Biofeedback vs. Neurofeedback: What's The Difference?

Biofeedback and neurofeedback (EEG-biofeedback) are both non-invasive treatment protocols that can be used to treat a variety of disorders without the use of medications.

But what's the difference between biofeedback and neurofeedback? In short, neurofeedback is a specific type of biofeedback that provides feedback directly on brain activity.  

On the other hand, biofeedback encompasses a variety of therapies used to help patients leverage the mind-body connection to reach a deep state of relaxation. Once in this state, patients can learn to better control their body’s involuntary responses to stress, which in turn, can help alleviate symptoms associated with a wide variety of ailments and disorders, including stress/anxiety, depression, PTSD, irritable bowel syndrome, and more.

In both cases, the goal is to empower the patient to relieve symptoms and achieve long-term relief without the use of prescription medications.

Over the last 40 years, the Drake Institute has pioneered the use of biofeedback and neurofeedback therapies and found new ways to use these treatment methodologies to improve the quality of life for patients suffering from a variety of debilitating disorders and illnesses.

If you or someone you know requires immediate assistance, please fill in the contact form below or call us at 800-700-4233 for a free consultation.

What Is Biofeedback?

Biofeedback training is a non-invasive, non-drug treatment protocol designed to help patients achieve symptom relief from their stress-related disorders.

By leveraging the mind-body connection, patients can better control their body’s involuntary reactions to stress, including:

  • Blood flow to extremities
  • Blood pressure
  • Heart rate
  • Muscle tension
  • Pain perception
  • Sweat gland activity

What’s more, biofeedback therapy can reduce the negative symptoms of many stress-related disorders, including:

  • Generalized Anxiety
  • Depression
  • PTSD
  • Insomnia
  • Muscle Spasms/Muscle Tension
  • Irritable Bowel Syndrome
  • Heart Palpitations
  • High Blood Pressure
  • Addiction / Cravings

How Does Biofeedback Work?

During biofeedback, no outside stimuli are used on the body in any way and drugs are not administered either.

Instead, sensors are placed on the patient's body to record involuntary functions like hand temperature, heart rate, muscle tension, and sweat gland activity in the fingers. These functions are regulated by the autonomic nervous system (ANS) and are considered by many to be physiologic functions that cannot be consciously controlled.

However, with the real-time measurement of these functions, Drake’s medical professionals can help patients learn how to influence involuntary activity to empower self-regulation and achieve symptom relief.

For example, by monitoring sweat gland activity at the fingertips, patients can learn to understand how stress is affecting their body, and with enough practice, they can learn how to prevent stress from negatively affecting their bodies.

Types of Biofeedback

There are several types of biofeedback treatments that are useful for helping patients learn to influence their body’s involuntary functions, including:

Brain Wave Biofeedback

EEG biofeedback, also known as neurofeedback, measures the brain's activity in real-time. EEG Biofeedback can be used to help patients gain control over abnormal brainwave patterns, which can help reduce symptoms of anxiety disorders, panic attacks, depression, and insomnia. We'll discuss this in detail later on.

Heart Rate Biofeedback

Measuring heart rate during biofeedback treatment has been shown to help improve both heart health and blood pressure. One measurement, heart rate variability, can indicate how balanced the autonomic nervous system is at the time of measurement. Heart rate variability training can also improve the overall resiliency of the ANS, leading to stronger resistance to stress disorders, depression, asthma, and high blood pressure.

Muscle Tension

Extreme muscle tension, especially in the face, can be a symptom of stress or anxiety. Biofeedback therapy that is used to specifically address facial muscle tension can reduce the symptoms of stress and even reduce high blood pressure, tension headaches, insomnia, bruxism (i.e., teeth grinding), and physical pain. Additionally, biofeedback training in facial muscle relaxation has shown to be useful in the treatment of asthma in children.

