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Neurofeedback or Psychotherapy? How to Decide Which Treatment Is Right for You

Neurofeedback or Psychotherapy? How to Decide Which Treatment Is Right for You

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If you ever feel like life is more overwhelming and stressful than it used to be, you’re probably right – and you’re not alone. That’s according to scientific research. A recent study from Penn State University researchers found that for most of us, daily stressors have increased sharply from the 1990s, 2000s, and 2010s.

For those with psychological and neurological conditions, the effect of these added stressors is only compounded. Fortunately, according to data published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more people are seeking treatment for these conditions.

However, one of the most common questions we get from our patients is about which treatment is right for them. The effectiveness of both psychotherapy and neurofeedback has been supported by numerous studies, showing how each of these treatments can benefit people with an array of conditions.

Sometimes, neurofeedback is effective all on its own. Other times, neurofeedback should be complemented with psychotherapy. In this article, we’ll briefly explore these treatments and offer insights about when it might be beneficial to combine them.

What Is Neurofeedback?
I always begin my explanation of neurofeedback the same way: The functioning of the brain and our behavior are intrinsically linked. Changes in our behavior can change our brain. Likewise, changes in our brain can change our behavior.

Some people may not know this, but the brain is a bustling, flashing hub of electricity. Second by second, it generates electrical signals called brain waves. Dysfunction often stems from disproportionate amounts of these waves.

Neurofeedback, a specialized subset of biofeedback, trains the brain for optimal performance by measuring and resetting waves. Our neurofeedback practitioners use a quantitative electroencephalograph (EEG) to analyze brain wave activity, send a feedback signal through audio or video, and, ultimately, reset the balance.

Essentially, neurofeedback therapy can teach your brain how to self-regulate and control functions. It harnesses the link between brain function and behavior to promote healthy changes in your life!

This modality is helpful for a variety of conditions, including attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), generalized anxiety disorder, posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), phobic disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), bipolar disorder, and more.

Notably, neurofeedback therapy is pain-free, drug-free, and completely non-invasive—which every patient is relieved to hear!

What Is Psychotherapy?
Psychotherapy—sometimes called counseling, therapy, psychosocial therapy, or talk therapy—can treat people with a wide variety of mental illnesses and emotional challenges. Using this modality, we aim to help you eliminate or control troubling symptoms so you can heal from past traumas, function better, and increase your overall well-being.

During psychotherapy, you’ll learn about your condition and explore your moods, feelings, thoughts, and behaviors. Over time, our psychotherapy practitioners can support you in gaining control of your life and responding to difficult situations with constructive, healthy coping skills.

What Is an Integrated Approach?
In many cases, neurofeedback or psychotherapy alone can be as effective as medications, such as antidepressants. However, depending on a patient’s specific circumstance, one of these treatments on its own may not be enough to alleviate the symptoms of a health condition. For example, a therapist-guided treatment plan alone may fail to solve the underlying pathology of certain mental conditions.

At the same time, while neurofeedback can improve your quality of life, it is also important to identify the underlying, pent-up emotions that may emerge throughout the process.

When Is an Integrated Approach Most Appropriate?
We’ve found that pairing psychotherapy with neurofeedback often helps our patients better cope with the transformative, positive changes that occur. Still, as a rule of thumb, there are certain conditions, such as ADHD, where neurofeedback is effective on its own. These patients may not experience further benefits from psychotherapy, so they may choose not to combine the two treatments.

On the flip side, there are also conditions where psychotherapy can be an integral accompaniment to neurofeedback. These include traumatic brain injuries (TBI), PTSD, anxiety, and more.

Next Steps
It’s crucial to recognize that each of us is unique—especially when it comes to what’s happening in our brain. That’s why our expert practitioners work individually with each patient to develop a customized treatment plan.

If you’re ready to take the next step in your treatment or the treatment of a loved one, please contact us to schedule a consultation at no charge.

We’re here to help.

Jake Williams, MA, LPC is an experienced therapist, neurofeedback provider, and cat lover. He has dedicated his life to helping people resolve traumatic experiences and overcome challenges created by focus or anxiety.