12 Sep More on Neurofeedback, the Othmer Method, and Cygnet
The dictionary defines Cygnet as “a young swan.” It is also the name of the neurofeedback software, developed for the Othmer Method of Neurofeedback. In the field of neurofeedback, there was a time when Sue and Siegfried Othmer’s work was rejected by those who practiced other methods of neurofeedback. The Othmer Method is now the most widely used in the field of neurofeedback, and it is gathering more attention in Europe and the United States. The metaphor of the Ugly Duckling seems to apply. For the fun of it, you can watch Disney’s version of the story of the Ugly Duckling, here:
The Othmers recorded their story in the book Brian’s Legacy by Siegfried Othmer (available in the Salt Lake County Library system). Brian was their oldest son, who experienced seizures, had ADD, and was on the Autism Spectrum. After a difficult life journey, Brian was in high school when he trained with neurofeedback. The results were remarkable. Before neurofeedback, they wondered how he would function as an adult. After neurofeedback, he thrived and went on to college. Unfortunately, while he was enthusiastically titrating off his anti-seizure medication, which he hadn’t needed in the previous doses, he had a fatal night-time seizure. At that time, over 30 years ago, the Othmers committed to the development of their method of neurofeedback, and they’ve continued to be innovative in the development of improvements.
One of the things that is different about Othmer Method is that no brain mapping is required. A person’s symptoms are tracked regularly, with a 1-10 rating by the client, as a guide towards relief. Success is achieved by reducing symptoms. Adjustments can be made in the protocol to promote the achievement of client’s goals. This is a process, and it may be bumpy. The good news is that even when less than desirable things happen, (like a headache, feeling drowsy, or agitated) these responses are temporary (a few minutes to a few days). Adjustments can be made in the placement of the electrodes, the training frequency or the amount of time of training, to move the person closer to their goals.
Within the Cygnet program, there are three methods of training; Infralow Frequency (ILF), Synchrony, and Alpha Theta. “We can think first of Infralow frequency training as promoting physiological self-regulation. Alpha Theta then provides a process to access and resolve unprocessed traumas and otherwise inaccessible experiences. Synchrony promotes a state of calm focus which has many of the same benefits as mindfulness exercises.” The Neurofeedback Clinician’s 2017 Protocol Guide, 6th edition.
Neurofeedback is non-invasive. Electrodes simply measure brainwaves and relay that information back to the brain via feedback. This is similar to a dancer using a mirror to improve their performance. Through the feedback, the brain can “see” its own activity. This is why neurofeedback is a type of biofeedback. Three senses can be involved in giving feedback to the brain:
1- Visual: The screen you watch, shrinks and fades, according to the pattern of the brainwaves. Initially, the activity on the screen may be distracting to you. You don’t need to do anything, just relax and let your subconscious brain do its work. After awhile, you will accommodate to the shrinking and fading, and although it is happening, you won’t notice it as much.
2- Auditory: The sound will also get louder or softer, or may move from one side of the headphone to another (particularly true when you are doing Synchrony or Alpha Theta). A binaural beat is available in these programs.
3- Kinesthetic: After the initial session of neurofeedback, you will be given the option of holding a stuffed bear, which has a sensor in it that gently jiggles on and off while you’re training. This is often comforting to people. If the jiggling bothers you, we can remove the bear.
This brief video below explains how a conductor leads a symphony. This can serve as another metaphor for neurofeedback. In the same way a conductor directs the artistry/balance and speed/tempo in an orchestra, through the use of neurofeedback, the brain stem is the conductor of the timing and frequency issues within the brain. To explain the analogy further, desired symptom changes lead a clinician to place electrodes on specific locations on the skull. The electrodes communicate information about the brainwaves in those locations through changes in a screen, watched by the client. This may be compared to a conductor leading a section of an orchestra in rehearsal. The information about the brainwaves, in that part of the brain, is communicated back to the “conductor” (the brainstem) and the brain uses its own wisdom to enhance performance. The whole brain (orchestra) is involved, yet a relevant section is “rehearsed,” to bring about improved functioning or “extraordinary music.” The book, A Symphony in the Brain by Jim Robbins, is a great resource that explores this further. It’s available in the Salt Lake County Library system.