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What Is EEG and Why Do Therapists Need It?

Updated: Mar 3

✎ Written by: Dubravka Rebic ✓ Fact-checked by: Dr. Nathan Brown, Ph.D.

There's only one thing in the universe complex enough to study itself: the human brain. This remarkable self-investigation was first enabled decades ago with the discovery of a technique called electroencephalography (EEG) and remained one of the principal tools in the practice of clinical neurology.

By measuring electrical activity in the brain, EEG has altered how we understand brain function and allowed mental health professionals to take a peek into the human mind. As a result, we can now diagnose conditions like epilepsy or sleep disorders, investigate abnormal brainwave functioning, and see brain activity as it unfolds in real time, at the level of milliseconds. This powerful tool indeed provides us with some crucial measures. And what can be measured can also be improved.

The possibility of improvement comes in the form of neurofeedback, a non-invasive technology that measures brainwave activity and trains the brain using visual and auditory cues. The training, or feedback, may be done using games or videos, and the primary outcome is that, over time, the brain learns to self-regulate and achieve a healthier, more balanced state.

Since neurofeedback is often combined with talk therapy, lifestyle improvements, or medication, it can be a powerful addition to your current mental health toolkit. In this article, we explain how you can utilize EEG and neurofeedback in order to:

  1. Push your treatment plan in the right direction

  2. Easily measure progress

  3. Offer more value to your clients

1. When You Want to Make Sure You're Going in the Right Direction

The most significant benefit of using EEG as a tool is that it can display the brain's inner workings and lead you to a different understanding of your client's psychological state.

For example, after the initial consultation and performing a psychological assessment, you may have concluded that you should work to improve your clients' attention. However, during the EEG brain health assessment, you may realize that your client's brain also shows signs of trauma impact. This important finding would change the treatment plan, and result in a more positive therapy outcome.

Furthermore, some of your clients may need to calm their dysregulated nervous system before engaging in talk therapy. For instance, many people who have experienced trauma either don't remember details of the events or may find it too overwhelming to recall the experience and talk about it. They may not be psychologically prepared for talk therapy. What neurofeedback can do is it can build the scaffolding to enable other therapies to work.

By understanding neurofunction, you may deepen your therapeutic insight and yield better results with your clients, no matter which psychotherapeutic approach you use.

There are many helpful books where you can further explore the benefits of neurofeedback for specific mental health issues. Some great examples are:

  • The Body Keeps the Score: In this book, Dr. Bessel Van der Kolk dedicates a chapter to the power of neurofeedback in healing trauma. Van Der Kolk found in research with his own patients that there was a significant decrease in trauma symptoms after a course of neurofeedback, as well as increased mental clarity and ability to regulate emotions. According to Kolk, there was a 40% decrease in PTSD symptoms and a 60% increase in executive functioni