Depending on who you talk to, neurofeedback is either a legitimate medical procedure that helps people address things such as anxiety, depression, and attention deficit disorders, or a bunch of expensive nonsense that doesn’t do anything except cost people a lot of money.
It borders on the fringe of alternative medicine because it does use electronic equipment to measure brain activity. Electrodes are applied to the scalp and then brainwave frequencies are measured to find patterns, of whoever’s being examined, that need to be altered. Then what the practitioner does is try to teach the recipient new ways of thinking and processing information to change behaviors with the intention of creating positive results. Some call it using your mind to change your brain.
The arguments for neurofeedback are the number of people who say they or their family members, especially children, have been helped to overcome certain behavioral problems and not only find themselves able to overcome learning disabilities, but able to calm down and learn how to interact better with others. Those who argue against it believe it’s nothing more than a placebo that rips people off.
The problem is that there have been no significant studies based on neurofeedback to either support or dispel whether it’s a valid treatment or not. There have been small independent studies that have produced positive reports, but none of them pass the requirements of a closed study. The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) is about to conduct its first peer-reviewed study to see if it’s a valid procedure or a waste of time.
How exactly does neurofeedback work? It starts off with a questionnaire and an electroencephalograph (EEG) reading. Based on the outcome of the questionnaire, the therapist will place electrodes in certain places on your head after the initial reading and then give you live feedback of things you should try to do to change your brain patterns. They can have you do things such as reciting passages, different kinds of meditation, or even sing a little song.
The entire process can take about 90 minutes, and they usually recommend that people have 20 to 40 sessions. At a minimum of $100 a pop, they can get very expensive very quickly. Some people have tried to purchase their own machines to do the process in their homes, but the machines range from $2000-$3000, and they still need help from a therapist to know where to place electrodes from time to time.
The belief is that if the government study comes back and shows that neurofeedback actually works, it could bring more practitioners into the business and reduced the cost significantly. At that point it might move from the fringe of being alternative medicine into a legitimate medical procedure.