Neurofeedback, the hug my nervous system needed
By Juliet C Wilson
“Neurofeedback is one of my favourite therapies, and I’ve seen it work wonders for Lyme Brain. I have had patients go from only sleeping two hours per night to sleeping full nights after a few sessions of neurofeedback. Others, after years of not feeling creative due to their Lyme disease, have started doing art again. Many others have reported significant gains in cognitive function after sessions of neurofeedback. It can also help with anxiety and depression. Neurofeedback works to stabilize the frequency patterns of the brain.“Excerpt from Lyme Brain: The Impact of Lyme Disease on Your Brain, and How to Reclaim Your Smarts, BioMed Publishing Group, USA, 2016, by Nicola McFadzean Ducharme, ND, Chapter 26
I felt a mild excitement as I unpacked the black carry case and unwound the wires. I have learned over the years that there is no magic pill, but every time I try something new, I have that glimmer of hope that it will be ‘the thing’, and neurofeedback looked promising. I attached the sensors and had my first session. My first impression? It felt like the hug my nervous system needed.
I had been in a high cortisol, fight or flight ‘flare’ for two months, as my nervous system tried to equalise after having breast cancer. I’d endured ten months of intense treatment by myself, with little support, while Melbourne was in full lockdown and my husband was stuck in Canada due to Australia’s pandemic border restrictions. The only word to aptly describe the experience is brutal.
Running from the tiger
As a Lymie, I am no stranger to nervous system dysregulation. I have had three other major symptom ‘flares’ in 14 years of dealing with chronic illness, all following periods of prolonged high stress. I am great at dealing with crises, but my body stores the trauma and its effects surface weeks or months later, bringing crushing insomnia, racing heart rate, hair loss, weight loss, spine misalignment, and digestive distress.
This ‘flare’ was particularly unfair though. Two years ago, I finally had a name for the relentless symptoms that had plagued me for over a decade – Lyme and its many co-infections. I started the CellCore Biosciences treatment protocol, and made more progress in six months than with anything else I had tried. I started to feel like my usual vibrant self, and there was light beckoning from the end of the tunnel. Then, in a cruel twist of fate, I was diagnosed with cancer, and everything else went on the back burner until I dealt with it. After my cancer all-clear, I resumed my Lyme protocol, kicking illness to the curb and getting on with my happy and healthy life. I had come through my cancer journey ok, I thought. I felt battered around the edges but was still smiling.
Then, months later, the trauma hit.
Trauma and chronic illness
Trauma. It is always a factor in chronic illness, and for us Lymies, the layers are numerous. On top of many years of desperately trying to find the answer to ‘what is wrong with me?’, trying to gain access to effective treatment, and the load our immune and nervous systems carry from infections, pathogens, and toxins, we also have trauma from dealing with medical professionals who are dismissive and closed-minded, and disbelieving family, friends and colleagues who don’t support us in the way we need – along with the challenge of trying to keeping the train on the tracks. Underlying all of that, are the suppressed or unaddressed major traumas or clusters of minor traumas that happened earlier in our lives that are also a stress on our bodies, and get in the way of our full healing.
After trying to settle the nervous system flare for a few weeks, I reached out to my doctor, who recommended something commonly used in North America with Lyme and cancer patients – neurofeedback. I read everything I could, was quickly convinced it was worth trying, and found organisations that rent NeurOptimal neurofeedback systems that I could use at home.
The answer – neurofeedback
Developed by clinical psychologists, neurofeedback tracks your brain’s millisecond-by-millisecond electrical activity and uses your natural feedback system, auditory sense perception, to give your brain feedback that enables it to self-adjust and reset its frequency patterns. Neurofeedback has been around for several decades now, and the non-linear NeurOptimal system is considered by many to be the most highly-evolved form of neurofeedback available. It is safe, natural, non-invasive, and drug-free, and grounded in decades of evidence-based clinical research and neuroscience.
To use the system, while you relax, two tiny head sensors and three ear clips analyse your brain’s electrical activity. It does not input any electrical current – information is fed back to you by subtle interruptions in the music stream, which enables your brain to identify, resolve, and correct ineffective patterns, resulting in more balanced, regulated states of brainwave activity and nervous system function. With multiple sessions, your brain becomes better able to access this state.
I decided to use a home rental system, as it is the most cost-effective way to do multiple sessions per week, and it is so pleasant to use it in my own home, when it suits me.
