Sydney Pinoy (Paris, 1990) neurofeedback (neurological feedback) after testing the effects of this brain training technique firsthand and although some of the scientific community questioned its suitability as a treatment for mental health disorders.
A head injury from a fall from a horse triggered problems such as insomnia, depression, and anxiety, sparking interest in the best ways to alleviate these symptoms. “My mother is a psychoanalyst and I started reading about the brain and looking for innovations, and it seemed to me that approaches oscillate between traditional psychiatry and psychology and esotericism, but there are very few neuroscience-based approaches; and while searching this area I came across these techniques: neurofeedback in the United States; I tried it, saw an improvement in my symptoms, and decided to study, train it, and set up a clinic here in Barcelona in collaboration with psychologists, neurologists and other healthcare professionals to combine these innovative techniques with traditional techniques. being able to offer psychotherapy and comprehensive treatments”, he explains during an interview pioneer.
This neurofeedback it was created through the use of technology and is the result of collaborative work between engineers and neuroscientists; It’s accomplished thanks to an encephalogram that reads brain activity in vivo and allows us to give feedback on that reading, explain to that person that we’re reading in their brainwaves so they learn to change certain behavioral patterns of that activity. cerebral.
How is it applied?
there are different schools neurofeedback. We work with a quantitative electroencephalogram (QEEG), or brain mapping: reading the brain activity of a person at rest through 19 electrodes, with eyes open for five minutes and eyes closed for another five minutes, and comparing this activity in people without any type of symptoms taken from different parts of the United States. with databases of brain models. In this reading, we identify what may be outside of these patterns, as well as whether there is a particular wave pattern that corresponds to the symptoms of anxiety, depression, obsession, or another disorder diagnosed in that person.
Complementary to a psychological intervention or a standalone therapy?
Depends on who’s doing it. There are centers in the United States that just do it. neurofeedback. We use it with psychotherapy at a rate of 80%-90% because with brain mapping, you reveal many suppressed emotions and therefore many people feel worse in the first sessions and it is useful to accompany this with psychotherapy. But it depends on the disorder; If a person resorts to it to treat epilepsy, they do not need psychotherapy.
There are brain waves that correspond to the symptoms of anxiety, depression…
What is this for?
There are many things to treat anxiety. But also ADD, ADHD, depression, obsessions, stroke recovery, epilepsy, dementia, migraine, personality disorders, eating disorders… It is a very good complement to any type of psychotherapy.
How does he act in a state of anxiety?
The problem is not immediately feeling anxious or stressed; The problem is when it becomes chronic and the person feels it without an external trigger because then it means that our brain is recovering the automatisms from the stress to function normally and they have to forget about it. With the electroencephalogram we will see that the person with anxiety has many high frequencies in the central part of their brain, waves larger than the databases, and then it is a matter of training the person to lower this brain activity. .
We learn to alter brain activity through operant conditioning
And how do you train?
We put an electrode that reads brain activity and every time we see the person lower it to the area we want, we make a sound to let you know that they are doing it right. This activates the reward circuits and makes you want to repeat it. It is operant conditioning, and there are several ways to do it because the rewards can be sounds, watching movies, video games…
And is it the same for treating migraine?
Yes, although there is another technique called ISF that uses very low waves and works very well. migraine, usually due to an imbalance of the nervous system. This technique identifies the optimal wave each person has, the perfect balance between their sympathetic and parasympathetic systems. It involves the person activating one system or the other more, and depending on the symptoms we observe in each case, we look at whether we need to lower or raise the wave to find its optimal frequency.
Is this kind of brain training a one-time intervention or a treatment that needs to be continued over time?
What is learned is learned. However, although it depends on each person and the relearning they need, we recommend two sessions per week until they have completed about 40. I have had more than 120 sessions so far, because when I am experiencing a change or a crisis in my life cycle, for example, when I feel stress and anxiety due to covid, I refer to it.
