Wendy Aron

Sounds Awful

When Dr. Phil Airs, Should We Forgive?

How Dr. Phil's advice screwed us

Posted Jan 26, 2014

The sight of Dr. Phil, that mighty TV tabloid psychologist, taking on our little disorder last week on his daily dysfunctional lovefest was absolutely amazing, but even more amazing to me was how comfortable Dr. Phil seemed to be dispensing medical quackery to his misophonia-suffering guest, along with his entire viewing audience.

Using his patented drive-thru therapy technique, Dr. Phil first labeled the woman’s behavior in response to triggers as “narcissistic,” thereby providing the many psychologists who are uncertain when faced with us the perfect excuse to attribute our bizarre rage reaction to something they have studied in school-- childhoods full of either emotional neglect or over-pampering--and to plan a course of ineffective treatment accordingly.

Further, Dr. Phil yet again supplied misinformation, when he suggested to the misophonia victim on his show that there were certainly some effective “biofeedback/neurofeedback” solutions to misophonia and that through some “specialized protocol” these treatments could be administered from home to help her overcome her misophonia addiction in no time at all.

Now, I don’t mean to disparage neurofeedback, which I actually consider to be one of the more promising treatment fronts, but merely to point Dr. Phil towards some realities about our disorder of which he may not have been aware before he took to the airwaves and misled millions. These realities include a 62-year old Arizonan named Michael Lawrence, who contacted me via email after a recent post.

Mr. Lawrence, who has suffered from misophonia since he was 7, told me that he has spent the last two years and $17,000 in search of an effective neurofeedback answer to trigger sensations. He said he began his quest with a qEEG brain mapping study performed by a practitioner in Scottsdale, which revealed irregular activity in his insula, and even more profound dysfunction in the cingulate gyrus region of his brain (an area that has also been connected to obsessive compulsive disorder).

Subsequently, he said, he tried NFB LENS, Brainstate Tech, Neuroptimal (Zengar) and traditional qEEG NFB, with both single channel and 19 channel Z-Score training. Although these treatments helped with his chronic insomnia, he said they did absolutely nothing to alleviate his misophonia symptoms.

But he is not giving up.

This spring, Mr. Lawrence plans to trek to Cedar Rapids, Iowa, for a 5-month stay and 200 NFB sessions with Dr. Randall Lyle, a practitioner he first learned about on the Yahoo Selective Sound Sensitivity group.

Mr. Lawrence said he has had many conversations with Dr. Lyle, spoken to others who have benefited from his treatments, researched his approach, and feels confident about trying it. “He is also a very modest practitioner and does not claim any miracle cures,” said Mr. Lawrence. “He is not out there looking for business.”

According to Mr. Lawrence, this new gamble is going to set him back an additional five months and $25,000.

However, according to John Kounios, one prominent cognitive neuroscientist and former NFB researcher, individual wagers like this one are just about the only way misophonia sufferers are ever really going to have a shot at winning the neurofeedback solution game.

“Neurofeedback research is very complicated, and the expensive “Big Science” funding necessary to do it properly is just not there, nor will it ever be,” said Dr. Kounios, the director of the doctoral program in applied cognitive & brain sciences at Drexel University, in Philadelphia, PA, via email. “It would take a neurofeedback Manhattan Project to move the needle, so the field is relegated to spot-checking a few of the possible protocols and focusing on the informal, anecdotal observations of NFB practitioners.”

Dr. Kounios pointed out that this poses several challenges for patients searching for effective neurofeedback protocols. For one thing, he said, the brain mapping methodology that many of today’s NFB practitioners use does not really provide a clear picture of the precise regions of the brain that are malfunctioning in disorders like misophonia. Secondly, he maintained, even if such mapping studies were to be performed properly, there is an unproven assumption that the abnormalities they uncovered could be overcome through neurofeedback.

Dr. Kounios further said that the efficacy of an emerging NFB treatment method now trendy in academic research circles--something called real-time fMRI neurofeedback-- is going to prove even more difficult and costly to prove than traditional EEG neurofeedback.

But Michael Lawrence remains unbowed.

“My wife has been so patient, understanding and long suffering with this,” he said. “I love her so much for all the accommodations she has had to make for my misophonia symptoms over the years, and I want to do this for her, for us, and, of course, for all the others who would benefit if it works.”

If Dr. Phil really wants his viewers to understand what having misophonia is all about, perhaps he should invite Michael Lawrence on his show, too.