Neurofeedback is Not For Everyone: The Dangers of Neurology

Eric Coates
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When I decided to go off psych drugs, believing that they were not only far more dangerous than most people thought (the average medicated “schizophrenic” dies 25 years younger than most people) but also that they were depriving me of living a full and functional life (enormous weight gain, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and diabetes, plus the so-called “negative symptoms” that included a lack of emotion, a lack of cognitive function, and a kind of social death one can only attribute to acting like a zombie all the time), I wanted a real psychiatrist who would not only not try to put me on drugs, but who would actively seek to find other solutions to the problems I had had in the past and any that I might have in the future.

Now, bear in mind that I had already safely tapered off all drugs, and that I was living what might be considered a perfectly normal life. In fact, now that I wasn’t impaired by “antipsychotics,” I was starting to live the life that I had left behind eight years before, when I had not yet been diagnosed a schizophrenic because of my “delusions” and hearing voices.

When I decided to find a new psychiatrist, I looked around very carefully — or as carefully as I could, given the limited resources that seemed to be out there for finding a psychiatrist in private practice — so that I could find exactly the kind of person I was looking for: a progressive, non-drug–oriented psychiatrist. I wanted to find a psychiatrist who would not only pursue my own “treatment” goals, but who would be able to protect me from “the mental health system,” if I ever had a problem again. I had read about these sorts of psychiatrists, but actually finding one in my area was a whole different story, and the difficulties of that process became immediately obvious.

Why? Well, for one thing, psychiatrists are getting kind of rare, actually, and a psychiatrist who is still in private practice is even more rare than the ones who work for hospitals or other institutions (like the “community mental health centers”). There seem to be a number of reasons for this.

Reason #1 might be that from Freud right on down to our own times, most psychiatrists have been looked on as frauds (I can’t help but agree) who either didn’t know what they were talking about or who simply weren’t to be trusted because of the fact that they would impose “treatment” on you whether you liked it or not, such as if you were locked up in a state hospital or, in these latter days of “civil outpatient commitment” and “assisted outpatient treatment,” if you were involuntarily involved with a “community mental health center.” Underneath both these problems is that psychiatry displays a grotesque lack of knowledge about what is actually happening in your brain (there is no proof that “mental illness” actually exists, for example) or whether their so-called “treatments” will ever actually work — and they usually don’t, after what what may seem to be an initially good result. Psychiatrists are caught in a bubble, an echo chamber in which the propaganda of the pharmaceutical industry and their paid shills have them all trapped, in which all they hear is what the Big Pharma companies want to tell them, which just about everyone else in the medical professional knows is ineffective if not outright fraudulent. In fact, if you’ve been in med school at any time in the recent past (the last few decades or so) and you’ve said that your intended specialty was psychiatry, you have very likely been looked down upon as being some sort of second-rater for even considering the idea of getting involved with a kind of medical practice that so many people view as being completely non-scientific or even some kind of scam.

Reason #2 that it’s getting harder to find a psychiatrist in private practice and in general (in hospitals and so forth) might be that psychiatrists are among the lowest-paid members of the medical profession, the lowest-paid kinds of doctors that is, which disincentivises people to go into that specific field. So you’re not only not respected as much as other doctors, but you don’t make as much money — not the kind of money that a plastic surgeon makes, for instance, who would be doing all kinds of expensive procedures for which they could then bill you a thousand dollars or more an hour. A psychiatrist doesn’t usually do any procedures. Mostly they just monitor “medications,” and that doesn’t make nearly the same kind of money as, saying, giving someone a facelift would. So the lack of money also keeps people away from going into psychiatry.

So psychiatry isn’t exactly thriving as a medical specialty, and for good reasons. Which made finding a new psychiatrist — and not only a new psychiatrist, but a progressive one — who practiced in my own geographical area very difficult.

The new psychiatrist that I found, not too far away — within a hundred miles or so — was through an internet site that published articles and so forth on psychiatric drugs and psychiatry. It had a list of “caregivers” in different areas of the United States, and after trying my own local phone book and asking around and getting nowhere for a while, I looked at the site and called the nearest person whom it described in a way that sounded vaguely like what I was looking for: a progressive, non-drug-oriented psychiatrist. I will be removing any distinguishing characteristic of this person so that he/she remains anonymous. This psychiatrist also happened to deal with some other things that I was interested in — trauma, for instance, which has been shown to be connected to people who later experience psychosis or “schizophrenia” — and he dealt with some other things that I did know about, like breathing (as a meditator and exercise nut I’ve learned quite a bit about breathing), and he dealt with some other things that I didn’t know about at all, like neurofeedback.