How fashionable and scientifically advanced is this therapy, as some neurologists and psychiatrists have expressed serious doubts about ‘neurofeedback’ as a treatment for mental health disorders?
I’m sure this technique will be given as a treatment in SGK consultations, it’s only a matter of time. This neurofeedback It has existed since the 60s; It started with animals, specifically cats with epileptic seizures, and from there it was tested in humans, a population with ADD, and then people with anxiety, depression, and other disorders. And it is a progressive technique and is the subject of more serious scientific publications every year. On the other hand, feedback is something we apply more and more without realizing it. Mobile phones tells us the steps and this is feedback. And as we become more and more connected, this technology will increasingly help us learn about the unconscious processes of our body.
For example, heartbeat. There are already people who wear smartwatches that measure these heart rates, and if they detect any problems, they report directly to the emergency room.
We’re going to see more and more people exercising their brains just like they’re going to the gym now.
But isn’t it suspicious that we’re talking about measuring and conditioning brain activity?
Sony has already tried to incorporate it into the PlayStation console technology neurofeedback so people can interact with their brains while playing the game, but it hasn’t been successful and I don’t see it as a very realistic option. What I’m seeing is that just as people go to the gym to take care of their bodies, there will be more and more gyms for their brains, and more and more people will worry about exercising their own brains, either to achieve certain cognitive processes at work or for other reasons. they stopped working and want to be interested in their neurological activities.
How does it heal? neurofeedback compared to training your brain, learning a language or doing crossword puzzles?
The difference is that there are protocols. neurofeedback care, not only for the brain to function, but there are also those that need to be treated clinically; The asymmetry of the hemispheres, the connection between different parts or phases of the brain…
Any intervention to the brain is ethically worrisome…
It is important that the therapist doing this is well-educated and that there is an international community that regulates it. But it’s not magic, and we’re not connecting people to a device that will change their brains so that they no longer experience depression or anxiety. It is something that helps us organize ourselves and requires one’s participation. That’s why it’s important to do psychotherapy at the same time.
Has anyone resorted to this brain training to improve their performance beyond curing mental health disorders?
Yes, football teams do it. We train athletes to position themselves in what we call the state flow, very concentrated and at the same time very relaxed, which corresponds to rapid alpha wave brain activity. We’ve also worked with golfers and chess players because there’s a very mental side to the sport. And I know there are tennis players and golfers working their brain feedback on the playground. It is also used by business people, poker players and very stressed people.
How is it obtained?
If the machine measures you while in a state flow and if it notifies you with a sound or other type of reward, not only does it learn to describe that state, but your brain tries to change its state to reach those rewards again.
Are there ages when it works better or worse?
I wouldn’t say there is an age when it works better or worse, but I can say that it is easier for the brain to relearn before age 40. We also found that people who use drugs, especially those who use anxiolytics, find the situation more complicated. We noticed that those who took benzodiazepines had their learning circuits changed and it was more difficult for them to retrain their brains. For this reason, we have psychiatrists in our clinic who help detoxify people who use benzodiazepine drugs on crutches to continue their lives.
What do they detect in the brain of anxiolytic areas?
We find that your brain is more difficult to respond and learn, and your brain waves have different patterns, with many very high frequencies associated with alertness and many more beta waves.
and did you notice brain changes caused by the pandemic?
Yes, when we do brain mapping, we measure what we call peak alpha, the frequency of waves when you are awake but inactive, and this should normally be between 10 and 10.5. If a person’s alpha peak is higher, it’s because their brain waves have been altered for so long that the brain has learned to be at constant alert frequencies. And when this is sustained over time as a defense mechanism, the alpha peak becomes very low, leading to cognitive problems. In other words, if the environment is very hostile, the brain defends itself by lowering the peak of alpha waves, the person’s cognitive level decreases and it is more difficult to learn. And we’ve seen a lot more people with lower alpha peaks after the pandemic, and although there are protocols to cure them, it costs more, requires more sessions, and they’re the people who suffer more.
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