High Tech Treatment for Anxiety

For the 40,000,000 Americans who are living with an anxiety disorder, a new high tech treatment offers an unconventional pathway to improved mental health. Featured on a recent episode of The Doctors, direct or high performance neurofeedback (HPN) promises to provide stress relief by resetting a person sympathetic nervous system. But is this cutting edge remedy on the level?

What is High Performance Neurofeedback?

Neurofeedback is a type of biofeedback that utilizes an electroencephalography (EEG) machine. By connecting an EEG machine to a person’s scalp via a series of sensors, a specialist can monitor a person’s brain waves and, over time, aid them in modulating their problematic autonomic responses.  High performance neurofeedback differs from standard neurofeedback in that the EEG’s sensors also send a small electrical current into the brain. Supposedly, this miniscule electrical stimulation resets the sympathetic nervous system all by itself, precluding the need for therapeutic measures.  

What Does High Performance Neurofeedback Treat?

Dr. David Dubin, the neurofeedback specialist who appeared in The Doctors episode, claims that HPN can help with everything from addiction to traumatic brain injury. Although its practitioners insist that high performance neurofeedback treatment takes several months to take effect, each session lasts less than a minute. Typical post treatment side effects include wooziness and fatigue. Tellingly, Dubin’s site, as well as those maintained by his contemporaries, don’t explain exactly how NPH “push[es] the re-start button on your brain, returning it to its original, healthy state.”

Does It Work?

Currently, there is no definitive proof that high performance neurofeedback lives up to its proponents more fantastic claims. Regular neurofeedback has been found to improve neuroplasticity and the Mayo Clinic reports that it can “theoretically” be used as an alternative treatment for ADHD. Beyond that, things get a little murky. As neurofeedback requires its patients to interrogate and work through their unwanted involuntary reactions, it is not considerably different from cognitive behavioral or talk therapy. As such, it’s a treatment that’s success is heavily dependent on a patient’s commitment to the process. Additionally, two different feasibility studies on the efficacy of neurofeedback suggest that its positive outcomes can be attributed to the placebo effect.

Whatever Works

Until extensive clinical trials are performed, high performance neurofeedback should not be taken seriously as a viable treatment for any mental disorder. However, that doesn’t mean that those seeking relief from their anxiety problems shouldn’t give neurofeedback a shot. The act of acknowledging a mental health problem is the first and most important step on the path to a meaningful recovery. If simple methods of stress reduction like increased exercise, diet modification or taking up a hobby don’t make a dent in your anxiety level, trying something new and relatively side effect-free may be an alternative idea. At $150 to $275 per session, HPN is not much more expensive than a private session with a psychiatrist and it is covered by some health plans. If you try high performance neurofeedback once and it doesn’t work for you, that information will help a qualified clinician determine a course of treatment that best suits your needs. When it comes to improving your mental health, whatever works is the best solution.