta of 3. If you reduce theta to 8, beta may go down to 2.5, but the ratio will change to 3.2. Unfortunately, if you set your reward targets and fix them in Manual mode, as the client reduces amplitudes, the beta target will begin to block him from feedback–even though his brain is doing exactly what we want it to do.
Remember that the more thresholds you set (the more training targets), the harder it is for the client to score. If you have one target (for example a squash or squish, and you set the target to provide feedback 60% of the time, it will give you feedback 60%. If you have two thresholds–2 inhibits or 2 rewards or one of each–and you set each to 60%, you may get 60% feedback if your brain always moves the two in the right direction at the same time. But it’s more probable that some portion of the time when you are beating one target, you won’t be beating the other, and you won’t get feedback–and vice-versa. In fact, worst case scenario, you could end up only getting feedback 36% of the time (60% X 60%). Add a third target, and the problem increases. The more targets you set, the higher the reward rate must be set. With 3 training frequencies, you could set targets at 90% success each and be guaranteed that (if they are all automatically adjusted) the client would receive feedback at least 72% of the time.
The scoring rate is very dependent on the client. An inattentive person might simple float away if he is scoring 90% of the time regardless of what his brain is doing. I might use a scoring rate of 50 or 60% to keep that person “honest”. A more hyper or anxious client could well get very frustrated with less that 80% reward and start “trying” which reduces performance. Of course with BioExplorer, you can reset the scoring percent in the auto mode while the session is progressing. You can also easily reset manual targets during the session by clicking the A->M button at the bottom of the Threshold object.
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I was a co-author of the study which was published in Neurpsychology in 1999. We were using A620 amplifiers (1 channel units that went up only to 32 Hz) and we trained only at Cz. I hope Dr. Monastra is not still driving around in a 1999 Chevy, but one can never tell about academics.
First of all, the rationale for using fixed thresholds is really pretty sad–speaking as a trainer. Lubar liked to make pretty graphs, and by using the same threshold session after session, the idea was that he could graph the percent success over the course of training. Also, the A620 software did, as I recall (haven’t used one for nearly 20 years) did add auto thresholding as an option late in its life, but it had only those two options–manual or auto.
Our protocols all work essentially the same way: We spend the first 30 seconds with inhibit thresholds in auto mode, setting up our baselines, at which time the threshold is fixed. I do agree that leaving auto thresholds in place on inhibit bands can easily result in sessions where the client experiences lots of positive feedback while his brain is going in exactly the wrong direction. But I think it’s also pretty obvious that clients come in with different brains on different days or times of day. Forcing them to sit through a whole session of little or no feedback because they didn’t sleep well or had a stressful event occur or just ate before the session is punitive and wasteful in my mind. Equally setting a threshold that worked fine in the first several sessions may be relatively useless when the brain is in high state and the client scores 100% of the time no matter what he does.
By auto-calculating the session’s baseline and then fixing it, the client’s brain does have a fixed target against which to measure its performance, but it’s a target that will improve training results. BTW, we always leave the reward band in auto-threshold mode, since it’s very common that when the client is reducing theta, beta also will be reduced. Fixing the reward threshold often ends up blocking feedback when the client’s brain is doing exactly what we want it to do.
Back in those early days, Joel taught us to set targets so the client scored only about 60% of the time. The Othmers used 75-90% reward rates. We found that the lower rates were valuable for very inattentive types, but the higher rates were better for the more hyperactive types. While research rarely has anything to do with the real world, anyone who has ever worked with the huge span of brains that fit into the silly ADHD category must have seen that there are many places one can train attention and control issues and many frequencies. Clients with Thelta or Thalpha levels that are out of control–as well as those with excessive high-beta–don’t respond so well to Theta/Beta training. With the A620 we were limited in our options, but today we can train very specific reward and inhibit bands. So it’s very attractive to a researcher to study one protocol for everyone, but trainers can’t afford to waste a lot of client time and training budget when they can easily identify a more client-specific approach.