What I realize now is that this psychiatrist, if he had the choice to go back to med school and get a new degree, would probably have become a neurologist or what they are now starting to call a “psychoneurologist.”

If you haven’t yet heard of psychoneurology, I wouldn’t be surprised. It’s a relatively new field, cobbled together out of bits and pieces of both psychiatry and neurology, and it seems that it’s rapidly replacing psychiatry. Neurology itself — the other half of “psychoneurology” — is actually a genuinely scientific field, one that works with the actual physical brain rather than a bunch of guesswork and myths about the physical brain, such as the existence of the purely hypothetical existence of a “mental illness” (which is an explanation of mental disturbance that says it’s a physical illness, such as a “chemical imbalance” or a “genetic susceptibility,” both of which any honest psychiatrist will tell you has no evidence at all to support them). So neurology and psychoneurology are pretty safe from competition — from psychiatry, at least.

I had my first appointment with my new doctor in late March of 2015. All I knew at that point was that I wanted to have a psychiatrist who was definitely my own psychiatrist, just in case I was ever hospitalized again, and I also knew that I wanted to explore something that this psychiatrist (or aspiring psychoneurologist) had suggested — something he called neurofeedback. I pictured neurofeedback as being something like biofeedback, which turned out to be not the same sort of thing at all, as I was to discover. I imagined neurofeedback as being like biofeedback in that it would teach you to read different signals coming from your own body, like your heart rate or your breathing, and how that might help one adjust what one’s mind or one’s body was doing and thus how one felt, but this was an assumption that turned out to be wrong. Completely wrong, in fact. But with the way I was thinking about it, I really didn’t question whether the procedure would be right for me or not. Because that’s what neurofeedback is: an actual procedure, not an exercise in learning how to control your body and your mind.

When I arrived on the day that we were doing neurofeedback, my doctor had obviously evaluated me — and obviously enough, as the author of Hearing Voices, selling thousands of copies and having had even more pirated from the internet, I had been more than enough of a psychotic for him to do the treatment on me, and he hooked me up.

First there was the cap on the head. That was kind of painful, as he dug in some kind of thin sensor that felt almost like a needle up against (and sometimes even dug right into) the skin of my head, before he squirted on some sort of conducting fluid or gel (I believe it was a conductor, anyway: I never thought to ask), all of which gave him the ability to monitor my brainwaves. There were maybe 25 of these sensors, each of which was a fairly painful experience as it dug into my skin. After hooking me up to each sensor he would check a monitor to see if he was getting my brainwaves, and then he would go on to the next one. There were probably a couple dozen different sensors, as I said, all around my cranium, and I imagine I looked rather odd with a cap full of these things on my head.

Then, after he was done with that, he started a movie for me to watch on a large monitor. The way the movie played was rather strange. It was a popular movie that I had seen advertised on TV. You could see all the images the same way as they had been filmed, except for one thing: the colors. It would go from being all black-and-white to suddenly being black-and-red. And then it would suddenly pale out, and it would all be white with a little bit of black here and there, and I believe there were even points at which it would go black-and-yellow. As this was going on, my psychiatrist was adjusting settings on a computer in relation to what my brain was doing in response to what was happening on the screen. It was a strange process, but I simply accepted it as part of what my psychiatrist (my own chosen caregiver, after all) was doing.

What I realize now is that your eyes, whether you realize it or not, are sort of like an open port to the rest of your brain — just like on a computer. Light is energy, and when it enters your eyes it doesn’t just do nothing. The images and the colors and how it all responds to your brain are very powerful stimuli. It’s like having an open port to a computer. You just put the lights in front of someone, monitor what their brain is doing, and you can either wipe out or reinforce whole sections of the brain. This is not an exaggeration. Neurofeedback is extremely powerful — far more powerful than one might think, merely observing it from the outside.

When it was over I just felt kind of rested and peaceful. And when I talked to my doctor a short time later, sitting in his office, he asked me how I was feeling, and when I told him that I was feeling a little tired and very relaxed, he said that I was in for a wonderful experience.

And it was wonderful at first. But what I didn’t know was how it would affect my brain later. Because it did affect my brain later, and it affected it profoundly.

For a while after that first treatment, I just wandered blissfully around my psychiatrist’s neighborhood. I just didn’t feel like jumping into my car for the drive home yet. It was a small, quaint New England town, and there were a couple of shops nearby, so I poked around those for a little while.

