Neurofeedback Training for Depression

The most prominent use of Neurofeedback & biofeedback in the United States is for anxiety disorders and stress management. For these conditions, relaxation training and peripheral EMG-biofeedback modalities are very helpful. Unfortunately, these techniques do not generally address the far more common depressive conditions, such as primary unipolar depression, reactive depression, seasonal affective disorder, bipolar disorder, and PMS. Often, anxiety is seen in the context of depression, in which case the conventional relaxation techniques only address the anxiety condition, and may not alleviate the underlying depression. This is where traditional biofeedback falls short and neurofeedback becomes the modality of choice.

Neurofeedback offers a new modality for addressing depressive conditions as well as anxiety. This appears to be the case because brainwave training impacts on the basic mechanism by which the brain controls physiological arousal. In this manner, normal regulation of arousal may be restored, which means that sleep may normalize in the depressed person, and normal range of affect may return. In other words, when someone is depressed, they have a dominance of slower moving brainwaves. The medical model may prescribe anti-depressants or stimulants. This will speed the brainwave up temporarily until the medication is metabolized in the body and the old brainwave pattern dominates once again. Other benefits of the training may be increased attention span and an overall clarity. If the person is experiencing chronic pain, which may be either a cause of depression, or its effect, such pain may diminish as well.

Neurofeedback training appears to be effective regardless of the pathway by which the person has become depressed, whether this results from a genetic pre-disposition, early childhood trauma, or a subsequent traumatic (physical or emotional) experience, or simply a physiological change of unknown causation. As the training proceeds, the client may find that anti-depressant or stimulant medication will no longer be needed. Hence, the person should be under continuing medical care for his symptoms, so that the medication dose may be monitored. It is generally observed that the requirement for anti-depressant medication will be reduced or eliminated entirely as the training proceeds.

It is true of all remedies for depression that they are accompanied commonly by the recall of prior traumatic memories, which may have been totally suppressed over the years. It is therefore important that counseling be available in the event of such traumatic recall, and for other profound emotional changes which can be elicited by the training.

The training has also been found to be helpful in cases of depression caused by specific traumatic events, such as rape, and by other insults to the brain such as chemotherapy, or general anesthesia in the elderly. Neurofeedback training is also indicated for those clients who do not respond favorably to medical management, and for those who are counseled to avoid certain medications by their provider. This category includes in particular pregnant women.

There is evidence that once a person experiences a depressive episode, subsequent episodes are more likely. Hence, training the brain to alleviate depression may have the beneficial effect of making subsequent recurrences less likely. The training also appears to be effective for a variety of conditions which are seen together with depression, such as alcohol dependence and violent behavior.

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