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Johns Hopkins Study - Neurofeedback for Depression

Publication date: 24 April 2013

Johns Hopkins University this week reported a research study of neurofeedback for depression. This proof-of-concept study was small scale but interesting in at least two ways.

Firstly, the neurofeedback was based on functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) - a rather more expensive modality than the more traditional EEG or HEG which I use in my practice. (In neurofeedback, information about brain activity is fed back to the user and you can in principle use any means of measuring brain activity, as long as you can feed it back in something close to real time.)

Secondly, the neurofeedback trainees were given a meaningful task of generating positive images. Then they used the feedback as a means of judging how well they were doing in that task. More typically in neurofeedback you're asked just to influence the graph (or game or sound or whatever), or rather let you brain influence it. There's no task like in the study. In this way, mainstream neurofeedback tends to be about training the brain, rather than training the mind, which I see as something of a disadvantage. It means you go a way having exercised your brain but not having learned a real skill that you can reproduce in the context of your life.

Biofeedback, or peripheral biofeedback (to distinguish it from neurofeedback) is about training the mind. You do learn skills - skills in mind-body self-regulation. You gain insights into the way emotions work, and on the basis of this you can make different choices in the challenging situations you face in your life. In my professional practice I prefer mind-training to brain training (though I do use both).

I should perhaps add that in the UK the Advertising Standards Authority considers it illegitimate for "complementary" health practitioners to claim to treat depression as it is considered a medical condition and apparently there is no evidence that complementary therapy works for medical conditions. So please don't consider this article a claim that I can treat depression.

Here is the link to the published study of neurofeedback for depression.

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