NYC therapist and clinical social worker, Alison Pepper, writes about her experience training with the NeurOptimal® Neurofeedback System. Over the summer, I had the opportunity to begin neurofeedback on myself, and I loved it. That first positive experience of feeling calm and centered made me want to understand how it worked. I had no previous experience with brain training and didn't remember anything I learned in graduate school about the brain's electrical patterning so I was eager to familiarize myself about how it worked.
But to go back to my experience during my first NeurOptimal® session, after the sensors were placed on my head and clipped to my ears, and the 'start' button was pressed there was nothing else for me to do. I found myself a little disoriented without a task in front of me. Soon I shifted my focus to the opportunity ahead to just let go. I enjoyed looking out the window, listening to the NeurOptimal music (the feedback is through precisely timed interruptions in the music that are cued by electrical signal changes in the brain). As a busy New Yorker and disciplined meditator, I especially loved that for 33 minutes I could sit and relax, and didn’t have to follow my breath, practice anything, or do anything if I didn’t want to, the work was being done by my automatic functioning brain as it was cued by the precisely timed interruptions in the music. After a few minutes I could feel the muscles of my shoulders start to drop.
After about a month of my weekly, sometimes twice-weekly summer neurofeedback therapy sessions, I was feeling more relaxed, tension was releasing in my body, but also in my mind. I was focused and alert, but not in the usual hyper-vigilant way I had grown accustomed to as a stressed city dweller.
After my first month, my circumstances changed and life became increasingly stressful. It was harder to get myself in for my sessions and I noticed my initial training experience was harder to access. The noise of my life became a bit louder than the calm and focus of training experience. But because I'd done my studying about how neurofeedback worked, I wasn't deterred and I made myself get my regular sessions in.
NeurOptimal® Neurofeedback is dynamic and works millisecond-by-millisecond with my current state, and brain patterns. I knew it was doing it's job to help me rewire my patterns by alerting me to them regardless of whether I was feeling particularly focused or happy that day.
The one piece of advice I'd been given was to make sure that I was consistent in my sessions and to think of it like learning an instrument or a foreign language: faster results when we're learning in at a consistent pace with not large gaps where we can forget what we learned.
Despite the new schedule challenges I kept at it; kept training, and also kept doing all the other things I do when I’m super stressed. During this time, I noticed two things different from other high stress times in my life: my body felt relaxed, and I was aware of my negative thinking and stories of worry.
With time, my life stressors eased, and I have been continuing my weekly neurofeedback sessions. I am now more aware of my body being tired and sleeping more, which I know is something my body has been wanting and needing for some time. With regular training, I feel I am now better able to identify the subtle and not so subtle signs my body is giving me, and respond accordingly.
As a new Certified Trainer, I have also started to train others. This has been a moving experience. I now understand why it is the policy at Neurofeedback Training Co that all trainers train themselves with NeurOptimal®. To see directly the benefits of this training on myself, and to be able to share that with other people is such a gift. When they ask me about the benefits I can speak to them from my experience. It wasn't a straight line of gradually feeling better but rather initial increase in calm and groundedness, then the bump of life stressors and feeling some worry and overwhelm, but I knew to keep training even though the benefits weren't as pronounced.
With each week I'm growing more confident in the benefits. I can even see the shifts in peoples faces from when they first sit down and when they finish their session. Relaxed, brighter, and those who are sleep deprived, they often say, "Wow. I'm tired." To which I respond, "Sounds like you're becoming more aware of how exhausted you are. I noticed that too, when I first started my brain training."
I am still learning and growing with my personal training, and training others. I have just started to learn about how and why it works, and watching my clients do neurofeedback and hearing their experiences I am slowly learning the benefits of neurofeedback.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Alison Pepper, LCSW, is a therapist in NYC and became a Certified NeurOptimal® Neurofeedback Trainer in 2017. Alison has experience working with children, adolescents and adults, and teaches mindfulness meditation in the US and abroad. She is fluent in both English and Spanish.