What if there were a way of reducing symptoms of depression, anxiety, trauma, and attention problems other then talk therapy, behavioral interventions or medication?
How many of you feel like you know what you need to do to feel better but your brain has a mind of its own?
How many have tried talk therapy and feel like it was good but maybe didn’t quite do the trick or missed the mark somehow?
How many of you would like to improve your mental health without having to dredge through your painful past or navigate the negative side effects of meds?
How many have tried medications and didn’t like how you felt or couldn’t find the right one or they only partially helped?
How many of you are tired of having to nag to get you kids or partner to go to therapy or you can’t get them to go no matter what?
What if you or your loved ones actually looked forward to going to therapy sessions because you/they almost always left feeling better then when you walked in the door?
If any of the above is what you have experienced, you may be interested in a new approach to treatment. And we want to say it is “new”, it is mainly new to the mental healthcare system. In fact, it has been around for over 50 years, has over 2400 published papers and has evolved to a point where it is estimated that clients have received over 250K sessions to date. This approach is called “Neurofeedback” and it addresses problems with mental health from an entirely different direction and achieves positive lasting results without negative side effects.
By now, everyone understands the brain has a physical structure, made up of over 100 billion neurons. How that structure works and how that relates to mental performance and mental illness is one of the most exciting areas in science. We also know the brain is an electro-chemical organ and that firing of cells and ultimately all mental processes are affected by neurochemicals. That is the foundation for all psychotropic medications.
What is only now being appreciated is that the brain is also a complex informational network made up of firing patterns across 125 TRILLION synapses (roughly equal to the number of stars in 1,500 Milky Way galaxies). And to understand how these networks work, how they share information and how they control our thoughts and behavior is the arena of physicists, computer scientists, engineers and neuroscientists. And one thing these folks tell us is that ANY system needs to be well self-regulated in order to perform well. And to self-regulate, it needs feedback. At its simplest, if the room is too warm, the thermostat turns off the heat. When the room gets too cold, it turns it back on. A baby learns to walk by adjusting its posture so it can move without falling. The first steps are clumsy and halting but with effort AND FEEDBACK, it gets quite agile.
Eighty years ago we learned that we could use feedback of hand temperature to train someone to relax as in “warm hands, warm heart”. But more important for our purposes, fifty years ago a scientist discovered you could use brainwave feedback to train cats to CHANGE their brainwaves, and in doing so, it prevented seizures. The work went from cats, to humans with epilepsy, to ADD/ADHD, to anxiety, to PTSD, to autism to just about the whole of mental health. And how is this possible?
It is possible because when self-regulation improves, symptoms lessen. Imagine the impact on any mental health condition if a person can sleep better, focus better, feel less anxious, react less impulsively? Furthermore, all of this is not only possible, but it is being done right now with mental health clinicians trained in this methodology in real world settings, with real clients. And the best part is it is non-invasive, engaging and the results come quickly.
Is Neurofeedback a replacement for psychotherapy and medications? No, it is a complement. It has been the experience of clinicians that as Neurofeedback proceeds, people feel better able to engage with therapy, better able to implement therapeutic suggestions, and often to need less medications. And for therapists and psychiatrists, their work becomes incredibly more rewarding because clients are so much better able to benefit from the tools and skills of their mental healthcare providers.
While Neurofeedback has been gaining credibility rapidly, until recently, it has been available only from private practice providers on a fee-for-service basis. The Neurofeedback Advocacy Project (NAP) is working to change this. We are a non-profit organization and our mission is To Implement Neurofeedback within our Existing Healthcare System with Particular Concern for Agencies Working with the Underserved. This means we are focusing on agencies that work with a largely Medicaid-population, typically either governmental behavior healthcare or non-profit agencies. We post our results on our website, and to date our results have been excellent. We are in the process of seeking more agencies that would like to investigate adding neurofeedback to their services on a no-risk basis.
If you are interested in bringing neurofeedback to the mental healthcare agencies that serve your community, we encourage you to bring this blog post to their attention or to send us the names of mental health decision makers who might be interested.
Matthew J. Fleischman, PhD
Henry M. Kaiser, PsyD MBA
Darla Meulemans, MA, CADC