Thursday, June 30, 2011

Neurofeedback vs. Medication

I've only personally had one experience with medication. Years ago when Kyd was completely out of control and I was having a lot of anxiety and what felt like panic attacks and my GP prescribed Zoloft. I hated it. It helped with the anxiety but made me incredibly irritable and sleepy. I was either sleeping or having a fit. I went off it a couple months later, cold turkey. 

But I've known enough people who've gone through the medication process to compare neurofeedback with medication. I thought others might find this helpful if they want to consider neurofeedback as an alternative or supplement.

Neurofeedback, like medications, requires finding the right balance for each patient. This leads to a frustrating period of time in the beginning where various things are tried but don't help enough, or make things worse. The difference with neurofeedback is that results are instantaneous and can be reported to the clinician during treatment, immediately following treatment, and over the days between treatments. This allows for much faster adjustments. 

Neurofeedback has few side effects aside from whatever effects may result from a balance that isn't quite right -- for example a session might leave you feeling more depressed than when you went in, or more manic, or irritable, etc. Once balance is found, there are virtually no side effects aside from some people experiencing a headache right after. I've had this happen a couple of times and the headache was mild and lasted only an hour or two.

Medications change brain chemistry while neurofeedback works from the outside in by working with brainwaves, which are really the output of brain activity. In order for the brain to change brainwaves, it must change activity, and to do that the brain must change brain chemistry. Medications focus on one brain chemical at a time, one set of neurotransmitters, and this can result in throwing other chemicals and activity off balance resulting in new medications needed to correct the new imbalances. Neurofeedback allows the brain to make systemic corrections. 

Medication changes brain chemistry only when present, thereby making the patient "dependent" on medication in order to feel better. Neurofeedback trains the brain over time to function differently and better. Typical training lasts 30-40 sessions and most patients experience sustained and long lasting change that only requires "maintenance" sessions once or twice a year after.

P.S. As always, this is not meant to be a judgment of those who choose the medication route, or for whom medication is the only option.


  1. Thanks for letting me know about this. My son made a big mistake and went off an anti depressant he has been on for 3 years cold turkey. I could not believe the vicious withdrawals. One would expect that from opiates, but not a prescription med. He is on another psych med, and stopping it is supposed to be even worse. Like you say, the brain apparently gets used to the drugs "doing the work" and it cannot immediately start regulating. Actually, it can take weeks and months. He has been diagnosed schizo affective and bi polar. I'm skeptical, and even he says he feels like it's just severe anxiety. His doctor won't even talk about getting off the meds. But as my son gets further along in recovery from heroin addiction, he is starting to admit these drugs may have been "mental crutches" to him. Also he was drug seeking back then, so who knows what he was telling the shrinks!

    I suggested cognitive behavioral therapy to him. I hear that is very effective. I'll ask him to look into neurofeedback also. I can't make him to do anything of course, only pass along info. I love the idea of systemic corrections:)

  2. You're welcome. I also recently read this two part article on mental illness and medication You might find it interesting.

    My son was never diagnosed with a mental illness. We were volleyed back and forth between professionals. The addiction specialists kept saying he he was displaying psychotic/mental/emotional issues and should be seen by someone who handled that. The mental health professionals would say if he had any problems, they were being confused by alcohol and drug use and he should seek addiction treatment. Back and forth it went like this for years. He got involved with AA but dropped it after a year, he saw other mental health professionals but dropped that too.

    Right now he is reasonably stable and sober (as far as I can tell) but still has intermittent problems. I make suggestions, but can't control any of it. I like to think, though, that he's being offered tools for his toolbox and when he's ready he'll know what's available should he choose to seek help. In the meantime, I enjoy this period of relative stability.

  3. Yup, that's our story too. Back and forth, back and forth, drop it, back and forth, drop it.

    I do agree he has learned a little something from each encounter with therapists, NA, meds, etc. Its a process for sure. I'll check out the article.

    Glad you have this period of stability. I hear you on that also!