After the very first session, it felt like my brain whispered to my body, ‘It is going to be ok.’ Within a week I could feel a gently deepening inner calm, helping me better deal with the high levels of cortisol coursing through my body, and its accompanying crushing insomnia. I started to notice other subtle changes. Within a few weeks, I felt more resilient, had better thought clarity, and my digestion settled. I could feel my body stabilising, and knew I was onto something good.
It is important to note that everyone comes to neurofeedback from a different place, with a different history, and for different reasons, so the total numbers of session required to meet your needs and goals will differ from person to person. It is not a quick fix, it is a program that allows your brain and central nervous system to release old habits and re-train itself to a healthier form. You will know when it is helping – you will feel a change. I charged in at first, doing two sessions per day. I quickly learned that I needed to allow time between the sessions to allow my brain to integrate the changes, and that doing sessions closer together would not get me ‘there’ faster. I dropped back to doing a session every two to three days.
I am three weeks in, and already feel more centred and less reactive, and my body and sleep are stabilising. The changes are subtle, yet profound, and I have no doubt that neurofeedback will be a game changer for me over the next few months. I wish I had discovered it years ago.
What Steve Philis, Australian Neuroptimal® representative, says
‘It does not matter your age, concern or issue, the system will provide feedback to your brain, supporting your brain to self-regulate / optimise, leading to a more calm, confident, focussed you. Ultimately leading to a more resilient and adaptable brain.’
Steve Phillis is the owner and operator of Neurofeedback Australia, providing NeurOptimal® Neurofeedback. He has many years of experience in neurofeedback, counselling, training and management, and discovered NeurOptimal over 12 years ago. Having supported over 35,000 sessions alone in Australia – for Steve, NeurOptimal® just makes sense – supporting the brain to self-organise and regulate, rather than an expert determining what a person needs.
Steve trains on his own system along with his family regularly. Melissa, his partner, had profound benefits after using the system around her own mental health 12 years ago, and as a result, along with their daughter Holly, provide this service across Australia. Steve provides office sessions, rental (train in your own home), options to buy your own system, and even to become a trainer. Steve has also worked with people experiencing Lyme symptoms, and can report excellent feedback.
WHAT DEAN SMITH PSYCHOLOGIST AND PSYCHOTHERAPIST, AND CERTIFIED NEUROFEEDBACK TRAINER, SAYS
I first became aware of neurofeedback after becoming interested in the work of Dr van der Kolk 25 years ago. Many people have heard of his more recent book “The Body Keeps the Score”. I had a high case load of clients struggling to manage and process past trauma and was finding they could not meditate.
As a long-time advocate and student of meditation I wanted my clients to gain the benefits of meditation (as I had) and was surprised by the finding that many of my trauma clients just could not meditate!
After attending one of Dr van der Kolk’s workshops, he outlined why many clients struggling with trauma histories (and other mental health issues), needed to be approached differently. Using neurofeedback to calm and settle the autonomic nervous system was the perfect interim step for many of these clients, who latter could then use mediation and other such therapies as maintenance. The use of what van der Kolk calls “brain stem intervention”, was often the best place to start with many clients, these therapies are very different to traditional talk therapies, which are better introduced to clients after a period of engaging in brain stem intervention.
Neurofeedback can help with almost anything, as it does not treat specific diagnoses, it trains the brain. With a healthier, “fitter” brain everything is easier, especially things like anxiety, sleep, PTSD, pain, chronic illness, ADD/ADHD, and cognitive decline, and it is routinely used for peak performance.
How do I access neurofeedback?
You can do neurofeedback in a variety of ways, through sessions with a practitioner, renting a system to use at home (the systems can be easily shipped to anywhere across Australia), or through purchasing a system. The people I personally spoke with are listed in the Helpful Resources section below, and there are many others that you will find as you do research. I found them to all be passionate, well-informed, helpful, and happy to answer all of my questions.
I don’t think there is a human being on the planet who would not benefit from neurofeedback, and for us Lymies, I believe that it can be particularly helpful.
As a result of her experiences with neurofeedback, in June 2022 Juliet founded the Melbourne Neurofeedback Centre and offers a 20% discount on sessions or rentals (shipped to anywhere in Australia) to fellow LDAA members.
Author of But You look Healthy!
Have you or a loved one spent years, or even decades, managing health issues? Then this book is for you.
Juliet Wilson – Melbourne Neurofeedback Centre (sessions and home rentals)
Steve Phillis – Neurofeedback Australia (rentals and purchases)
Neurofeedback Australia is the official NeurOptimal® Representative for Australia.
Gema Jackson – Clear Mind Space and Neurofeedback Rentals (sessions or rentals)
Dean Smith and Kimberley Miller – (sessions or rentals)