Newman was brought to my office because he needed new waves. His mother did not realize this; she just said “Newman is a mess.” Newman was a twelve-year-old male who was in the seventh grade. His mother described him as having “difficulties since day one.” He had been tested by two different psychologists and both said he was above average in intelligence, but there was a high variability in his performance. The reports indicated that he was sullen and defiant. Other symptoms included inattention, hyperactivity, and poor school performance, mild depression with episodic anxiety, irritability, low self-esteem, and tic behaviors.

Newman could have been diagnosed with several disorders, but I agreed with the other psychologists that he was primarily ADHD with a cluster of other symptoms. I suggested that we treat Newman with neurofeedback. His mother immediately agreed because she had heard of this treatment for children with attentional and behavioral problems.

Neurofeedback is a sophisticated form of biofeedback that trains the brain to become balanced and flexible. The training procedure is simple. Small sensors are placed on the scalp to listen to the subtle electrical impulses or brainwaves. These brainwaves are amplified and run through modified EEG machines. The signals are given back to the patient in the form of a computer game. As the person plays the game, the brain is trained to make the appropriate brainwaves for the task at hand. The better the brain works, the higher the patient scores on the games. Unlike commercial video games that drive the brain deeper into a dysregulated state, EEG brainwave games teach the brain to be healthy and flexible. As the brainwaves become closer to what some professionals call “the original factory setting,” the person’s behaviors change for the better.

Newman wanted no part in seeing another psychologist, but he was not resistant to playing a computer game. When I explained that he would play the game without a touchpad or joy stick and that he must play the game with his brain, he was somewhat skeptical. With his permission, we were soon underway. I hooked Newman up to the EEG machine, and he began to play. It was exciting at first, but as was typical for Newman, he quickly became bored. With a lot of encouragement, he continued the treatment for several weeks. It was after about twelve sessions that we began to see his behavior change.

On the thirteenth session, this usually sullen young man came in with a smile on his face and without saying a word he handed me a school paper with a big A marked in red. Newman had made his first A on a math test. It was not until these point that he realized that we really were changing his brainwaves to be more awake and flexible. It took about forty sessions for Newman’s treatment to be completed. Newman’s mother was excited and pleased with his progress, most of his symptoms were gone, and he was much easier to get along with. Interestingly, his tics of lip licking and hair flicking began to modify before his attention improved.

Neurofeedback is not a magic cure for disorders like ADHD, autism, and behavioral problems, but with a little time and effort, the treatment can change the brainwave patterns which, in turn, can make dramatic differences in behavior.

Author's Bio: 

Robert W Hill, PhD, co-author with Eduardo Castro, M.D. of Healing Young Brains (Hampton Roads Publishing, spring 2009) founded the Oaks Psychological Services in Abingdon, Virginia. He specializes in health psychology and behavioral medicine.