When and How to Adjust Thresholds
I ask most clients to try to recall some experiences when they experienced the target state–sometime being very focused, often being in a zone of still presence in the moment without thinking or trying.
I explain to them that the training, pretty much whatever the protocol, will likely be focused on achieving that state. The feedback mirror will be positive whenever they produce the frequency or connectivity or whatever they are training that is consistent with that state. Those are the peak states toward which we are training.
So at the beginning of the session, I ask them to try to find that state in themselves and then begin the session.
The software begins knowing (from the design) what the target feedback level should be, and it will set the target(s) so the client will receive the target levels with today’s brain at the time the session begins. After 30 seconds, it fixes those targets.
Then, if the brain is moving in the desired direction, there will be more feedback. As it moves away from the target, feedback will decrease. Obviously for most of us it will rise and fall around the starting point. Sometimes, however, it will rise steadily as the brain really enters into that state more effectively. Other times it will fall pretty steadily as the client loses the state.
If the feedback is rising and the client is getting lots of feedback, 85-95% for example, many trainers will feel that they should adjust the thresholds to make them harder. The client is getting “too much” feedback. My inclination is NOT to do that. If the brain is moving in the right direction–has moved in the right direction from where it started, I WANT it to get lots of feedback. If I suddenly change the target, so it is doing what the training is asking it to do–then suddenly it gets LESS feedback, the game suddenly has changed, and it makes no sense. That’s not good feedback. Sometimes I will pause the session and ask the client what the feedback is telling her about how well she is doing. Then I’ll say that I can make it harder, if she wants to begin with more demanding targets. Some clients in some sessions will want that, but when the feedback changes, they know why. Some prefer to keep it very high, which I respect, but they know that they CAN ask to change it if they wish. I might do that ONE time with a client, because once the brain gets into that state, and I interrupt it to ask my question, it won’t necessarily be easy to get back to the state, and that can be very frustrating.
If the feedback is going down, as it will from time to time–up and then down then back up again–that’s common with training.
If the feedback is reducing and staying down for a minute or so, I may pause the session and ask the client if he’s noticing that. I’ll remind him that the targets were set based on where his brain was when the session began, so whatever he is doing as a part of training is going the wrong direction. I’ll explore with him for maybe a minute whether he is thinking more or trying more to how he has changed then ask him to see if he can go back to where he was in the beginning. In that case the interruption is okay. When he nods or whatever to tell me he thinks he’s there, we restart the session. Sometimes he’ll get the feedback levels back up within 30 seconds or a minute. Sometimes he’ll stay low or go lower. In that case, I’ll reset the threshold(s)–usually only one or two–and let him move ahead without knowing that I changed the rules a little. The more the feedback doesn’t improve, the harder the client is likely to “try” and thus move even further away from the target state.
How can you tell? If the client is using headphones, which mine always do, I use a splitter, so I can have a pair as well and hear the same feedback the client is hearing. That’s a good way to tell if the sound is too high or low, if there are competing sounds, etc. But it also allows me to notice how the feedback is changing. But you ideally have on your monitor the trainer screen, which shows all the training thresholds. ar the beginning of the session, you can see what the target scoring rates are for each of the thresholds at the bottom of the bargraph. When you switch to manual, you can see what the actual level of feedback is. So you can see which of the targets is blocking the feedback. For example if the inhibit starts off at 70% and the reward at 85%, and you notice the feedback going down, you may notice that the reward is still running 80-90%, but the inhibit is now at 45%, obviously the client is producing a lot more of the frequency we are asking to reduce. You can point that out during a pause. And if you decide to adjust the threshold, you just need to change the one that’s running too low. Do that by clicking the A=>M button under the bargraph. That will use the most current value of the automatic threshold (A) to reset the value of the Manual (M), and the feedback should move back into range.
When I trained with Joel Lubar in the early 90s, he used 30-40% rewards, set the threshold once in the first session and left it in the same place for up to 30 sessions. Got excellent results with many of our clients.
