By Anna Raab, M.A. Counseling, BCN

Neurofeedback therapy is an effective technique in neuroscience that assists in understanding how the brain works. As a result, it can help improve cognitive abilities and reduce mental disorders. But how does neurofeedback actually work? This article aims to understand the mechanisms that underlie this fascinating neurotherapeutic approach.

What is Neurofeedback Therapy?

Neurofeedback therapy is a non-invasive technique that aims to regulate and optimize brain function by providing real-time feedback on brainwave activity. It is based on the principle of neuroplasticity. This principle suggests that the brain has the ability to change and adapt.

It uses specialized equipment, such as an electroencephalogram (EEG), to monitor and measure the brain’s electrical activity. During a neurofeedback session, sensors are placed on the scalp to detect brainwave patterns. They are then translated into visual or auditory signals the individual can perceive. 

Through this feedback, individuals learn to self-regulate their brainwave activity and attain more optimal patterns. By training the brain to produce desired patterns, this therapy can help address various conditions. These conditions include attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), anxiety, depression, sleep disorders, and cognitive impairments. 

How Does It Work?

Let’s suppose a guy named John needs to undergo neurofeedback therapy. Here’s how the treatment for him will work:

Initial Assessment 

The process will start with an initial assessment conducted by a trained neurofeedback therapist. This assessment typically involves gathering information about John’s symptoms, concerns, and goals. In addition, an electroencephalogram (EEG) will be used to measure and record his brainwave activity.

Target Identification

Based on the assessment, the therapist will identify specific target areas of brainwave activity associated with John’s symptoms. For instance, if he encounters ADHD (deficit hyperactivity disorder) symptoms, the therapist may focus on improving his ability to regulate and sustain attention.

Sensor Placement

In a neurofeedback therapy session, the therapist will place sensors on his scalp to monitor brainwave activity. The sensors will be connected to an electroencephalogram (EEG) machine or similar device. This device records and measures electrical activity in the brain.

Feedback Display

The recorded brainwave activity is then processed and presented in real-time to John through visual or auditory feedback. This feedback can be a video game, a movie, or a sound that changes based on his brainwave patterns.

Self-Regulation Training

Now, John is encouraged to actively engage with the feedback and attempt to modify their brainwave patterns. For example, suppose the therapy aims to reduce excessive slow brainwave activity associated with attention problems. In this case, he may be rewarded with positive feedback (such as a higher score in a game) when their brainwaves shift toward the desired pattern.

Reinforcement and Learning

John will learn to recognize the mental and emotional states associated with the desired brainwave patterns through repeated sessions. Then, he can develop strategies to regulate his brain activity outside the therapy sessions with time and practice. This process of self-regulation promotes lasting changes in his brain function and behavior.

Progress Monitoring and Adjustment

Throughout the therapy, the professional will continually monitor John’s progress. He will then adjust the neurofeedback protocol as needed to address specific issues or optimize outcomes. In addition, regular feedback sessions help to keep a record of John’s experiences, challenges, and goals.


Can I Eat Before a Neurofeedback Therapy? 

It is generally acceptable to eat before a neurofeedback session. However, we suggest avoiding heavy meals that make you uncomfortable during the session.

Can I Continue Taking My Medications? 

In most cases, it is advisable to continue taking your prescribed medications as instructed by your healthcare provider.

How Long Is a Typical Neurofeedback Session? 

The duration of a neurofeedback therapy can differ but is generally between 30 minutes to one hour. However, the exact length of the session may depend on your treatment’s specific protocols and goals. 

Is There Anything I Should Avoid After a Neurofeedback Session? 

After a session, give yourself time to relax and allow the brain to integrate the training. 
Avoid engaging in mentally demanding or strenuous activities immediately after the session. 
Your practitioner will provide guidance on any specific activities or restrictions to follow post-session.