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A Report on Regional Biofeedback Conferences

The Western Association for Biofeedback and Neuroscience Conference, and the Northeast Regional Biofeedback Society Conference

By Siegfried Othmer, PhD

Early November is the traditional time for the regional conference, and this year I got to attend two of them. Both the Western Regional and Northeast Regional conferences reflect new vitality within the field, with the growing interest in Infra-Low Frequency neurofeedback as well as low-level magnetic stimulation on the neurofeedback side, and in Heart Rate Variability on the biofeedback side. On the East Coast there was additional interest in near infrared thermal training of brain function and in virtual reality for help with fear of flying.

At the Western conference, Sue recapitulated thirty years of work within the field by discussing each of the milestones of progress along the way. It is difficult to place oneself in the frame of mind that existed back in 1985 with respect to the prospects of training brain function by any means whatsoever. Neurofeedback was in its own little universe, seeking a beachhead with SMR and beta training. Every subsequent advance in methods and techniques was fiercely resisted by those who were still stuck in the earlier neurofeedback paradigms. That did not deter progress, however. It was the blinders on our own perspective that were really rate-limiting in our developments. Matters look so different in retrospect, by which time much has become obvious that was mysterious or baffling before.

My own talk was a complement to last year’s theme, where I presented on the commonalities between somatic biofeedback and ILF neurofeedback. On this occasion, I highlighted the uniquenesses of neurofeedback, which I based on three features:

  1. The frequency-basis of EEG training. The fact that the neural dance is organized on a frequency basis gives us an extraordinary sensitivity that is quite simply lacking in traditional biofeedback. Not only does this property enhance our detection capability instrumentally, but it also aids the brain’s ‘recognition’ of the feedback signal—-provided that feedback is both continuous and reflects brain behavior at a particular frequency. Unsurprisingly the brain is most attentive to information respecting those functions that are under its own immediate control, i.e. the behavior of its own neuronal assemblies.
  2. The lack of a headroom limit. In neurofeedback we are in a position to train various competences that have no upside limit: intelligence, memory function, working memory, and fine motor control are representative examples. By contrast, the objective in somatic biofeedback is the achievement of good homeostatic regulation, at which point one is done.
  3. The much larger clinical workspace: the entire frequency domain of bioelectrical brain activity, all scalp sites, and even derived information about deeper cortical structures. This means that we can work across the entire continuum of generality to specificity, from core regulation to highly specific cortical function. Not even fMRI feedback can compete with that. fMRI feedback operates on glucose or oxygen uptake, a slowly varying function that obscures a lot of detail. In that respect it is actually quite analogous to both infra-low frequency training and near infrared thermal training, which also operate on slowly varying functions. But in EEG feedback we are also in a position to utilize information from the full EEG band—either in parallel with ILF training or sequentially. This gives us a specificity and particularity that is not matched by other feedback approaches.

In the remainder of my talk, I laid the basis for the argument that in ILF training we are targeting the foundation of the brain’s regulatory hierarchy, and that this significantly extends our reach in clinical work. The most challenging clinical conditions are almost invariably entwined with early childhood developmental trauma or misdirection. ILF training appears to give us significant advantages in re-training such core dysfunctions.

The regulatory hierarchy is also the developmental hierarchy, and it corresponds to a hierarchy in the frequency domain as well. When training is begun at the foundation, a kind of scaffolding model applies in that additional training opportunities open up that can be exploited in turn. Eventually the entire regulatory hierarchy is effectively refurbished.

Significantly, early childhood development is largely the burden of the right hemisphere, of the parietal region, and of inter-hemispheric relationships. The relevant physiological underpinnings in support of that proposition were discussed.

Finally, the left hemisphere was brought into the picture, and the division of labor between them was treated in the context of how they organize their interaction in the frequency domain. The frequency rules (governing neurofeedback with bipolar montage) that have been uncovered over the years help to clarify these frequency relationships. It transpires that the right hemisphere plays a dominant role in organizing the ILF region, and the left hemisphere plays a dominant role in organizing the conventional EEG region. The dividing line is 2 Hz with reference to the right hemisphere.

Siegfried Othmer, PhD

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