When I trained with the Othmers (founders of EEG Spectrum) in the mid-90s, they used 70-80% rewards. I thought that was crazy, but I gave it a try. Lo and behold, some of the clients who had not done well with the lower reward rate did much better with the higher; others, who had done quite well with the Lubar approach fell off rapidly with the Othmer approach.
So there are two rules I would suggest:
The more underactivated a person is, the more slow activity dominates, the more tendency they have to drift away, the harder I set the targets–and the shorter I make the training segment (or condition). Sometimes as low as 1 minute, then a break. The more over-activated the person is, the more fast activity they show, the higher the reward rate and the longer the training condition. For highly anxious or compulsive clients, I use continuous feedback like the music in the 2C WS Alpha Temporal combined with a very low reward level in a contiguous feedback (a chime that rings 10%), so there is never a “fail” condition, only a pass and extra-pass.
The trainer sets the expectations. In my first session with a client, I usually set low percents or reward–maybe 40%–but in the first minute or so of the first condition, I look at him/her and say, “this isn’t the first time you’ve played this, is it?” Of course they tell me yes, this is their first time. I say, “Come on…NOBODY does THIS well the first time!” Sometimes with a kid I’ll say, “Do you have your dad/mom’s brain in there?” Peek in their ear (while they’re playing) and say, “Nope, that’s your brain!” After a little of that, everyone knows he or she is doing really well–even at 40% reward rates. On the other hand, if you have promised the client that this will be entertainment (the cultural promise of the last generation or so: you have a right to be entertained at all times in all things: your news will be entertaining, your job will be entertaining, the teacher has to make schoolwork “fun”, etc.), then you better reward them almost constantly, show them movies, have fancier and fancier games.
I like to start with all thresholds in Auto mode, the percents and training segments set according to the type of client, and then switch the inhibits to Manual and leave the rewards in Auto. My concern about leaving everything in auto is that you are training the software to follow the brain, rather than vice-versa. By setting inhibits to manual mode after about 30 seconds, you establish a baseline: This is where your brain was (in the target frequency) when the session started. If you can improve, you’ll score more points and get more feedback. If someone starts to lose it, and they can’t keep the activity down, then I’d say it’s time to take a break, or even stop the session and shift to a different site or protocol.
In my opinion, the most important thing the trainer does in the first session or two is to guide the client to the amazing recognition: “oh my gosh, I’m actually changing what happens on the screen by how I use my brain!” That’s something Nintendo and X-Box can’t do. I too like to use video or DVD or game rewards, but I tend to mix them into a session with what we used to call “screen control” conditions. 3 minutes of trying to keep the bar below the threshold on a bar-graph display, or 2-3 runs of PacMan to see if the client can beat his time–always asking, how did you do that? What did you try that time?
Timing of Sessions
In my work with clients, I have generally used the analogy of working at the gym. If you go once a week, you may feel better after the workout, but you are unlikely to produce any long term changes. On the other hand, working out every day may not give a lot faster changes. I believe 2-4 times a week is ideal. Training the brain, like training the body, involves changing an energy set point. That takes time and consistency. I like taking a day off between sessions to see how well the changes hold from session to session.
I don’t care how long you train. But don’t just train 3 minutes because that’s what you thought you were supposed to do. Watch the graph. Train through the increase and the stable plateau and into the down-trend. Stop when you are clear that you aren’t able to really turn the line back up by paying attention. That might be 3 minutes or 5 minutes or more depending on your brain. If you train 3 minutes when you could have trained 5, you’ll be slowing down your progress. If you train 5 when your brain ran out of gas in 3, you are potentially over-training yourself. Pay attention to your brain and what it is telling you.
I suppose you could train every day when your training periods are on the low end of the scale, but I generally prefer every other day until you can keep things up or stable for 8 or 9 minutes at each site. Then I’d go to 2x/week with a max of 10 minutes per site.
Frequency of Sessions
I don’t know of any specific research on frequency of sessions. I suspect it would be a pretty individual response. In my experience there was often a benefit (especially with kids) to an intensive beginning to training (3X/week), but I also strongly believe that the systemic change that occurs with most training requires a period of time as well.