One thing I noticed, from the moment that I stepped out of my psychiatrist’s office, was how strangely blank and yet clear my mind was. There was no thought process that I was aware of taking place in my mind. I just wasn’t thinking. I seemed to just be there, just knowing what to do without thinking about any of it at all. The world had a kind of immediacy to it that I’d never experienced before. I was so present in the world that it was like I’d never really seen it that way at any time in the past. And my internal voice — the voice that I talked to myself with — was completely gone. I wasn’t talking to myself in my own head at all.

I just sort of ambled down the street to the stores and looked around. Everything was very immediate, very visceral, and kind of fascinating to look at, and it was all suffused with a calm that I hadn’t ever experienced before except during the most powerful kinds of meditation. I might almost have been stoned, except that I wasn’t feeling stoned. I was just extremely calm and peaceful, and I felt very light. Time seemed to have stopped, and I was just moving along with whatever was in front of me.

Obviously, the neurofeedback was having a pretty powerful effect.

It was when I decided to get back in my car and go home that I started to realize that there might be a problem. For one thing, I couldn’t find my way back out of my psychiatrist’s town. I couldn’t seem to really remember any of the streets, or what was on the other side of a building that I’d driven by just shortly before. It was like the world went as far as my line of vision and then it just stopped. I had no mental awareness at all that there actually was anything on the other side of that building right down the street, no ability to picture the world beyond it. And as I started to drive around, I realized that I couldn’t tell what the street signs meant. I could see the words, but I couldn’t really read them. It just didn’t register in my mind what they said. I could see the words, but I wasn’t realizing what they actually meant. I had to stare at them for a moment before I would finally realize what they were saying. I was living in a kind of world that had no real meaning or logic to it, with no words and only a kind of blank in my mind about it all. I was literally — quite literally — in a world where nothing had any meaning.

So then I tried to find my way back to the local highway that would take me home. It was about a five minutes’ drive away, under normal circumstances. But with nothing in my head — with no thought process that I was really involved with at all, and with no internal voice to guide me — it took me the better part of an hour to get there. I just couldn’t process the idea that I had to, for instance, turn to the right at that road up there ahead. I would just drive by it, completely engaged in this timeless world I was in.

About an hour later, after getting back to the highway, I woke up to what was happening. I was driving, at about eighty miles an hour — far beyond what I usually drive, since I’m an unusually conservative driver — with absolute confidence, staying perfectly in the middle of my lane, and without any real awareness of what I was doing. And with neither any internal voice or any thought process going on inside me at all.

When I had to go to the bathroom, I stopped in a town in which I had actually lived about 25 years earlier. Yet when I saw the streets, I had no real awareness of how they were all laid out — the stores and the buildings and so forth were unrecognizable — and I parked much farther from the main drag, where I had hoped to find a bathroom, than I would have under normal circumstances. I had no idea at all where it would have been intelligent to park. I was that out of touch.

When I did park, I walked toward town and found a bar — having no idea of who I really was, as I drifted along in this timeless, random, meaningless world, and certainly no idea about who the people were around me — and I went into the bathroom. Then I walked back outside, and as I was walking back toward my car, I saw a man crossing the street.

He was a young man, and if I saw him right now I would have to say he was kind of a hipster. I’ve lived in New York City, San Francisco, and Portland, Oregon, before they were all overrun by the young and the rich, so I’ve been around a lot of very hip young people, and if I’m completely honest about it, I’m usually not very interested in them. I went to a very, very arts-oriented college, with aspirations of becoming a writer myself, and one of the things that I noticed at the time was that the people who looked the most like artists were actually the people who were least likely to be doing any art, while the people who spent the least time possible on their appearance, the very same people who looked like they were the most boring and average, were the very ones who were most likely to be working at their art every day, and I decided right then that rather than ever trying to look like an artist, I would simply be an artist, and never attempt to show it on the outside. And one of the results of that is that hip-looking people tend not to interest me very much. I even tend, I’ve noticed, to not like them very often. I’m just not interested either in being all that cool or in people who are all that cool. I want to do art, not just look like I do art. It’s just who I decided to be.

So I looked at this young man, whom on a normal day I would have just automatically judged a little bit (I’m just trying to be honest), and I realized that I had absolutely no judgment of him at all in my mind, which was odd, because he was about as much of a hipster as you could get. Instead of seeing the way he was dressed and the way he carried himself through the filter of my own prejudices, all I saw was a human being crossing the street. I was as detached from what I was seeing as if I were looking at an insect. And then I turned around and looked down the street at all the people passing by on the main drag. The town I was in was a college town, and there were actually a lot of very cool-looking young people walking around, as well as a lot of other people who had different kinds of appearances, and right then I realized that I had not a single judgment in my head about any of it. None. I had no reaction at all. It simply was.

