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Types of Neurofeedback

The types of brain exercise or neurofeedback evolved over the years. Many factors has shaped this evolution. One of them is the search for a more effective way to do neurofeedback. The other is to
differentiate among each other, for pride and survival. Yet others see good business opportunity to introduce new methods of training as the field is growing rapidly.

Monopole frequency training was the first type of neurofeedback training. As we start to understand
more about how the brain functions, coherence training evolved where we train two regions of the
brain to work together. Bipolar frequency training evolved to allow basic coherence training to be
done. As the field evolved, multi-channel equipment became more common and allowed one to do
multi-channel neurofeedback involving multiple locations on the brain. Coherence training evolved as
such. But the question is whether training more locations of the brain all at once is more beneficial
compared with one location at a time. This is discussed in the sections below.

In recent years, people who own QEEG databases found that the field of neurofeedback is growing
rapidly and practitioners are yearning for more information about the brain. The potential for business
is good. They have adapted their database for use with neurofeedback. As a result, Z-score
neurofeedback was born. So what is it that they are trying to do with Z-score training? We discuss this
in the following sections.

The Othmers pioneered the ultra-low frequency training. They have differentiated themselves from
others in the field and curved out a niche for themselves. This is crucial for their survival especially in
the early years when they started the Brian Othmer Foundation. Their practise is now flourishing with
this unique approach to exercising the brain.

At Spectrum Learning, we do a QEEG based brain exercise. Our QEEG analysis is far more
comprehensive than what others are doing. From our QEEG analysis, we are able to identify areas of
the brain than are fatigued or exhausted, and areas than shut down when doing a task. We also
evaluate coherence and phase relationships between brain regions and EEG frequency.

a) Frequency (Monopole)

This is the basic training which all beginners should start with. In this type of frequency training, we
train a person to be able to control the neural activities at a specific location. This is fundamental to all
the other types of neurofeedback described below, where different locations of the brain are trained to
work together. A person needs to be able to control a specific brain location first before he/she trains
that location to work with other brain areas. Many jump into other types of neurofeedback without
doing the proper basic training. This will lead to inconsistent outcome.

In frequency training, we train a particular location on the brain to be able to regulate or control the
neural activities. With this training, one will be able to increase or decrease the neural activities at that
location at will. The training will also enables one to shut down that part so that it can rest and recover
or not interfere with activities of other parts of the brain. This is an essential skill to master.

In the QEEG analysis that we do routinely to assess how one utilizes the brain, we found that many
who have learning difficulties are not able to change their neural activities at many locations on the
brain. No wonder they are not able to utilize the whole brain! If this is so, it will be difficult to train the
different brain locations to work together.

b) Frequency (Bipolar)

In bipolar training, the instrument is setup to measure the difference between two locations on the
brain. If we encourage the difference between the two locations, we are training the two locations to
behave differently. If we discourage the difference, then we are training the two locations to behave
similarly. This is also called coherence training.

From the QEEG, we observed that for any task, such as solving a Math problem, certain parts of the
brain much increase in neural activities together while at other parts the neural activities must
decrease. Those who are unable to do so tend to perform poorly on the task. Hence, it is important to
train different parts of the brain to work together to be able to perform well on a task. Bipolar
frequency training serves this purpose partially. This is because in bipolar frequency training, we can
only train two locations at a time using a single channel. From the QEEG that we do, we find that
there is a need to train multiple locations, some to be coherent and others to be dis-coherent.

Bipolar frequency training is also known as the poor man’s coherence training. In the early days of
neurofeedback, equipment cost was high and many had only a one channel amplifier. But equipment
cost has dropped significantly and multi-channel neurofeedback equipment are more common these
days. With multi-channel equipment, it is possible to train multiple locations on brain at the same time.

However, we found that without first doing monopolar frequency training, the bipolar frequency or
whole brain training results can be very inconsistent. For example, say we are training location A and
B to behave differently in a Maths task. If one is not able to change the neural activities at A, then
location B will change either by increasing or reducing its neural activities. The reverse can also be
true. We find that such a training is ambiguous and produces very inconsistent results. From our
QEEG experience, we find that it is also possible that one might not be able to change the neural
activities at both A and B. In such a situation, one will get nowhere in the bipolar frequency training.

c) Coherence

In coherence training, multiple channels are used to train various locations of the brain to behave
similarly on a task. For example, during a recall task, five locations on the brain must be active at the
same time for effective recall. Coherence training can be used to train these five areas to increase
neural activities at the same time. Once a person has learned to do this, it translates into significant
improvements in recall. Usually, it is important to do a QEEG to determine how one is utilizing the
brain before doing a coherence training. From our QEEG, we found that inaddition to coherence
between various brain regions, various other regions need to be dis-coherent to do a task well. In the
recall task for example, five locations needs to increase in neural activities, while other locations need
to shut down or not increase neural activities so as to perform well on the task. So in our brain
exercise training, we often train for both coherence and dis-coherence for optimum results.

Again, we find that the basic monopole frequency training is very helpful in preparing a person to do
training at multiple locations. We first train them to be able to regulate the individual locations before
training these locations to work together. We find that it is important to be able to regualte individual
locations first before training them to workk together. Again, the QEEG analysis will reveal which
locations one cannot regulate. Results from the QEEG allows us to plan a brain exercise program for
the individual.

d) Z-Score

We have not started Z-score training as it is relatively new and requires special equipment and
software to implement. In 2006, at the ISNR conference, the Z-score Neurofeedback technique was
made available. Z-Score Neurofeedback is a system that compares one’s EEG or brainwaves to a
normative database. Similar to the coherence training, four to six locations on the head are trained
simultaneously so that the EEG becomes similar to that of a “normal” person. Since that time, the
burning question has consistently been “does it work?” And if it does work, “does it work better than
what we’ve previously had available?”. While there are some longer-term, multi-subject research
projects underway, to-date none have been published or presented.

The Z-score training uses “eyes open” EEG database base as a reference. So the training is usually
geared towards normalizing eyes open conditions. However, from our QEEG analysis, we find that
many with normal EEG whiles eyes are opened are not able to change their neural activities while
engaged on a task. So it is also important to assess this aspect to determine what type of training to
do. In this respect, an eyes open database may no be of much use.

Like in coherence training, many locations are involved. Again, it is important to train one to be able to
regulate individual locations first before training all locations together. We find that training one
location can already be difficult for some. Training two or more locations at a time can be a big hurdle
for those who have not done the basic training. This may translate into needing more sessions to see

e) Ultra-low Frequency

The Othmers pioneered this type of training. They use bipolar placements exclusively and train to
increase ultra-low EEG frequencies. The reward frequency can go down to as low as 0.01Hz. Such
training requires the equipment to be able to measure such ultra-low frequencies. During the training,
the trainer has to hunt for the optimum reward frequency. As their training is unique, they have
developed their own equipment for their work.

f) QEEG based

We find that a QEEG assessment provides a great amount of information regarding how the brain is
functioning. We do more than just analyze for coherence or normalcy compared with databases. We
analyze how one is utilizing his/her brain and how each brain region is fairing. By doing this, we can
design a unique program for each individual. This usually translates into a more effective training.