In Atlanta we often had folks who came a distance for training and tried to mass 2-4 sessions around a weekend, and that generally seemed to work as well as spreading them out during a week, but I don’t recall that doing more frequent sessions resulted in shorter training (certainly in terms of sessions, but to some extent also in terms of duration of the training process.
I suspect that, as with for example weight training, there is a benefit to inter-session resting. Certainly that has been found by Hershel Toomim, who has studied a number of training frequencies and found that, in HEG at least, every four days gets the same results as more frequent sessions.
A general rule would be if you are training to calm the brain, more frequent could be helpful; to activate it, you can train more frequently but it is still likely to take some time to get the change to occur and stabilize.
Length of Sessions
How long should a session be? How long should the training conditions be? I usually work with very short segments of 1-3 minutes when I’m trying to get a client to control lots of slow activity or eyes open alpha, which require significant increases in activation. Often those sessions will last only 12-18 minutes before the client gets burned out. Other clients, who have lots of very fast activity over the right hemisphere or the back of the brain for example, may require 5-10 minutes of eyes closed training before they really begin to release. Some alpha synchrony clients will do very well for 5 minutes, then begin to lose it; others take 10 minutes to even begin to enter into a synchronous state.
For me the idea of multiple sessions within a session is a very interesting one. If I were going to implement this myself, I think I would answer the questions above based on each client and type of problem. For the under-aroused client, it might make sense not necessarily to train more than one thing, but it might make a great deal of sense to train more than one site. Over-aroused clients may do well alternating sessions. For others, combining different protocols in different sites within the same session might make sense.
The 20-minute session is fairly recent as an evolution of my approach. It makes sense logistically in an office setting, where you can train 20 minutes in 40 and get 3 clients into 2 hours. This allows you to reduce price per session somewhat, reducing the overall cost of training, and, at the same time, increase your income per hour as a trainer. That’s a lot of desirable outcomes. But there are also folks experimenting with and claiming good results for much longer sessions, a couple hours at a sitting. For most of my training career, I did 40 minutes of neurofeedback per session, but large chunks of that time were involved in performing tasks (doing homework, etc.) while receiving feedback.
Training Too Often
Frequency of training depends on the client. The main issue would likely be burnout. I generally suggest that people train every other day, so they have enough time to see changes and see how long they last before fading between sessions. I suppose that with certain types of problems more intensive training could be fine, but it’s usually a good idea to take training vacations from time to time if you are going to do intensive training over a period of time.
As a general rule, I would say that 30 sessions in 15 days probably do not take a client as far as 30 in 60 days, but I think that might be very individual, and it may even relate to the type of problem and training. Certainly with alpha or even alpha/theta training, there may be an “immersion” benefit–just as meditators go on meditation retreats that absolutely overwhelm them in the meditative practice. However, if we are trying to speed up the brain, then there is a physiological/metabolic change that must take place (in my opinion). There the analogy would be like working out with weights. There is a re-charge period required for the body to change.
That said, I think that maybe doing 10 sessions in 5 days can have a pretty positive effect. I just never found that doing 40 in 20 days had the same effect as doing 40 in 3 months. Other things have to change as well.
Training Cerebellum and Brain Stem
Because brain stem and cerebellum are not made up of pyramidal neurons, they cannot be “seen” on the EEG–any more than we can theoretically train thalamus or amygdala or other sub-cortical areas, also not made of pyramidal neurons. Only the cerebral cortex, the hippocampus and the cingulate are visible. That doesn’t necessarily mean the cerebellum can’t be trained. Some trainers place electrodes below O1 and O2, which would be on either side of the cerebellum, and train to change gait and balance problems with reported success. Something does seem to happen when training “back there”, which certainly seems to relate to cerebellar function. Of course any time we train arousal, since that is handled by the reticular formation in the brain stem, we are training the brain stem in some way.
