Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Neurofeedback

I've been off antidepressants for two months now, and off my initial dose for 7 months. I have also been under some stress lately with stupid health issues (an endless cold, weird back pain, etc etc) and a visit from my (very lovely) grandpa. So maybe it is no wonder that I am starting to question if some of the original symptoms are coming back. I've had a great many more panic attacks recently than I can remember having in the previous year, and my response to the smallest stresses (grandpa's visit, sister's wedding, hanging artwork for a show) is to freak out. Even things as simple as having to make dinner or feeling really tired make me anxious. Husband says I don't seem any different, so hopefully this is a case of me making an elephant out of a mouse. Nevertheless, I have decided to try out the neurofeedback suggested to me by an acupuncturist.

I tried to understand this procedure best I could. I watched the (extremely cheesy) video that the acupuncturist gave me. I also read the book "Symphony in the Brain" by Jim Robbins, a journalist who writes on popular science issues, and who is a great fan of the treatment. The book was sensationalist and only mildly informative. It conveyed a sense of a budding scientific discovery gone to waste by the drama and discord among the practitioners.

Here is what I have gathered about this procedure. Our brain's activity produces electrical activity of different frequencies. These can be measured with an EEG and are grouped into types (delta, theta, alpha, beta and gamma), each associated with a several normal (and abnormal) functions. For example, delta frequencies are measured during certain parts of our sleep, alpha when we are relaxed, beta when we anxious. These are generalities of course. So two things are the basis of neurofeedback:

1) Pathologies (depression, ADD, epilepsy, coma, etc) show a deviation of EEG activity from the norm.
2) Brains can be trained to alter their EEG activity.

Both of these statements are technically true. The leap that has not been tested too well in a scientific setting is that training your brain (such as with neurofeedback) can cure the pathology. There are certainly many clinical studies that show this to be the case (from neurofeedback professionals), but even these professionals don't seem to agree on the best protocols. Each practitioner seems to follow their own methodology, deciding which EEG activity to stimulate or suppress, and they don't all agree.

The woman I'll be seeing is following the methods of Siegfried and Susan Othmer (of EEG Info, previous owners of EEG Spectrum, now a completely separate neurofeedback group). I believe they work by messing around with alpha waves, but maybe that is too simplistic. I hope to get a better understanding of what she'll be doing during my first appointment with her (on Monday) and by reading a textbook I have ordered that teaches neurofeedback to practitioners. Hopefully they won't mess up my brain too much!

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