Neurofeedback: A brain training technique to treat mental disorders

Neurofeedback: A brain training technique to treat mental disorders

Around 43.6 million adults in the United States suffer from different mental illnesses, shows the 2014 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, published by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) in September 2015. In fact, half of the chronic mental disorders begin by the age of 14 and three quarters by the age of 24.

These numbers project the dismal situation prevailing in the United States, necessitating the need for new approaches to treat mental illnesses. An article published in the Wall Street Journal on January 19, 2016 highlighted a new approach to the treatment of mental disorders. It uses real-time scans to show patients how their brains go awry and possible remedies to fix the dysfunction.

Neurofeedback, as the treatment is called, targets the brain’s dysfunctions as well as its emotional and cognitive processes that are understood to trigger mental disorders. The effectiveness of this method is being studied in cases of depression, phobias, obsessive-compulsive disorder, addictions, traumatic brain injury and chronic pain.

During the neurofeedback procedure, a patient lies in a functional magnetic resonance imaging scanner. He is then asked to conjure memories or look at pictures while his brain is scanned as a part of the process. The activity of certain brain regions related to the subject’s illness is analyzed via a computer. The patient, on the other hand, can observe the visual representation of his brain activity almost in real time. The same might be presented in the form of a thermometer or colored bar.

Anna Zilverstand, a postdoctoral researcher at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York and lead author of a 2015 study “Using neurofeedback to treat women with a phobia of spiders” reflects that patients should be able to train their brain as they train their muscles when they want to be fit.  Training the brain will help a patient control its reflexes.

Siegfried Othmer, Ph.D., chief scientist at EEG Spectrum International Inc., described neurofeedback as an innovative form of electrotherapeutics that complements neurochemical interventions for mood disorders. Neurofeedback signals a convergence of psychiatry and neurology in bioelectrical approaches to treating affective disorders. By stabilizing the brain and rewarding it for holding particular states, neurofeedback acts as a natural anticonvulsant.

Future of neurofeedback

There are people who are not cured by general treatments like medication and therapies. For such people, an alternative treatment is highly indicated. Through neurofeedback is in its initial days, some researchers are of the opinion that this treatment can be used in addition to current medicines and therapies. Since neurofeedback seems to be more precise than current treatments, doctors are of the opinion that it can be personalized according to an aggrieved individual’s brain function.

Dr. Kymberly Young, a postdoctoral associate at the Laureate Institute for Brain Research in Tulsa, Okla, led a study of 23 depressed patients, published in 2014 in the journal Plos One. The study showcased that the patients who received one session of active neurofeedback for their illness had an increased score of happiness which jumped to 20 percent in comparison to patients who were in a controlled group which went upto 2 percent.

The study also noted that the depression scores and anxiety measures also dropped after treatment. In results from a more recent study which was presented at the Society of Biological Psychiatry annual meeting in 2015, Dr. Young says that after two sessions of neurofeedback, depression scores dropped 50 percent in the active group and in the controlled group it fell 10 percent. However, the treatment didn’t work for everyone. In fact, about 10 percent of depressed participants had normal amygdala activity at the beginning of the studies and another 10 percent of participants couldn’t learn how to regulate the amygdala.

Further research is required to infer actual results of the neurofeedback treatment. However, this treatment provides a window of opportunity for assessing and shifting any given brain state in a depressed individual.

Till neurofeedback catches its momentum in medical treatment, please get help from a mental health consultant, if you or your loved one is suffering from depression, anxiety disorder or any other illness. A quick diagnosis and state-of-the art treatment facilities will help you get back your normal lives.

Contact the California Mental Health Helpline at 855-559-3923 today to speak with a qualified service representative who specializes in identifying what kind of treatment best fits each person’s particular situation.