[Neurofeedback] should be more available: Doctor

1337838165672_ORIGINALThis article originally appeared in TheWhig.com and features NeurOptimal® trainer Dr. Janet McCulloch superb work with veterans suffering from PTSD.

KINGSTON – Advocates of a new way of treating post traumatic stress disorder are calling for it to be made available to veterans across Canada. Called neurofeedback, the treatment has proven successful with a small group of patients at the Kingston Institute of Psychotherapy and Neurofeedback.

In the past three years, Dr. Janet McCulloch, a psychiatrist at the institute, has treated close to 50 people.

As part of a pilot program, Veterans Affairs Canada funded some veterans to have neurofeedback systems – computer and software – in their homes.

Veterans in Kingston have had good access to neurofeedback treatment. The Kingston Institute of Psychotherapy and Neurofeedback is the largest such clinic in North America and is marking its first anniversary with an open house on Friday and Saturday.

But now word about neurofeedback treatment is starting to spread.

“Now they are starting to come from Trenton, and Belleville and Brockville,” McCulloch said. The result is a steadily increasing demand on the institute, demand it is struggling to keep up with. While the treatment has helped many veterans in Kingston, McCulloch said it would be of most value is at military bases across the country. “Where they need it is Petawawa and Borden,” she said.

A patient undergoing neurofeedback attaches electrodes to their ears and scalp. The patient listens to music through headphones as a computer program reads the patient’s brainwaves, displaying them on a graph on the screen. When the patient’s brain shows energy associated with PTSD symptoms, static noise is added to the music being played on the headphones. To clear the static, the patient almost automatically changes his or her thoughts, pushing out the bad brainwaves and replacing them with less-destructive thoughts. Patients, Francis included, often sleep through their treatment sessions, which last up to an hour.

Patients liken neurofeedback to the rumble strips along the edge of the highway. Motorists who hear the buzzing and feel the vibration as they hit the strips almost instinctively correct their driving. The computer and software system veterans can use in their homes costs about $5,600. Sessions at the clinic cost between $28 and $60 each depending on the type of treatment. Neurofeedback is not covered by OHIP. But having access to the system at home is ne thing that makes neurofeedback so effective is that patients with access to it in their homes can treat themselves whenever they want to. “I’m a people person. I don’t like to take the person out of the treatment but I am a realist,” McCulloch said. “The system we have here is simple, safe and effective.”

Andrew Godin’s almost 20-year career as a combat engineer included missions to Cyprus, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Macedonia, Kosovo and humanitarian operations in Canada and abroad. By the end of his career he was a warrant officer in charge of 15 military personnel and 30 civilians. All that changed in 2003 when he was diagnosed with PTSD. “I went from that to sitting in the IT department counting pencils,” he said. Godin left the military in 2006.

He admitted he was skeptical of the treatment when he started a year ago. He likened it to something out of science fiction but after reading up on it he gave it a try. “It’s life changing. It’s life changing,” he said. Godin too is joining the call for veterans to have wider access to the treatment. “If we have proof and if we have information stating that this particular treatment helps with PTSD and depression, then why isn’t it available on the front line, at base hospitals,” he said.

Like Godin, many of the veterans being treated at the institute served in Canadian missions in the 1990s, such as the former Yugoslavia. Veterans of the Afghanistan mission are only recently starting to show up for treatment, he said. “We’re not even waist deep in to that,” he said. “Five or 10 years down the road, it’s going to be a big problem again.” Godin and other veterans are to speak at the institute’s open house to provide a first-hand account of how effective neurofeedback can be as a tool to treat PTSD.

“Am I out of the woods? Yeah, for the time being,” he said. “It doesn’t take much to slide back into old habits. The trick now is being mindful enough to realize when you are about to slide.”

The original article can be viewed HERE.

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