A little about neurofeedback and it’s uses instead of traditional psychiatry

So…you may ask…what is neurofeedback? That is a good question and I will try to give a reasonable answer. You can look here for a very simplified explanation. My doctor worked with these people a decade or more ago and has since developed his own protocol specifically for people with bipolar disorder.

Neurofeedback is direct training of brain function, by which the brain learns to function more efficiently. We observe the brain in action from moment to moment. We show that information back to the person and we reward the brain for changing its own activity to more appropriate patterns. This is a gradual learning process. It applies to any aspect of brain function that we can measure. Neurofeedback is also called EEG biofeedback, because it is based on electrical brain activity, the electroencephalogram, or EEG. Neurofeedback is training in self-regulation. It is simply biofeed-back applied to the brain directly. Self-regulation is a necessary part of good brain function. Self-regulation training allows the system (the central nervous system) to function better.

Neurofeedback addresses problems of brain disregulation. These happen to be numerous. They include the anxiety-depression spectrum, attention deficits, behavior disorders,various sleep disorders, headaches, migraines, PMS, and emotional disturbances. It is also useful for organic brain conditions such as seizures, the autism spectrum, and cerebral palsy.

There is much controversy on the efficacy of neurofeedback, for good reason, as it is a mostly uncontrolled discipline and there are virtually no licensing requirements. Anyone can get a computer set up and look good. Bottom line, many practitioners have not been properly trained to work with complex issues, including and especially the sorts of conditions that get labeled  bipolar disorder.

I got lucky. I live in one of the two cities in the country with the highest density of practitioners and that is because my doctor lives here and he trains people all over the country. He cautions me not to flippantly advise people to see just anyone. Worst case scenario, people can be made worse.

Now I’ll just share with you what my doctor has shared with me, accepting that he does indeed know what he is doing. I will describe what I understand in the limited way that I understand it. When I came to him my EEG (electroencephalogram–a graphic record of the electrical activity of the brain as recorded by an electroencephalograph) was all over the place. My brain waves were “spiking” wildly. My slow brain waves were too slow and my fast brain waves were too fast. The “slow” waves are rough indicators of depression and the “fast” waves are rough indicators of mania. The “spikey” stuff was additional brain waves that he is able to see signifying great instability. He was able to gather this information about my bipolar brain by following specific protocols for the bipolar brain. Someone doing this needs to know exactly where to place the electrodes on your head.

In any case, within a few weeks the depression I had presented with was gone. This was the first time I was free of depression in my life (factor out periods of mania, which at this point it’s pretty clear were drug induced). I remained depression free for two years while slowly cutting down my other meds. No mania arose either. My brain waves slowly improved over time until my doctor told me an ordinary neurologist, looking at my EEG, wouldn’t even know I was bipolar. My doctor, being specifically trained to look at the subtleties of my particular brain could still tell otherwise.

I got to a point where I was having difficulty in cutting down meds and I still had various uncomfortable symptoms of irritability and anxiety. I decided to stop neurofeedback. I wasn’t convinced it was doing anything for me anymore.  I went on to pursue other means to try to continue withdrawing from meds. (I unsuccessfully tried integrative doctors) My depression returned with a vengeance in about six months. It took me a while to figure out what had happened, but I did get back to neurofeedback and was once again relieved of my depression.

Seven months ago I made a radical 180 degree turn around in how I viewed psychiatry, the pharmaceutical industry and mental illness. I became fiercely committed to coming off all my drugs. I read all I could about the survivor and ex-user movement. I read Peter Breggins, “Your Drug May Be Your Problem: How and Why to Come Off Psychiatric Drugs.” I do not share his venom but his message came through to me loud and clear. These drugs are making me sick! Since that time I have added a restricted diet and supplements to my regime. I have once again been able to successfully withdraw, bit by bit, from the drugs.

Since aggressively tackling withdrawal I do have depression again, but this is a withdrawal side-effect and not an underlying condition. I am comfortable accepting this as fact. My doctor confirms it as his opinion, as well. Through the internet, I have now been in contact with hundreds of people who have either successfully withdrawn from meds or are in the process of doing so. It is no easy path. I suffer all sorts of discomforts…what keeps me going are two things. I do not have any sign of relapse and 2. the recovery stories of many many survivors.

You might notice I used the term discomfort for my sufferings. This choice of word could only be used with the radical attitude shift I’ve made. I no longer reach for a drug when I feel bad. I accept that life brings difficulties and pain and suffering. No more PRN’s and an ever decreasing pharmacy. Does life still suck sometimes? Yeah, it does. But I also feel more empowered and in control of my life then I have in 15 years. And my mind…it’s not so numb anymore. I’m actually writing a blog. I couldn’t do that even 6 months ago.

I don’t know what lies on the other side of meds, but I’m going to do my damndest to find out.

It’s pretty clear at this point (editing 2010) that neurofeedback is a wonderful and healing tool. Psychiatric drugs though can cause toxic reactions that only time will heal.

14 thoughts on “A little about neurofeedback and it’s uses instead of traditional psychiatry

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  1. Dear Anon,I cannot give you advice other than as a fellow sufferer and you would need to okay anything you do with a cooperating pdoc.

    I do however want to caution you against rehab. It is very possible that you are experiencing what is called “tolerance withdrawal” from at least whatever klonopin you remain on. I, like you, cannot deal with stressors and I am quite sure it is in large part due to the damage caused by benzo’s in particular–but other drugs cause problems too. But in rehab they take you off cold-turkey and do more harm.