This wasn’t just totally different from the zombie I had been when I was on drugs, and it wasn’t just totally different from who I normally was without them. This was… what?

This sort of non-thinking lasted for several hours, and when it was over I felt quite peaceful.

What I didn’t know is that life — which up to that point had been so safe and so secure and so reliable — all of a sudden started to become entirely different for me. After my normal thought process had returned once I was home, but during the time I still felt surprisingly calm and relaxed, I decided to go back for another treatment the next week. What I couldn’t have known then was that after that next “treatment,” life would be completely destroyed for me. It was as if every mental or neurological defense I had ever had was stripped away, and the whole world — the whole insane, crazy, out-of-control world that I’d been trapped in before, complete with voices that never stopped — came pouring back into my head. Up to that time, I’d been more or less normal. After that, my life was destroyed.

The voices started within a day or two after my second treatment. It happened that that very week, on April 17, 2015, Dr. Eleanor Longden was scheduled to speak in Boston. I had planned to go for a very long time, and I prepared carefully. After almost ten years of being trapped by drugs in a very small town, it was my first time driving into a big city again — Boston, which is notoriously difficult to get around. Yet when I started to drive, the voices became incessant. I can’t recall exactly what they were talking about, but it was all meant to distract me from getting there. When I finally got through the city and found a place to park, I walked the rest of the way and rested on a park bench for a few minutes to have a cigarette. Then I went inside the auditorium, and took a seat halfway down the theater and waited.

It was only when Dr. Longden came out to talk that the voices really started again. It was as though every mental defense I had ever developed against them had suddenly vanished. While she gave her talk and her presentation, I could hear the voices of angels and demons screaming in the background, telling me how wrong she was. I’m not sure that I understand everything that Dr. Longden talks about — how can one really be sure that one does understand what anyone is really talking about? — but what happened to me was that everything she said was subjected to a kind of scathing analysis, the voices screaming that she couldn’t be right about anything she was saying.

I, personally, do not have at all the kind of experience that Dr. Longden describes. I do not have voices that just insult me, or make me feel inadequate or inferior, or that cheer me up when I am feeling down. I have what I would describe as a much more cosmological experience. My voices talk about the way the world works, and when I say “the world,” I mean the entire universe. My voices talk about angels and demons and God, and they talk about how the universe was created. They talk about what my destiny is within that world. They talk about creatures from other dimensions, and from other parts of the universe. They don’t talk about anything that affects my feelings at all. They talk about the cosmology of the universe, the shape of it all. And as she was talking, they were screaming about how wrong she was about it all, that she really had no idea what she was talking about. Personally, what I get from what Dr. Longden talks about, I get the feeling that what she is doing is bringing back to life a sort of pseudo-Freudianism in which the subconscious/conscious/id are at war with each other. I don’t believe in any of that stuff at all, and apparently my voices don’t either. I don’t see any reason that one part of the mind is subconscious at all. Non-conscious, yes, but subconscious, no.

In the time since then — including two and a half years in which I was ragingly psychotic, in which a voice took over my own voice and spoke through me all the time — I came to believe that there is something much more powerful than we are in this universe, and that the different ways that people experience voices are all attuned to who we are as individuals. If you are someone who has had lots of problems in their life — sexual abuse, physical abuse — perhaps God puts you through an experience that will help you understand what you went through and, hopefully, go on to be a happier and more loving person. For others, like myself, voices are meant to teach us something larger about the universe, and that what happened in our own individual lives is not important to the process at all. God — or whatever you want to call it: aliens, spirits, our ancestors, or fairies dancing in the backyard — takes a form that is individual to each of us, according to what we have to learn, and that is all that matters.

With all that behind me now, however, I can tell you one thing: neurofeedback is far, far more powerful than most of us realize. It has the power to open us to outside forces that can more or less change our destinies. During the past three years, I spent seven months in psych hospitals, unable to control the voices raging in my head, and it all began when I decided to go to a new psychiatrist, one who I thought could help me, and what he did instead was unleash a horde of demons and angels in my head. It’s an experience I’ve only started to recover from in the past six months or so, but the life I had before then is gone. Everything is gone. I live someplace different, and the work I do is different. None of the people I knew before this, with a couple rare exceptions, even speak to me any more. It was really that drastic. And it all began with some lights flashing in my eyes. All I can say now is: Be Careful. Neurofeedback is not for everyone.

