Today's Washington Post has done a major article on neurofeedback. It opens,
Gulf War veteran Lynn Gibbons has awful memories of combat with her fourth-grade son, Brent. "He was an out-of-control monster whenever you asked him to do something," the former Air Force computer operations officer recalls. Brent, who had received a diagnosis of attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, was also flailing in his classes at Saratoga Elementary School in Springfield -- unable, says his mom, to write a coherent paragraph. That was seven years ago. Today Brent is taking advanced-placement high school courses, maintaining a 3.5 grade-point average, playing guitar in a band and -- drum roll -- helping with chores. Says Gibbons: "I am no longer afraid that jail time will be in his future." What made the difference, she's convinced, is a high-tech intervention called neurofeedback, also known as EEG biofeedback.This is the kind of coverage that has been presented in scores of articles over the years. The reason THIS article is different is explained as the writer, Katherine Ellison, explains,
Proponents claim neurofeedback can help alleviate a broad range of problems, including not only ADHD but anxiety, depression, autism and brain injuries. Yet the costly, time-consuming therapy has long been dogged by skeptics who call it a placebo at best, a rip-off at worst. Both sides may soon get more clarity. The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) is sponsoring the first government-funded, peer-reviewed study to put heady claims such as Gibbons's to the test, investigating whether the offbeat therapy makes sense for some of the millions of American children and adults coping with ADHD and similar disorders. Disclosure: Based on my own experience, I share Gibbons's enthusiasm. My son and I have both been given diagnoses of ADHD, and I believe that our simultaneous neurofeedback sessions last year helped us survive his middle school.The article reports that the director of the study, psychiatrist L. Eugene Arnold, of Ohio State University, attributes the funding of the study to "new interest" by CHADD. Arnold study should be published next summer. It will have 36 subjects-- aged six through twelve-- randomly assigned to real or sham feedback. Seventeen subjects have been through the study so far and Arnold says some positive results are being reported, but, because the study is double blind, they can't tell what this means yet. The article, which cites neurofeedback pioneer Joel Lubar, reports of one couple who found neurofeedback helping their two sons, but the cost was too high. So they purchased a home trainer neurofeedback unit-- a Brainmaster. Unfortunately, the cost of consultations was still too high and the time it took to get their sons to sit down and be hooked up was "such a hassle" that they dropped the effort. (Would HEG, with its faster hookup have made a difference?) The article is overall, positive, for a minstream media piece on neurofeedback. The challenge that is faced by the study is an old, well known one, by biofeedback researchers. When biofeedback is so intimately involved in the process and experience, how can an effective intervention be designed that is really double blind. This assumes that only the equipment-- the hardware and software are the key elements in the equation-- that the practitioner plays no role. Many believe that neurofeedback is a coaching process, that the human factor-- the part removed with double blind protocols-- is a key element in effective neurofeedback, is, one might say, the heart of it. If this double blind NIMH study works, it will be in spite of gutting the procedure. If it fails, it will not be proof that neurofeedback does not work. It will be proof that a mechanistic, dehumanized version of it did not work.