Galvanic Skin Response

Our body's sweat gland activity in the fingertips, especially in response to changes in an emotional state, is known as the galvanic skin response. Biofeedback therapy focusing on the galvanic skin response can be an effective tool in helping patients recognize and reduce stress in their lives. Studies have shown that biofeedback training using the galvanic skin response has therapeutic potential for patients struggling with stress and anxiety.

Hand Temperature

As part of the autonomic nervous system, the sympathetic nervous system is responsible for our "fight or flight" response. Part of that response includes reduced blood flow to the extremities and increases blood flow to the muscles – just in case you have to run away from a predator. An overactive sympathetic nervous system may interpret a mild stressor, like a presentation at work, as a major threat and activate the “fight or flight” response, sending blood away from the hands. This results in a decrease in hand temperature. Biofeedback therapy can help patients recognize when the response is kicking in, then allow them to take direct control over it by internally raising hand temperature to reduce anxiety symptoms.

What Can Biofeedback Be Used To Treat?

Biofeedback therapy can be used to treat a multitude of disorders, conditions, and their symptoms, especially those related to stress and anxiety. Issues for which biofeedback has shown to be useful in treating include:

  • Addiction
  • Anxiety or stress
  • Asthma
  • Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
  • Chemotherapy side effects
  • Chronic pain
  • Constipation
  • Fibromyalgia
  • Headache
  • High blood pressure
  • Insomnia
  • Irritable bowel syndrome
  • Panic Attacks
  • Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
  • Raynaud's disease
  • Ringing in the ears (tinnitus)
  • Temporomandibular joint disorder (TMJ)

What Is Neurofeedback?

As we mentioned above, neurofeedback is simply another type of biofeedback and is commonly referred to as EEG-Biofeedback. While other types of biofeedback measure heart rate and hand temperature, neurofeedback measures and focuses on brain activity.

Because the brain is such a complex organ, it is generally separated from biofeedback, but the process for treatment is similar. Like biofeedback, neurofeedback is non-invasive, non-pharmacological, and neither the brain nor the body is stimulated in any way.

Where biofeedback therapy uses sensors placed on the body to monitor things such as heart rate and hand temperature, neurofeedback therapy uses sensors placed on the head to monitor brain activity. When it comes to biofeedback vs. neurofeedback, the appropriate treatment really just depends on the patient’s individual needs.

How Does Neurofeedback Work?

The sensors that are used during neurofeedback therapy monitor the patient’s brainwaves in real-time.

The brain primarily creates four different types of brainwaves, each of which occurs at different frequencies, and each of which becomes predominant during different states of consciousness.

  • Delta waves are the slowest frequency and usually occur when we are in our deepest sleep.
  • Theta brainwaves have a faster frequency than delta waves but are still very slow, and are usually present in greater numbers when we are sleepy, daydreaming, or letting our minds wander.
  • Alpha waves are also slow and represent moments of calm but energized relaxation.
  • Beta brainwaves have the fastest frequency and occur when the brain is actively engaged in external activities or problem-solving. Excessive Beta brainwaves, however, can lead to anxiety.

A brain producing too many low-frequency waves or not enough high-frequency waves will not be able to function at an ideal capacity, but by utilizing neurofeedback to monitor their brainwaves, patients can learn to produce healthier and more productive patterns of brainwave activity.

In fact, via neurofeedback, patients can learn to generate more adaptive patterns of brain activity to better control their emotions, attention, and behavior.

To illustrate, one treatment at Drake Institute includes transforming the patient's brainwaves into a visual representation – an animated car – that can be controlled through the patient’s focus patterns.

As the patient can reach an optimal pattern of concentration by generating the proper brainwaves, the car stays within the appropriate lane and an auditory tone is triggered.

This helps the patient recognize their own brain state and learn how to control it to reduce symptoms of stress, depression, ADHD, and other issues.

Through practice, patients can integrate this skill throughout their life, even without the assistance of a neurofeedback device.

What Is Neurofeedback Used For?