Training Specific Bands
I’m careful about trying to train down just a narrow frequency band (i.e. just delta). It’s very possible to reduce delta and increase theta or even (if there is dissociation involved) high beta. Squashes and windowed squashes are a good alternative in that they allow you to put a “ceiling” on a wide range of frequencies without necessarily training to increase anything. When the brain reduces amplitudes, it is activating its control circuits, which is usually what precedes improved function.
I also often find that using wider-band filters (for example, 19-38 Hz rather than 19-23 Hz) not only allows you to set your filters to be more accurate AND faster, it also blocks activity from shifting bands. If you have a very fast brain, and you decide to train down 19-23 Hz, it’s not completely unexpected that the brain might move to a nearby frequency that is also fast. That’s where it’s most comfortable. But if you use a squish, training down two sites at the same time with summed amplitudes and a band that covers all the less useful fast frequencies, then the options are limited. Either the brain improves control circuits on those neurons and they simply stop firing, or it shifts to alpha or some other frequency.
Any time you use a frequency down/frequency up protocol, in most cases the brain will do one or the other. If you succeed, for example, in reducing theta amplitudes, you will usually end up reducing beta amplitudes as well–even if you are “rewarding” them. Or if you succeed in increasing beta amplitudes, you’ll probably increase theta as well, even if you are “inhibiting”.
If you are using a laptop, you’ll already have ports for an external monitor (and perhaps a digital external monitor) if it is anything made in the last 10 years. If you are using a desktop, you’ll probably need to add a video card, most of which have dual monitor outputs.
Once you have the second monitor attached (may need to install a driver for it) and turned on, you’ll need to right-click on some blank area on your desktop and choose Properties from the dropdown menu and select the Settings tab. You should see both monitors represented. Click the second one and choose “Extend Windows Desktop”. You may have monitor management software installed, in which case you can change these settings in that instead of in Windows.
Now the second monitor should show your Windows desktop. Open BE and choose your DDE window in the design. In the Instruments menu, click Detach. A second BioExplorer should appear on your Start bar, and the window you detached will add a small Instruments menu in the upper left corner. You can now drag this window off the screen (usually to the left, but not necessarily), and you’ll see it appearing on the second monitor.
When you finish, you may wish to drag it back onto the main monitor. You can go to the Instruments menu in the detached window and choose Attach, and you are back where you started.
Whole-Brain Training Plan (WBT Plan)
As the name implies, the auto plan version produces the customized plan automatically. I usually do one plan for each client unless there are major intervening complications–someone who was heavily medicated for the assessment and is now off medications–someone who has had a head injury, for example. The idea is that you are increasing the range of things you can do with your brain and for how long. Not necessarily that you have changed the way you are. We focus on real world outcomes that you define at the beginning (and during, if desired) training. Certainly you can do an assessment 6 months after the first one to look for measurable brain changes. Or you can do one just to work some different issues. Often after an initial WBT plan cycled 4-6 times, you may choose to do a series of alpha theta, or SMR or alpha synchrony or anything else you liked.
The Whole-Brain Training Plan includes 5 Session Blocks, each with up to 3 Exercises.
By training 2-3 exercises together with HEG in each session and cycling through the blocks each 5 sessions, all the most important patterns identified in the assessment are addressed–much like training through a series of different body areas in a physical workout schedule.
Block1 will be those patterns considered most foundational;
Block2 will work the sites included in the Salience Network and focus on synchrony;
Block3 will train the Sensory-Motor cortex;
Block4 will train the midline of the brain with special focus on the Default-Mode Network;
Block5 often trains deep states, though in very slow brains it may train the language systems.
If a client responds particularly well to specific exercise(s) or block(s), trainer and client may choose to focus more on those after 2-3 cycles through the plan. If particular exercises (e.g. gamma synchrony) seem to relate to negative effects (e.g. sleep disturbances), they can be removed from the plan.
