The Effectiveness of Neurofeedback Treatment for Depression
Treatment methods for depression vary from one-on-one talk therapy to antidepressant medication and nerve stimulation. Most individualized treatment plans combine multiple treatment methods to help clients improve their symptoms and reclaim their lives. To that end, most mental health clinics and therapists don’t rely on any given treatment method and will expand their repertoire to offer a wider variety of effective, safe, and proven treatments, such as neurofeedback treatment.
Depression is an unfortunately common mental health condition, acutely affecting as much as 8.4 percent of the general population. No two cases are entirely the same, even through shared risk factors. There are biological, social, and psychological factors at play in a person’s diagnosis of depression, and these individual factors can affect how potent a given treatment might be.
In other words, what works for one person might not always work the same way for another. Treatment methods like medication using SSRIs and older generations of antidepressants can be effective, but can carry side effects, and don’t always work. Therapy is helpful but might not be enough on its own.
Other treatment methods help mental health professionals further improve a client’s symptoms through different means, such as specialized behavioral therapies, magnetic brain stimulation, and vagus nerve stimulation. Neurofeedback treatment is one of these alternative and highly researched treatment methods, relying on a specialized form of behavioral therapy to mitigate depression symptoms and improve mood.
What is Neurofeedback?
Neurofeedback treatment is a simple treatment process on paper. It involves measuring and displaying a person’s brain activity back to them during intensive one-on-one talk therapy. This can help them identify frequencies and wavelengths that are associated with depression and learn to modify them, bit by bit.
A person undergoing treatment will have special sensors attached to their head, measuring their brain activity in real-time. This is painless.
The person will be given different prompts and inputs by a trained professional in the form of auditory or visual stimuli – questions, pictures, videos, and so on. As the session goes on, the client will receive feedback from the program based on how their brain activity is measured – if the program picks up brain waves associated with non-depressive thoughts, they receive positive feedback. If their thoughts are depressive, they will not.
Analyzing Brain Activity
Neurofeedback treatment helps both clients and their therapists monitor and review the client’s brain activity throughout the session and analyze what it means. In essence, neurofeedback is a tool-assisted form of cognitive-behavioral therapy.
The root idea is the very same: by being able to review and identify thought patterns and reactions that are explicitly linked to depression or depressive thoughts, clients are able to monitor, address, and change their thinking patterns, which in turn can affect them both cognitively (in the way they think and approach their life) and behaviorally (by changing how they act).
The brain monitor, the electrodes, and even the visual stimulus do not in any way affect the client’s brain. It’s all about using these tools to learn more about how the brain reacts, singling out frequencies and wavelengths that coincide with depressive thoughts, and learning to approach these reactions in a healthier manner through learned coping skills, thought exercises, affirmations, self-improvement, mental support systems, and more.
How Does Neurofeedback Treatment Affect Depression?
Neurofeedback is a form of biofeedback, which is a well-tested and studied method of helping consumers better manage their health. An example of biofeedback technology at work is the modern FitBit or health-centered smartwatch.
These devices read a customer’s heart rate, oxygen levels, and stress levels in real-time to determine activity levels, caloric expenditure, and heart health. They can warn a user of excessive body heat or even alert health professionals to an impending heart attack.
Neurofeedback treatment uses the same principles to give clients greater awareness of their thought patterns and allow them to monitor their depressive thoughts during a controlled session with a mental health professional.
It’s important to note, however, that neurofeedback isn’t just about identifying depressive thinking. It is also explicitly about identifying and rewarding non-depressive thought patterns.
It can help reinforce the fact that clients are not always thinking depressive thoughts and may be able to reinforce and strengthen their non-depressive, healthier thought patterns in order to manage their mood and daily symptoms. Neurofeedback sessions can also be part of a larger treatment process, designed to evaluate a person’s progress over time through other treatment modalities.
Different Types of Neurofeedback Treatment
There are different types of neurofeedback treatment. Each type is designed to roughly correspond to a different condition, meaning that these neurofeedback types are usually used to treat specific mental health issues.
Surface neurofeedback, for example, is usually used to identify and address sleep issues (insomnia) and ADHD-related brain waves, as well as other forms of anxiety. It is also called frequency or power neurofeedback.
Slow Cortical Potential (SCP) Neurofeedback
Another ADHD-specific neurofeedback treatment is slow cortical potential (SCP) neurofeedback, which identifies brain waves related to ADHD as well as migraine.
Depression-Specific Types of Neurofeedback
Depression-specific types of neurofeedback include low-energy neurofeedback system treatment, as well as low-resolution electromagnetic tomography, which requires more electrodes than most other types of neurofeedback.
On a related note, research labs that specialize in researching human and animal brain activity utilize a type of neurological imaging called functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI).
Can Neurofeedback Cure My Depression?
The potential for neurofeedback treatment to improve depression symptoms is high, but it is not a guaranteed cure for all depressive disorders. Some conditions and mood disorders respond better to therapy than others.
Some clients respond very well to antidepressants and other medication, while others find no improvement after using multiple SSRIs, SNRIs, and tricyclic antidepressants. Between these examples, one might respond well to neurofeedback while the other might not, or it might work well for both, or not at all. It’s important to review these modalities individually and work with a client to try out several different modalities to address depression symptoms.
Seeking Neurofeedback and Other Depression Treatments
If you are worried about your loved one’s mental health or have been struggling with depressive thoughts yourself, it is important to see a mental health professional.
Trying to identify your symptoms online might not be enough and is not always accurate. Always seek out a professional medical opinion before seeking treatment. If you have a therapist, ask them about neurofeedback treatment and its potential in your case. Many mental health clinics and specialized treatment facilities like Amend Treatment offer neurofeedback and other similar modalities for clients with mood disorders like depression.