Neurofeedback for Depression

If you’ve looked at the page on anxiety, you’ll have seen that we are careful to say there that anxiety is a serious psychological issue, and we are not medical doctors, trained to diagnose it or to offer a treatment. The same is true for depression—if you are suffering from depression, we hope you have found a psychiatrist you feel comfortable with, who is able to help you figure out whether there is a medication that will be effective for you, and also can teach you skills to minimize the impact of your depression.

However—that said, there may be a place for neurofeedback in helping you find your way back from depression. One way of understanding neurofeedback is to think of it as releasing the brain from repeating patterns that may be associated with bothersome symptoms like insomnia, hyperactivity, problems with attention/concentration, and also depression or anxiety. If you are living with depression, you certainly understand the experience of wanting to feel different, but not being able to break free of the horrible pattern that has you in its grip.

But unless you have felt this way your entire life, with no experience at all of feeling joy…or even simple freedom from misery…your brain does know another way of being, and may need the nudges neurofeedback can provide to help it find its way out of the depressed pattern.

Two of our colleagues, psychiatrists Linda Beckett and Janet McCulloch of the Kingston (Ontario) Institute for Psychotherapy and Neurofeedback, have been gathering data on hundreds of patients they see for depression. Here are the results they have gathered on severely depressed patients:


A few things to notice about the graph:

  1. All of these patients began with severe depression (scores above 29), and they averaged well above the “Severe” threshold.
  2. Assessments were done before neurofeedback, after 8 sessions, and after 16 sessions. After 8, they have dropped out of the Severe category, but improvement continues (though not at the same rate) over the next 8 sessions as well.
  3. You might wonder how much of this improvement is due to neuroeedback, and how much to their medications and psychotherapy. The answer: none of these patients are on medication or receiving psychotherapy. Drs. Beckett and McCulloch are so pleased with the positive results from neurofeedback that in most cases (including all the cases included on this graph), they use it as a stand-alone intervention.

This is not to suggest that you should try neurofeedback instead of talking with a psychiatrist, or that you should decide to stop taking your medications. Absolutely not. But if this approach sounds interesting to you, give us a call to see whether you might like to add it to what you are currently doing, to see whether you will find it helpful.

Meet two of our depression clients

Brian is a high school senior, who has had episodes of severe depression since he was in sixth grade. He was referred to us by his clinical psychologist, who thought neurofeedback might be helpful. During his first assessment with us, he reported thinking about suicide several times a day; after just five sessions, he was only having those thoughts about once a week. At that point, he began stretching his sessions out to every second—and then every third—week. He knows he should call us immediately if he feels the depression returning, but for now—three months after first coming to us—he is free of symptoms.

Cindy is a 60-year-old registered nurse who has struggled with depression and an eating disorder for most of her adult life. She was referred to us by her eating disorders clinic, whose staff were considering purchasing neurofeedback equipment and wanted to see what effect it might have on a few of their clients.

CIndy did eight sessions with us, and has continued with her eating disorders therapist, who did add neurofeedback to her practice. Cindy’s depression scores began dropping quickly, but perhaps more significant was this comment, from her fourth session: “My therapist has been teaching me skills for years—ways to talk with myself when I feel depressed or obsessed with food—but I’ve found it really hard to put them into practice. Suddenly it’s easy—I naturally think those thoughts…and I’m able to change!”

If you or someone you know is experiencing depression and are looking for solutions, neurofeedback with NeurOptimal may be right for you.

Give us a call at 216.410.6335 or contact us for a free consultation.