Times for each exercise are not defined. Depending on the length of a training session and the number of exercises in a block, the training period may range from about 8 minutes to 15-20 for an exercise. Frequency of training is also not defined. As client/trainer move through the cycles of training, a rule of thumb is that greater frequency (up to 1-2 sessions per day for the first cycle) may be helpful in the beginning. In following cycles, sessions can be spaced further apart to allow evaluation of how long a response is lasting. By the 3rd of 4th cycle, sessions may be done 2 or even 1 time per week if the client is maintaining the changes between sessions.
The client/trainer may choose, after several cycles, to shift to a series of blocks of Alpha Theta or some other protocol related to synchrony or deep states.
When is training finished?
Usually by around 3 cycles you should be beginning to notice that changes are becoming more stable–not fading after a session. At that point I usually start stretching out the sessions. If you’ve been doing them 4 times a week, try dropping to 2; if 2 times a week, drop to 1. The idea is to verify that you are not regressing between sessions as you increase the period between them. If that turns out to be true, then decrease session frequency again. Eventually I like to see that even with 2 weeks between sessions, the benefits of training are holding–that indicates that a new homeostasis has been formed.
If you live an active life, you may need to join a gym or do some exercise to get yourself in shape, but you shouldn’t need to keep working out constantly. Using your body in daily life will keep you in shape. Most of the people I’ve trained have made a stable change in their brain function and been able to stop training. Unless you bang your head against a wall, or start using substances regularly, or move to Bali and lie under a palm tree and stare at clouds all day long, chances are your brain will stay strong and continue to develop without ongoing training.
Some clients prefer one or a few protocols and will choose to do a kind of Level 2 training–maybe 5-10 sessions of alpha theta 1-2 a week; or sessions of SMR or working with the Default-Mode Network or Alpha/Gamma Synchrony. Those are enjoyable and open us up to ourselves in positive ways. As you get older, you may find that you need to do some Alpha Peak Up training or some HEG (at least I do) maybe twice a year for 8-12 sessions, just to hone the sharpness of the blade.
Unless you believe that there is a “normal” brain or a perfect brain that you seek to achieve, doing more assessments and constant training are a bit obsessive. I would take at least 6 months off after I finish training to let the brain stabilize in its new place. Most of the people with whom we did 1-year follow-ups in Atlanta reported that they had experienced greater changes in the 6 months AFTER they finished training even than they had during the active training period. Your brain is to be used, like the rest of your body. Yes, you can decide to become an Arnold Schwarzenegger and make your body your life, but I’m guessing you’ll end up finding lots of better things to do.
Since it’s very rare, if possible, to operate with one hemisphere only (unless you’ve had split brain surgery), while your proposition seems to make sense, it again falls into the trap of thinking of the brain geographically rather than energetically.
The still, present, open-focus state isn’t limited to a hemisphere. It’s related to the synchronous alpha pattern. Shifting into beta is what results in categorical/control/language oriented mental activity called closed-focus. Alpha is consciousness–auto pilot when performing a task over which one has attained mastery. Beta is concentration–processing and driving toward a goal.
The peak performance state is not either one or the other. It is presence when there is no specific task to be performed but an environment to be monitored; it is concentration/single-pointed focus when there is a task. A person locked in the open-focus state will not perform at peak, though he will use very little energy; a person locked in closed-focus will not perform at peak, though he may perform specific tasks very well.
The LIFE game is great practice in learning the two states (closed-focus=climbing; open-focus=diving) and especially learning to maintain each and switch smoothly between them In EEG training, the combination of alpha and gamma synchrony is the zone state of open-focus, since it provides broad awareness and wastes no energy. The ability to produce and release the beta state is the zone state of performance and, when it is locally focused and capable of linking various local sites in a cooperative task, is also a key to peak performance.
The idea that one can simply train these states and achieve peak performance tends to ignore the fact that in many brains there are energy habits that have developed over the client’s life which interfere with one or both of these states, so the first step is normally to help the brain shift its homeostasis to open itself up to these peak states. In that sense, “all neurofeedback is peak performance training.” It is the cake. Alpha-gamma synchrony is the frosting.