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The New York Times Discusses Heightened Public Attention And Mainstream Research In Neurofeedback

a patient involved in a biofeedback sessionThe New York Times recently featured a balanced overview of neurofeedback, also known as “EEG-biofeedback,” with emphasis on treatment of pediatric disorders. A fairly accurate description of the treatment process is provided, including cost, time, and what to expect at a typical session, although one wonders where they came with the notion the neurofeedback involves a “viscous goop that takes days to wash out of your hair.” The article also calls attention to current debates in the field of neurofeedback.

Cynthia Kerson, executive director of the International Society for Neurofeedback and Research (ISNR), and Robert Coben, a neuropsychologist in Massapequa Park, N.Y., provide brief, but expert commentary on neurofeedback. Cynthia Kerson cautioned about the misuse of neurofeedback and its potential consequences, adding that consumers should avoid the urge to purchase equipment on websites like Ebay. Dr. Coben, widely known in the field for his excellent work with pediatric Autism, discusses a case study of a child with pervasive developmental disorder who experienced significantly improved symptoms following extended neurofeedback sessions.

New York Times writer, Katherine Ellison, notes that some skeptics, such as Russell A. Barkley, a professor of psychiatry at the Medical University of South Carolina, have “warmed-up” to neurofeedback in light of recent positive research findings, while others like William E. Pelham Jr., director of the Center for Children and Families at Florida International University, believe that neurofeedback is akin to “snake oil.” There are no surprises here given the long history of apprehension toward a treatment that has the potential to reshape the delivery of healthcare services. In all fairness, neurofeedback research conducted via the purported “gold standard,” at least to those in the medical field (double blind, randomized controlled studies), was virtually non-existent over the years, although even randomized, controlled studies are on the increase with positive results.

Last, Ms. Ellison mentions SmartBrain Technologies. This company’s technology was at the heart of a heated dispute at the recent 2010 ISNR annual conference in Denver, Colorado. The presentation of initial findings from Ohio State University researchers triggered a long line of open microphone protests from noted experts and researchers in the field along with concerned clinicians that carried out into the hallways for hours after the formal presentation ended. The primary concern generally centered on whether SmartBrain Technologies actually delivers results using its proprietary, yet relatively untested technology, and the potential significant negative impact that may result if the Ohio State study ultimately finds small or no symptom improvements using SmartBrain Technologies.

Quite frankly, it is difficult to understand why Ohio State researchers, and media for that matter, give SmartBrain Technologies this level of attention. The current focus at this critical stage in neurofeedback research should be on industry standard devices and treatment approaches. This does not mean that SmartBrain Technologies should be abandoned or unfairly discredited as it could very well be an excellent approach to treatment, but now is not the time to use experimental equipment in the few funded, randomized placebo controlled studies that are underway.

Reference
Neurofeedback Gains Popularity and Lab Attention by Katherine Ellison.

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2 Responses to The New York Times Discusses Heightened Public Attention And Mainstream Research In Neurofeedback

  1. avatar
    Robert H Reiner, Ph. D. January 23, 2012 at 12:44 PM #

    It should be pointed out the smartbrain also produces video feedback (on a monitor) that is pretty much typical, as an option, instead of the admittedly more radical “Playstation” game condition feedback. Is anybody questioning the validity of this feedback also?

    • avatar
      Christopher Fisher, PhD February 4, 2012 at 6:58 PM #

      Sorry for the slow response. I do not know of a study that compares video rewards versus traditional games or more simple audio/visual rewards. I’ve seen patients do very well with DVD, but also some not. I think finding the reward that maximizes progress is the best approach. I’ve heard theoretical arguments for and against dvd/video feedback. I’ve thought actually thought about this for years, but I think as a field we really do not know what are the most effective rewards. I typically start folks on the most simplest of rewards and work to the more complex ones. That in and of itself is rewarding (earning more entertaining rewards), and I let my patients know early on that they can earn these.

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