Have you ever wondered what it would be like if your teens would just sit down and do homework without you having to nag them? Or what must be happening inside their heads when they lash out at you over seemingly nothing? There may be hidden forces in your teen’s brain physiology that are guiding his/her behavior more than we know!
Sometimes, parts of their brain are not well organized, very much like a messy file cabinet. Remember that time they studied for two weeks, and then forgot everything on the test? That’s because information got filed in the wrong places in their brain, and they couldn’t find it when it came time for the test. Or how you have to call their name five times before they finally look up from their videogame (or Snapchat, texting, Facebook, or Netflix)? That’s because their brain did not filter information correctly in order to send important information (their name) to their conscious awareness.
The question is, can we help their brains to become better regulated and organized? The answer is yes! With neurofeedback, teens and adults alike can learn to regulate their brains by practicing, just like you can strengthen a weak muscle by doing daily exercises.
Neurofeedback starts with an EEG brain map, where we image the electrical activity of someone’s brain. Then, we can compare what their brain is doing to a database of their peers, and see where they may have brainwave activity that is contributing to their difficulties with learning and information processing, attention, or mood regulation. Once we have a map of someone’s brain, we look at three general areas of regulation.
The first is the overall speed at which the brain as a whole and its functional groups are moving. Have you ever felt really anxious and like your mind was racing at 100mph? Chances are, your brain waves were zooming around at lightning speed! Sometimes it’s good for our brain to be moving that quickly, but other times it can just make us feel uneasy and on edge. From neuroscience literature, we know there are many correlations between brain patterns and different mental health conditions. For example, when people have ADHD, the frontal lobes of their brains do not have enough fast-wave activity. If you imagine the frontal lobes to be like a car, then their frontal lobes are moving at 25mph on the freeway, and this is what makes it so hard for them to pay attention, organize, manage their time effectively, and regulate their emotions. Often, stimulant medications are prescribed for teens with ADHD because these medications speed up those sluggish frontal lobes.
The second thing we are interested in understanding from a brain map is how flexible the brain is. Just like we have different ways of communicating with other people (face-to-face, phone calls, emails, text messages, FaceTime, snail-mail), the brain has lots of different ways to communicate within itself. Sometimes, the brain uses the wrong type of communication to move information from one place to the next. This is often what happens in teens with learning differences. The brain is using snail-mail when it should be using a text-message, and information takes a long time to get to where it is going. This is what is happening in a teen who struggles with reading, for example.
Finally, the third thing we are interested in is how well connected is the brain and how well organized are those connections. Does your teen have a messy room and have trouble organizing their assignments and belongings? Chances are it’s because they have a disorganized brain!
Neurofeedback helps people of all ages learn to use their brain more effectively, and this can have a huge impact on the way they navigate the world. Have you ever gone to physical therapy for a muscle weakness? Neurofeedback works in very much the same way. Once we can isolate areas of weakness in the way the brain is communicating, we can train these areas through practice and repetition to become stronger. Chances are, if you go to the gym consistently, over time you’ll notice that you are becoming stronger in your body. With neurofeedback, every time we practice utilizing our brains in a certain way, we are strengthening those connections and making our brains stronger too.
The great thing is that this process is fun! When people do neurofeedback training, we are reading their brain waves in real-time, and they are watching a movie or playing a video game. The movie or game only works when they engage the right networks in their brain. Otherwise, the game or movie stops. So, basically by playing video games with your mind, you can strengthen your neural connections! This then leads to positive changes in your ability to process information, solve problems, or utilize your executive functions.
Neurofeedback is a great adjunctive treatment to psychotherapy. For many teens, becoming a better reader or calming their anxious brain can be life-changing. Sometimes, when teens are stuck in therapy, neurofeedback can help “unstick” them, leaving them in a better place to be more open and insightful. It can also help them to develop better self-esteem and self-efficacy, as they grow to become stronger and better able to meet all of life’s challenges.
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TEEN THERAPY CENTER CAN HELP!
Would you like additional guidance in this area? Teen Therapy Center provides individual teen therapy, family therapy, group therapy, parent support counseling, and in-home teen and family coaching 7 days a week, including afternoons, evenings, and weekends. For more information, contact us at 408.389.3538.