EEG Biofeedback’s Treatment of Depressive Disorders
Health care professionals have used the treatment modalities of biofeedback since 1969 to treat a variety of human maladies. While some of the procedures proved to be effective, others provided a more subtle, yet still powerful change in the body as the brain wave modulations were altered. Some of the changes included blood pressure, vasodilation, heart rate, pain elimination, and muscular rehabilitation. Researchers were also able to demonstrate the strong efficacy of treatment for anxiety disorders such as panic attacks, and medical disorders, including Raynaud’s, migraines, and incontinence. One area of biofeedback therapy that has proven to be a disappointment has been the treatment of depression.
In a 1995 edited text called “Brain Asymmetry” by Richard J. Davidson, the author discussed a research review titled “Cerebral Asymmetry, Emotion, and Affective Style.” In his review, Mr. Davidson traced a stream of research, after which he concludes that during Alpha Wave activity, the right brain hemisphere frontal lobe exhibits activity in direct correlation with specific emotional and physical functions within the body. Some of the changes included mood, avoidance behavior, separation anxiety, approach performance, and immune disorders. One problem with the study is that this research does not address the enhancement of intentional right lobe frontal Alpha Wave changes on function, emotional experiences, and life style. However, from an empirical viewpoint, this review presents the implications and possibilities that EEG training may be able to shift the depressed individual’s mood into a more positive direction.
Humans have written about treating the symptoms of depression in humankind for as far back as written history has been included in medical studies, so finding a solution to an age-old problem can be thought of as essential to the health of the population. Although there are no reports to support or deny the effectiveness of EEG biofeedback as a treatment in depressive disorders, there are many strong anecdotal cases suggest the possibility is real. Preliminary indications find that depressed patients can learn to consciously shift and enhance their right frontal region alpha amplitudes. Additionally, the depressed mood the patient displayed is replaced with a more optimistic thought and clearer emotional process. Once a patient becomes skilled in the alpha shift, he or she may report significant elevation in mood in just a single session.
Evidence suggests that with a separate 40-minute session of EEG skill building, the patient can alter his or her mood disturbance. However, it should be noted that up to seven sessions are needed per week to produce the best results. Using the same procedures less frequently can cause a rebound depressive experience while the patient is still learning how to utilize the alpha shifting skill. Studies show that neurofeedback programs produce mood elevation effects that last between 24 and 72 hours, so repeating the process that often will reinforce the concept before a rebound occurs. Also, preliminary reports show that 30-40 therapy sessions may be needed before the patient has developed a normalizing process. As the patient creates the ability to recognize threatening situations and control the mood elevation with enhanced skills, he or she will also be more apt to engage in home practice to maintain the effect outside the therapist’s office.
Therapy is about positive reinforcement and uses a tone to let the patient know when he or she has moved the brain wave in the desired direction. At first, a 1 microvolt shift in the right hemisphere alpha amplitude is rewarded, but as the patient builds his or her ability, the movement must become larger in order to obtain a positive reinforcement sound. Thus, the patient learns to alter the brain wave more quickly in the required direction.
Biofeedback is still being studied, and controlled research is being done to confirm the value of the procedure in the effective use of shifting alpha brain waves to control depression. Time will prove the valuable answers as to whether biofeedback helps in controlling depressive mood disorder.