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What Are Common Neurofeedback Protocols?

Updated: Dec 8, 2023



  • Neurofeedback protocols are instructions for neurofeedback training, specifying which brain waves and locations to train.

  • Neurofeedback protocols are determined by trained professionals according to your symptom reports and/or by performing a qEEG brain health assessment.

  • Some of the most common neurofeedback protocols are: Sensorimotor Rhythm (SMR) training, Alpha training, Frontal stabilization, and Deep relaxation protocol.

Neurofeedback training has been offered in the clinical setting for decades for many different purposes. It’s a form of biofeedback that uses EEG technology to read your brain waves in real time and show visual or auditory feedback based on protocols determined by the neurofeedback provider.


The training, or feedback, is done using games or videos, and over time your brain learns to self-regulate. For more information on the fundamentals of neurofeedback, follow this link.

how neurofeedback works

One common use of neurofeedback is to alleviate symptoms of brain disorders. The effectiveness of neurofeedback training on some disorders has been more thoroughly researched than others, but, in general, neurofeedback training has been found to be beneficial in managing a variety of different neurological disorders, together with medication or as a stand-alone solution.


Some disorders that are commonly managed using neurofeedback include ADHD, depression, anxiety and PTSD, cognitive decline, and substance use disorders. It is also used to alleviate general symptoms not related to a specific disorder, such as memory problems, sleep problems, poor coordination and motor skills, and excessive stress.


Healthy individuals such as artists, athletes, musicians, and executives also use neurofeedback to improve their performance and "stay on top of their game". It has been shown to improve memory, promote better sleeping habits, reduce stress, and improve motor skills in healthy populations. This form of neurofeedback is known as peak performance training.

brainwave frequenceis

How Do Neurofeedback Protocols Work?


The theory behind neurofeedback is that by training certain brain waves (also referred to as frequencies or bandwidths), you can improve the brain’s functioning - such as thoughts, moods, and the ability to relax or concentrate. To read more about how brain waves work, see here.


Research has shown that specific neurological disorders correspond to too much or too little activity, measured using EEG, in certain areas of the brain.


In order to determine which brain waves need to be trained (to increase or decrease their activity) and in which area of the brain, a quantitative EEG assessment (qEEG) is often used.


This assessment uses sensors on specific scalp locations to measure your EEG activity and compares the results to a large database of other individuals in your age range.


After identifying the brain waves and locations that are over- and under-stimulated, neurofeedback can be used to reduce or increase the specific brain waves. The instructions for neurofeedback training (which brain waves and locations to train) are called protocols.


Neurofeedback protocols are determined by trained professionals according to your symptom reports and/or by performing a qEEG assessment.


In this post, we will explore some common neurofeedback protocols and their uses. The locations referenced are based on the international 10-20 system of mapping the scalp.


attention neurofeedback protocol - theta, high beta and low beta
Neurofeedback protocol guide for higher attention and focus

SMR Training

Inhibit: Theta and High Beta

Reward: Lo-Beta (SMR)

Location: Cz or C4

Sensorimotor Rhythm (SMR) training was one of the first forms of neurofeedback training which was discovered.


Dr. Barry Sterman at UCLA realized that he could train cats to increase the amplitude of a specific frequency (12.5-15 Hz) by rewarding them with food every time they successfully reached the threshold. During a later experiment, it was found that the cats that had increased their SMR activity were more resistant to rocket fuel seizures. For more on the history of neurofeedback, see here.


SMR training is a common protocol used to improve attention and focus. The SMR frequency band (12-15Hz) is associated with an alert, attentive state coupled with calm or silent motor activities.


SMR training improves focus and attention by decreasing drowsy, mind-wandering Theta waves and anxious or racing High Beta waves, while increasing the calm, focused SMR waves. SMR training also improves motoric precision and balance and the ability to relax.


relaxation neurofeedback protocl - theta high beta and alpha
Neurofeedback protocol guide for relaxation and better sleep quality

Alpha Training

Inhibit: Theta and High Beta

Reward: Alpha

Location: Pz

Eyes closed

Alpha training was also one of the first types of neurofeedback training, made popular in the late 1950’s and early ‘60s by Dr. Joe Kamiya at the University of Chicago. Alpha waves are associated with being in a relaxed, calm, meditative, mindful state. Most people can naturally increase their alpha waves simply by closing their eyes for a few minutes.


Alpha training is good for improving sleep quality and relaxation. This form of training is usually done with the eyes closed, using only auditory feedback.


anxiety neurofeedback protocol alpha high beta and mid beta
Neurofeedback protocol guide for anxiety reduction and mood stabilization

Frontal Stabilization

Inhibit: Alpha and High Beta

Reward: Mid-Beta

Location: F3

The frontal stabilization protocol is often used to reduce anxiety and stabilize moods. Studies have shown that patients with major depressive disorder (MDD) often have more left than right alpha (8-13 Hz) activity in prefrontal locations. This is known as Alpha-asymmetry.


Neurofeedback training which lowers the Alpha activity in the prefrontal regions and increases Mid-Beta can be used to stabilize this asymmetry.

depression neurofeedback protocol high beta theta and alpha
Neurofeedback protocol guide for relaxation and meditation

Deep Relaxation

Inhibit: High Beta

Reward: Theta and Alpha

Location: Pz or Oz

Eyes closed

An increase in Theta waves can correspond to a state of deep relaxation or meditation, subconscious mental imagery, and free-flowing thoughts. Theta is also found in hypnosis and REM sleep. Increasing Theta and Alpha waves while decreasing High Beta and its associated racing thoughts can lead to a state of deep meditation. Neurofeedback training for deep relaxation should be done with the eyes closed, using only auditory feedback.


Conclusion

Selecting the right neurofeedback protocol for each disorder isn't a straightforward task. It hinges on a variety of factors, including your specific goals, brainwave patterns, and desired outcomes. Whether you're striving to manage anxiety, enhance cognitive abilities, or achieve emotional equilibrium, the protocol you choose should be tailored to your unique needs.


However, amid the decision-making process, there's a core principle that can't be overlooked – trust. In a field that's continually evolving with new scientific insights, it's crucial to have a professional by your side who keeps pace with these changes. Their dedication to refining and adapting protocols based on the latest research ensures you're receiving the most effective neurofeedback experience.


By aligning personalized protocols with up-to-date scientific knowledge, you're setting the stage for a meaningful and transformative experience that might propel you toward your goals!


Myndlift provides a personalized expert-guided brain training program that can help you achieve peak performance by improving your focus, sleep quality, spatial/motor skills, and self-control over mood. Take this 10-second quiz to check if you’re eligible to kick-start your journey for better brain health.


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