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Neurofeedback: Treating the Cause, not the Symptoms

Neurofeedback for ADHD, Anxiety, Concussion, Sleep Issues, Autism, Chronic Pain

It’s September and I’ve just returned from my vacation as many of you have too. For many it’s the beginning of the school year with loads of paper work from the school, sports and every organization. On my desk are lots of continuing education pamphlets and information about upcoming conferences, along with a stack of magazines.

In reviewing all the material two things popped out that I noticed. All the seminars and conferences were promoting some form of pharmaceutical method of treatment of the various symptoms related to issues such as anxiety, sleep problems, panic, Chronic Pain, Concussion, Autism and ADHD. Meanwhile, two magazines, Psychotherapy Network and Consumer Reports questioned the overuse and side effects of medication for symptoms. The title on one is Open Wide: “Do we know what Big Pharma is giving us?”, while on the Consumer Report, the lead title is “America’s Scary Pain Pill Habit.”

Yet, whenever I mention Neurofeedback as a method and treatment as a solution for the causes rather than just the symptoms of Chronic, Pain, Concussion, Autism, Sleep Problem, Anxiety or ADHD, most people, including teachers, medical professionals and mental health professionals, have no clue what I’m talking about. Why is this? Because Neurofeedback, which is a subdivision of Biofeedback, is a relatively new field and does not have the vast financial resources to promote itself. Some question if it has the same type of extensive research as the clinical trials used in the pharmaceutical industry. The answer is YES. There are research journals and two major organizations that meet yearly, ISNR (International Society of Neurofeedback Research) and AAPB (Association of Applied Psychophysiology and Biofeedback) that host the most current research and methods.

Now I’ve mentioned I have a personal bias toward neurofeedback because it saved my life as part of an integrative approach to treatment. As mentioned in my prior blogs, my stroke, auto-accident, and brain surgery were in 1990 and in 1994. I was told by every medical professional that I was permanently brain damaged. Medications were offered to help with my wide variety of symptoms, yet I was clearly told I would never regain the life I had, let alone practice as a Neuropsychologist again. This information was clearly presented through evident-based methods such as brain imagery and neuropsychological testing.

During that period of my life, I was introduced to the world of water therapy and neurofeedback at a brain injury support group. As we now know, the brain has the ability to repair itself when given the proper guidance (neuroplasicity), so after one year of neurofeedback with Dr. Paul Swingle along with a change in my diet and water therapy with Dr. Igor Burdenko and the Burdenko Method, the scores on my neuropsychological exam showed noticeable improvement. Three years later, I had co-authored Coping with Mild Traumatic Brain Injury and was back to work.

It is now 20 years later and still a vast majority of people have no clue what I mean when I mention Neurofeedback, yet every day there are numerous commercials in magazines, radio and TV letting you know about the newest medications and the wide array of side-effects to help you with symptoms related to sleep problems, anxiety, chronic pain, ADHD, Autism, and Concussion, which with current sports injuries is now being seen as a real issue.

In the past 20 years, I’ve had the honor of both personally getting to know the inventors, manufacturers and leading providers of neurofeedback, and as a practitioner, receive training by them. Prior to my becoming a neuropsychologist, I was a cost accountant and also taught marketing and cost accounting at several colleges in the local Boston area. I mention this only because at one of the major conferences, I presented a proposal on how to better market neurofeedback so that providers, educators, and consumers will have the knowledge of what neurofeedback is and is not. As you can gather, the idea never germinated and as of today, it is a very rare person who has heard of neurofeedback, and even rarer is the person who has used it successfully. In fact, most people know more about acupuncture than they know about neurofeedback.

Sitting on the ocean edge on my vacation, watching the ocean waves oscillating back and forth, it dawned on me that you, the providers, the educators, and the consumers really want to know the wide variety of methods and approaches to help with not only the symptoms, but also the causes of Autism, Concussion, Stroke, MS, Parkinson’s Disease, OCD, PTSD, anxiety, memory problems and sleep problems, all of which are some form of brain dysregulation.

Along with the majority of people, you may not understand or know the scientific research on a given medication, yet most people know of some form of medication for ADD or for anxiety and speak freely about what medication they or their family are taking. If you are in psychotherapy, rarely does someone specify what form of psychotherapy, such as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

(CBT) or Insight Therapy. Rather, if you asked someone if they are in psychotherapy for any of the above issues, such as PTSD or PCS, often they just say they are “in therapy.”

When at the beach, I was talking with various sunbathers about my integrative practice and my 5 prong approach. Everyone who I spoke with knew about medications, physical therapy, speech and language therapy, chiropractic and acupuncture, while most had some knowledge of Reiki and massage. There was not one person who had a clue about neurofeedback. Some had heard about biofeedback for chronic pain or bladder control. No one could figure what it could do to help, even with their prior knowledge of EEG. The big question is always is it like getting electro shock therapy that is sometimes used for severe depression?

I did note that there has been prior articles trying to debunk neurofeedback as being a sham, only to have others trying to convince that it is not. As we all know, there are people who provide neurofeedback services who have no clue what they are doing and there has been some research that was not done correctly. Yet, we all know this is also true about research done on various medications and falsified data, along with providers who have limited training in the use of a medication and the interactions between medications. This is not to say that medications are not highly effective or vital to helping.

Also, there are fields of treatment thats no one questions the research or how the methods came alone, such as with the wide variety of massage methods, physical therapy or even occupational therapy. When was the last time you asked your massage therapist what method they are using, how often it has been researched, or how effective it has shown to be? Rather, you are in pain or need to relax and you hope the massage therapist at the local spa is as good as the one at the physical therapy clinic.

Having the discussion on the beach with the various sunbathers and then seeing all the pamphlets for conference and seminars upon my return, it became clear to me. Neurofeedback needs to be presented, not as a cure all, but as another strategic tool in an integrative approach of treatment for dealing with not only the symptoms, but the dysregulated brain, which is the cause of Autism, Concussion, Stroke, Aneurysm, PTSD, PCS, anxiety, memory problems and sleep problems.

In the upcoming weeks, I will be presenting an overview of neurofeedback, and then specific types of neurofeedback and how each works individually and in combination with various other methods, including medication, physical therapy, water therapy, energy psychology, Reiki, acupuncture, psychotherapy and many more.