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What Is EEG and Why Do Therapists Need It?

Updated: Oct 20, 2023

✎ 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 functioning in traumatized children and adults after training.

  • A Symphony in the Brain: Here, author Jim Robbins introduces Dr. Barry Sterman, to Jesse DeBoer, who was born with severe brain damage. Jesse DeBoer can now, at 19, function at the level of a learning-disabled person. He also introduces school principal Linda Vergara, who teaches grade school students to train their brains instead of using Ritalin to treat attention deficit disorders.

2. When You Want to Measure Progress Easily

The goals of psychotherapy cannot be measured and quantified easily and are often limited to subjective judgments. However, with the use of an EEG scan, a client's statement such as "I am feeling calmer," can be measured and quantified at the cerebral level.

This way, by observing actual numerical and graphic changes in the EEG scan, you can come up with data-driven decisions for improving the treatment plan. Furthermore, it increases the likelihood that your clients will stay motivated and dedicated to the therapy process because they'll be able to see how the behavioral changes are improving their brain health. And you'll have proof and data to back up your clinical work.

EEG assessments are also a valuable tool to show your client what's actually wrong. For example, depressed clients may feel that they are to blame for their condition because of being weak-willed or lacking in personal fortitude. However, many of them may present hemispheric asymmetry in their brain signals. This finding suggests that having depression is not a cause for shame or guilt and that depression often relates to brain dynamics. More importantly, neurofeedback training can do something about those dynamics.

Learning to Interpret EEG and Its Report

Neurofeedback is not a mysterious practice; many well-trained therapists or healthcare professionals already have a substantial portion of the necessary knowledge base to conduct (or at least understand) the process and results of neurofunctional assessment and training.

Even though there are plenty of books, written guides, and courses on how to interpret EEG and/or provide neurofeedback, much like driving a car, electroencephalography cannot be learned just by reading a textbook. The real work of learning EEG is done by "getting behind the wheel" and reading recordings, generating an opinion of the EEG's findings uninfluenced by the opinion of others, and then comparing the results to those of a more experienced reader.

That's why many students start to learn to review EEG recordings by finding an experienced mentor and reading over their shoulder. One of the ways to meet a potential mentor is by attending conferences and networking with experts in the neurofeedback field. But note that if you're planning on offering neurofeedback, you should look for a professional who not only has laboratory experience but also applied experience in using EEG as a tool in their clinic.

There's also an option of on-boarding your clients right away by offering neurofeedback through Myndllift's applied learning program. When entering the program, you'll be matched to an experienced neurotherapy mentor, receive the support that you need, and be able to incorporate neurofeedback into your practice whenever you want to.

3. When You Simply Want to Offer More to Your Clients

Neurofeedback has been showing great success in clinical settings for decades. It can be used for various brain disorders, but it can also be used to enhance different types of memory and attention as well as improve your clients' intelligence, spatial/motor skills, mood, and overall well-being. Anyone can benefit from it.

That's why adding EEG and neurofeedback to your mental health toolkit can be such a powerful upgrade. You'll have a tool that will enable you to provide comprehensive care to a wide range of clients and offer them more value. A tool that can help your practice stay one step ahead of competitors and place you at the cutting edge of mental health care!

Learn more about how Myndlift can help you get better outcomes with clients here, or get in touch right now to find out how you can get started with Myndlift for mental health practitioners. We can't wait to meet you!


About the author:

To help create awareness and positive change in the mental health space, Dubravka Rebic puts a lot of time and energy into researching and writing. From poring over scientific studies to reading entire books in order to write a single content piece, she puts in the hard work to ensure her content is of the highest quality and provides maximum value.

About the reviewer:

Dr. Brown is a clinical psychologist with over 35 years of experience using biofeedback and neurofeedback techniques. His clients include people dealing with depression, anxiety, ADHD, PTSD, and other stress-related conditions. He also helps those who seek to simply "raise their game" in their personal lives as well as their careers.


Reference list:

Acharya UR, Sudarshan VK, Adeli H, Santhosh J, Koh JE, Adeli A. Computer-Aided Diagnosis of Depression Using EEG Signals. Eur Neurol. 2015;73(5-6):329-36. doi: 10.1159/000381950. Epub 2015 May 14. PMID: 25997732.

Gruzelier JH. EEG-neurofeedback for optimising performance. I: a review of cognitive and affective outcome in healthy participants. Neurosci Biobehav Rev. 2014 Jul;44:124-41. doi: 10.1016/j.neubiorev.2013.09.015. Epub 2013 Oct 12. PMID: 24125857.


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