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It all begins here - CNS Arousal

Most of us have the basics of the arousal model in neurofeedback down. Mention was made of the significance of the arousal of the central nervous system in human behavior already in our first year of psychology training. The law of arousal was developed in 1908 by Robert Yerkes and John Dillingham Dodson. This law states that there is an empirical relationship between arousal and performance. Performance increases with physiological or mental arousal up to certain point after which performance decreases with arousal levels that are too high.


And then our paths meandered through various disciplines and we all met up again here, at the functioning of the central nervous system of which the brain is the core. We are privileged to have access to sophisticated equipment that provides us with numerous measures of arousal in both the biofeedback modalities as well as in neurofeedback. There is an entire global movement toward recognizing the paramount importance of regulation. The understanding that most disorders that have been categorized as any of an array of pacifying labels, are in fact nothing other than results of dysregulated central nervous systems – nervous systems that cannot regulate the arousal levels to be appropriate to the task at hand- is gaining traction.


We have access to the tools that impact the regulation of the central nervous system directly through the modalities of applied neuroscience we are trained in and apply. We are in the fortunate position of getting upskilled regularly in our monthly mentoring sessions by experts in aspects of various modalities that analyze, understand and apply techniques of arousal regulation. Through the standing the BFSA has internationally, we access the teaching of world leaders in our field at a fraction of the cost.


In my own intense journey of becoming trauma-informed as best I can, to be able to fully understand and apply the groundbreaking neuroscience to those who cross my path in this trauma-befuddled world, I find myself rethinking the basics of the arousal model. That is key to understanding the overwrought nervous systems of those with trauma histories. I sat in on training presented by Mitzi Hollander and Inette Taylor to get back to the basics of the essence of the arousal model and I found that to be masterfully presented and rewarding. See BFSA Website – upcoming events for more info on course details)


I do not regret that I moved away from the arousal model in a sense and incorporated other approaches and systems into my skillset- not at all. I believe that I am the better therapist for it.


I share a dream with the BFSA: We as neurotherapists and biofeedback practitioners have such powerful tools to serve the world. The dream is that we will unite- and in our world in Africa- that translates to basically different schools of thought separated by mainly the brands of equipment we use. That does not have to and should not be like that. As an EEGer user you could and ought to frequent yourselves with approaches other than the arousal model of which the basic premise is mainly amplitude training to improve regulation. There is LORETA and sLORETA neurofeedback that provides a method to localize activity in the brain. One of the advantages of sLORETA training according to Gracefire (2017) is the precise selection of EEG activity. Live Z-Score training which implements the concept of normal distribution (Bester,2020) is also possible using BrainMaster™ equipment. Thought Technology™ equipment offers the advantages of displaying biofeedback measures pertaining to regulation during training which most clients find useful for improving their understanding of the arousal levels of their central nervous systems. And this is only the tip of the iceberg of the evolution of and different approaches in bio-/neurofeedback. (Bester, 2020 – Chapter 5)


We have the obligation to those we serve and to our initial common intention to relieve suffering to render service beyond thought of personal gain or prejudice. We also have the obligation of striving to understand as much as we can about what we are doing. Sometimes the wide -angle lens in my camera bag renders the optimal shot and under different circumstances I deploy the 600mm zoom lens. Different tools have different strengths and different limitations. A competent photographer- as is true for a competent neurofeedback practitioner -ought to be familiar with the capabilities of different equipment and approaches.

But let us return to the original objective of this edition of this blog: the importance of arousal -which is where our training kicked off and which remains a core concept in our work. Based on the global statistics it is probable that more than 50% of your clients or patients suffer an anxiety disorder and/or either developmental trauma or post traumatic stress disorder. And as is clear from “a neurofeedback perspective- based on neuroscience findings-developmental trauma like PTSD, is proven to be an arousal related disorder”, (Bester, 2020) and as you all well know, so is anxiety even if unrelated. It warrants then, I believe that we attempt to take a closer look at arousal. In the next post I suggest we summarize the polyvagal theory which ought to give us a good handle on the essence of unstable arousal levels and dysregulated nervous systems.


-Helena Bester

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