Neurofeedback therapy aims to breach the mind-body gap and empower patients to generate more effective brainwave patterns, utilizing the correct brainwaves which are essential for focus, organization, follow-through, emotional regulation, and basic learning functions.

This type of brainwave control can help with several conditions, including:

  • Autism Spectrum Disorder
  • Anxiety and Stress
  • Depression
  • Headaches
  • Memory
  • PTSD
  • Insomnia

How Does Biofeedback & Neurofeedback Compare To Drug-Based Treatments?

Neurofeedback is a non-invasive treatment option that’s ideal for difficult-to-manage conditions, disorders, and symptoms and where drug-based treatments produce unwanted side effects or limited results.

What's more, drugs typically only provide temporary improvement for the diagnosed conditions. Once the medication is discontinued, the symptoms of the disorder may return.

Biofeedback and neurofeedback are safer than drugs since they don’t present similar risks of side effects, but they also can lead to longer-term improvements since they teach patients to self-generate the correct brainwaves needed for reducing unwanted symptoms.

Neurofeedback training is a learning process that physically strengthens and develops the brain's synaptic connections, leading to a possibility of greater mental control that can be long-term for many patients. As long as the patient continues to exercise the skills learned during treatment, they have much more control over their own physical and mental health, all without relying on pharmaceutical drugs.

How The Drake Institute Uses Biofeedback & Neurofeedback

For more than forty years, the Drake Institute has been fine-tuning biofeedback and neurofeedback therapy as an effective treatment for various stress- and anxiety-related disorders. These advanced treatment protocols offer relief from symptoms, and in some cases, symptoms don't return at all.

The Drake Institute allows patients to facilitate their own healing through biofeedback and neurofeedback training. If you're considering biofeedback therapy vs. neurofeedback therapy, the Drake Institute can help you choose a treatment protocol that will maximize your quality of life improvement.

Contact The Drake Institute Today!

If you or a loved one is suffering from symptoms of stress, anxiety, depression, or other disorders or conditions mentioned above, don't hesitate to fill out our contact form below or call us at 800-700-4233 for a free consultation.

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dr david velkoff headshot

“David F. Velkoff, M.D., our Medical Director and co-founder, supervises all evaluation procedures and treatment programs. He is recognized as a physician pioneer in using biofeedback, qEEG brain mapping, neurofeedback, and neuromodulation in the treatment of ADHD, Autism Spectrum Disorders, and stress related illnesses including anxiety, depression, insomnia, and high blood pressure. Dr. David Velkoff earned his Master’s degree in Psychology from the California State University at Los Angeles in 1975, and his Doctor of Medicine degree from Emory University School of Medicine in Atlanta in 1976. This was followed by Dr. Velkoff completing his internship in Obstetrics and Gynecology with an elective in Neurology at the University of California Medical Center in Irvine. He then shifted his specialty to Neurophysical Medicine and received his initial training in biofeedback/neurofeedback in Neurophysical Medicine from the leading doctors in the world in biofeedback at the renown Menninger Clinic in Topeka, Kansas. In 1980, he co-founded the Drake Institute of Neurophysical Medicine. Seeking to better understand the link between illness and the mind, Dr. Velkoff served as the clinical director of an international research study on psychoneuroimmunology with the UCLA School of Medicine, Department of Microbiology and Immunology, and the Pasteur Institute in Paris. This was a follow-up study to an earlier clinical collaborative effort with UCLA School of Medicine demonstrating how the Drake Institute's stress treatment resulted in improved immune functioning of natural killer cell activity. Dr. Velkoff served as one of the founding associate editors of the scientific publication, Journal of Neurotherapy. He has been an invited guest lecturer at Los Angeles Children's Hospital, UCLA, Cedars Sinai Medical Center-Thalians Mental Health Center, St. John's Hospital in Santa Monica, California, and CHADD. He has been a medical consultant in Neurophysical Medicine to CNN, National Geographic Channel, Discovery Channel, Univision, and PBS.”

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