Domino Effect: FDA Barriers To Neurofeedback Falling?Alex Theoret
You know how these things work. Like dominoes, first one approval and then the next, and the next. We discover trust. Hans Berger began using the EEG (electroencephalogram) on people way back in 1924. Before women bobbed their hair and kissed on the first date. Berger wanted to take “pictures” of psychic phenomena. What did he see? Not ghosts.
Hooked up to humans (it had only been used on animals before) the EEG recorded what happened in people’s brains. It drew the patterns the mind makes when it thinks.
Berger saw people concentrating. People being distracted. People remembering and forgetting. People with injuries and illnesses whose brains wrote maps of their injuries and illnesses.
The EEG was originally poo-pooed. No one sanctioned it. It was a party-game: here, have a G&T or six and let’s hook you up! Think of something racy! Then everyone did the Charleston until they collapsed.
It took more than ten years for people to understand what they were seeing. Ten years. The EEG gathered momentum, getting picked up in one state, then another, at hospitals, in clinics, getting approval after approval. The dominoes fell. We began to trust.
Now, the EEG is as common as apples. It’s as basic a diagnostic tool as the stethescope. It’s a basic technology in neurofeedback, too. EEGs show that thoughts, deliberate thoughts, can shift brain activity. You can see it, the lines on the EEG changing when people are asked questions, when they’re asked to imagine or focus or relax. They show how people can change the way they think when they see themselves thinking.
In June last year, the FDA approved the EEG for confirming diagnoses of ADHD in children and young adults. It said: this tool can show us what kind of brainstorm ADHD creates. It’ll write it out for us, put it on the map. We know that if we can see it, it’s for real. If we know it’s real, we can sort out the noise with practices that we know already do this, like neurofeedback.
The FDA had already approved neurofeedback training for stress management, to help control chaotic thoughts, help people relax, help them meditate. To smooth out those pitchy waves. It already approves the equipment, like it does the EEG or any other medical device you’d encounter at the doctor’s or in a hospital.
In fact, after Dutch scientists published the results of European investigations of the efficacy of using neurofeedback for ADHD, the National Institute of Mental Health and the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry set up their own tests. The early results are in and they say what you’d expect: they find cause for hope and energy for bigger, better clinical trials.
But already the signs point us to what’s right now on the horizon. Many have concluded from recent American Pediatrics Academy survey that brain training with neurofeedback may be as effective as Ritalin. Blue Cross/Blue Shield in Michigan is covering it as an alternative treatment for ADHD in children. Dominos are falling.
Think about the history of the EEG. It started with an eccentric who hooked up his first subject expecting to see tossing tables or chandeliers moving.
Berger taught us instead that we can see our minds at work. That our brains are so powerful, they know can provide US guidance for optimal cognitive performance. If we pay attention to the EEG. His peers sensed what he might be looking at, so they tested it, retested it, and came to see how it worked. They discovered trust. Even if he wasn’t sure what he would find, in using EEGs to see human brains, Berger saw the future. And so can we. Is FDA approval for expanded use of neurofeedback as an option for ADHD and other problems of the human mind imminent? If the acceptance of EEG is any guide, we won’t need a crystal ball to predict that one.