    From everything I’ve learned it’s very important to to go off in minute doses. People do water titrations in which they crush then melt, for example, 1 mg of klonopin in 100 ml of water and cut down one ml at a time as slowly as necessary. It can take years to come of a couple of mg. Some people can go faster.At the top of the page on the right side is a post on benzo’s called Benzo Land. It can give you some information on the risks of withdrawal as well as the benefits.this website is good too:benzo.org.ukthe Ashton manual, which you can find on the site has a ton of info in it.I’m not going to make any other suggestions regarding the other drugs, only you and your doctor can decide what is appropriate. And it sounds like you need to be stable before you make any significant changes. (and that includes changes with benzo’s)I will suggest you learn about diet and nutrition that can help nourish your body after being on these drugs for all these years. I have some info on this blog, but a good book is Depression Free Naturally, By Joan Larson.Regardless of whether you are on drugs or not, improving your nutrition can help stabilize you. Many people think they have a good diet when many changes could still be made.

    For starting suggestions on diet I have a post called Nutrition for Beginners, also at the top right of the page. I do not talk about food allergies there and many people find that gluten and/or milk products make them worse–among some other less common foods. It’s worth eliminating them and then adding them back in one at a time and seeing if you have a reaction. Depression Free Naturally talks about how to do this.Ultimately, I don’t suggest doing anything until you’ve researched your options very well.

    There are a lot of resources and links to websites on this blog where you can learn more about the risks and benefits of making changes.I don’t pretend to know what is right for anyone except myself and I only share my story so that people can choose to educate themselves further if they feel a resonance to it. So education, I would say, is the most important thing.One last thing–there was a study done on aggressive inmates in UK and US prisons who were given fish oil. Their aggression diminished significantly. It’s good for depression too and some people think it helps with mood stabilization.http://www.guardian.co.uk/food/Story/0,,1924088,00.htmlI have the worst luck at embedding links. If you go to the post heading the whole link should show up on the blog.

    good luck and be careful

  2. I have suffered the symptoms of bipolar II disorder since about the age of nine (I am 47). For years there was no treatment available to me b/c the term “bipolar” did not exist. There were no psychiatrist to see b/c that would be taboo in the 60’s at least from a religious point of view (definitely not by my choice).

    I attempted suicide at 17. Three other times in my thirties, and many times when no one new and it is a miracle that the amount of drugs I took did not kill me.

    I am on disability b/c I cannot hold down a job. With no stressors from work life is much better. I work very hard physically doing projects and fixing things around the house. This is a great way for me to release other stressors outside of the business world.

    I am on Lamictal, Wellbutrin, and Klonopin. I have tried to stop taking the Wellbutrin and Klonopin in the past and bottomed out. Lamictal is a newer drug for me given for moods/cycling. At age 39 and after leaving a 23-year relationship–I was able to cut back 50% on the meds (200mg Wellbutrin and 2mg of Klonopin both at bedtime). I would not completely stop b/c I did not want to bottom out after such a huge difference. I had also been taking depakote, and several other meds–I can’t even remember them all. But my point is stressors set me off big time. I hate it and even though I am suppose to take responsibility for it, sometimes it is out the door. I am surprised I haven’t been arrested. Sometimes I just want to HIT someone or something–I mean it is like I want someone to piss me off so I have a reason to beat the hell out of them. That is messed up! I have never done this–just thought about it.

    But I do think that I have a tolerance issue with the drugs, and they infact, may be worse that the withdrawals. I have a lot of neurological side-affect with trying to get of Klonopin and they start immediately within 1 day. It is unreal. Mood swings are a scary thing for me b/c of suicidal issues.

    do agree with what you are doing. I think that I would need to be in an intensive rehab facility for drug withdrawal and doctor supervision and a regime in place during rehab that I would continue after inpatient treatment. My health insurance may pay for it since it is Rx drugs that I am NOT abusing, rather prescribe by an MD. I am addicted to these medications. I cannot do it without rehab. Since I am on disability, I don’t see why I shouldn’t persue it, but really don’t know how. It is scary to lookup these institutes and call them–I have done this. One MD wanted to try shock treatments! I said heck no.

    What is your take on this? I know we all are different. While I admire your will power, I admit that mine has been worn down over the years and years of defeat.

  3. Cross blogger communication is difficult to keep track of at the best of times…

    I’m always fascinated by what Medicare or Medicaid will pay for… it varies here by province, so drugs and treatments available in Ontario are sometimes unavailable in Quebec or British Columbia. When I have time I’ll look into whether “neurofeedback” is covered under the Ontario Health Insurance Plan.

    I’ve had several discussions about how difficult mental health care can be in the US so I hope it wasn’t a mistake.

  4. hey…for some reason blogger doesn’t always forward messages to my email, so I didn’t see the question about insurance and neurofeedback until just now. I’ve been paying out of pocket. BUT—my last billing cycle medicare actually paid for it. It’s still unclear whether it was a mistake or not!

  5. hey…for some reason blogger doesn’t always forward messages to my email, so I didn’t see the question about insurance and neurofeedback until just now. I’ve been paying out of pocket. BUT—my last billing cycle medicare actually paid for it. It’s still unclear whether it was a mistake or not!

  6. Ah… “neurofeedback”. I know someone who is recovering very nicely from her depressions using this technique along with meditation, diet and yoga (the real kind). I missed the connection when you mentioned it on my site. It’s fantastic that you’ve found something that helps.

  7. Mark,
    You said,

    “As long as you have the power to decide what you want to do.”

    I absolutely agree and I want the hell off my meds. I don’t feel they have ever helped me and indeed they’ve made me worse.

    Certainly every individual has to decide what is right for them. I never intend to suggest anything other than the right to informed consent.

    On this blog I aid in the process of informed consent by offering ideas about alternatives. I don’t expect anyone to listen unless they feel drawn to.

  8. I don’t think things are black and white here, a little medication/drugs isn’t evil. As long as you have the power to decide what you want to do.

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