63 COMMENTS

  1. So sorry, that this happened to you, the mind is noting to F with. Most don’t know what their doing, and clearly, the MD who treated you didn’t, and I am not sure that many would. I didn’t hear anything about a follow up and the MD checking to see if you were ok either, so you were abandoned as well..

  2. Wow! This wasn’t even directly physical–drugs, shocks, or surgical lobotomy. I’m not sure how or why it messed you up Eric, but I believe you. When I took large amounts of Haldol or Stellazine flickering lights drove me bonkers. I would have to lie alone in a dark room till my thoughts cleared.

  3. Markps2, Kitty Dukakis also drank rubbing alcohol during her husband’s bid for president. Not exactly a role model … Actor/writer Carrie Fischer was candid about her last-resort use of ECT to break out of her suicidal depressions in her hilarious and sad memoir, Wishful Drinking. Each ECT treatment series permanantly destroys many months of the client’s memories. Sorry you went through this horrific experience Eric, thank you for sharing it to help people. My brain functionality has been ruined to the point of disability by effects of SSRIs and other psych drugs deluded psychiatrists prescribed. I’m feeling best I have in decades from taking an all-natural Canadian brain/mood support supplement called EMPowerplus Advanced which was formulated by the True Hope company in response to suicide of the founders wife andmental illnesses of his children. His children both healed and I wish the same for me, for you, and all who’ve been harmed by the current psychiatric death industry.

  4. I find this very interesting because I have some experience with neurofeedback both as a patient and as a practitioner. I want to make clear that “brain injury” (as mentioned above) is not an adequate explanation for whatever happened to you. “Brain injury” suggests organic injury and neurofeedback is purely functional in its effects. There is nothing physically impinging on the brain, no magnets, nothing, except the information that is returned to the brain regarding its own behavior, usually through some sort of computer display. It is a form of biofeedback. Also, the article posted above about adverse effects from neurofeedback does not describe anything similar to your experience. Without knowing more about your case it is very difficult to make any kind of evaluation of what happened here. Neurofeedback is an extraordinarily powerful modality that is underutilized relative to potential benefits. Yes, with its great power comes some risk. My fear is that some will take your cautionary article as a blanket condemnation of neurofeedback (as has already happened in this thread).
    Bessel van der Kolk who is an expert in the treatment of childhood trauma said this of neurofeedback’s effects “There’s nothing I know that can do that, When you see something like that, you pay attention. Can my psychoanalysis do that? Can my acceptance and commitment therapy do that? Can my friends who do EMDR or Somatic Experiencing do that? No. Nothing I know of can do THAT. Time to learn new things.”
    Also…
    “Don’t hire just any provider. A neurofeedback practitioner with 1. Five-ten years’ neurofeedback; 2. A certificate from EEGSpectrum.com or EEGInfo.com; and 3. Familiarity with attachment issues, is a good place to start. A good neurofeedback therapist won’t do “one size fits all.” Ask to be sure that they carefully adjust it to each individual and keep re-adjusting.”

  5. I was looking for: a progressive, non-drug–oriented psychiatrist. I wanted to find a psychiatrist who would not only pursue my own “treatment” goals, but who would be able to protect me from “the mental health system,”

    If such a shrink exists he or she is probably already here at MIA. Sounds like you were really looking for a psychoanalyst, not a psychiatrist.

  6. Eric,
    It’s rare these days that I am moved to reply to an article online. My days these full are actually joyfully full of reading and pursuing interests in neuroscience and the arts and working in the field of neurofeedback. I have five years of clinical experience as a technician, and work under supervision . Until my late thirties I was not able to read more than a half page at a time because of challenges I was facing. My overall experience with neurofeedback literally switched life back on for me, so I could connect with all sorts of resources that got me better. I will note that both of the people I worked with were using a microcurrent type of neurofeedback with me as well as PEMF rather than training with a video game, and both of them used tools to screen me for hardiness and sensitivity ( which is incredibly important if you are prone to the states you describe in this article). I most likely would have not responded well to flashing lights at the outset of treatment (that type of treatment was not given to me ), nor did I initially like the application of that QEEG cap you described, though I now see it as a very important tool to find out what is going on with people before they start with any kind of training. There are new sensors being developed that are less scratchy and invasive, but they are expensive.

    Your article here strikes my heartstrings in two different ways. Firstly, I feel like I want to be totally supportive of your experience, I can relate to it, to sensing the massive change that can happen when your brain suddenly functions in a new way. John Elder Robinson talks about this in “Switched On” which is about TMS, a different therapy targeting the left dorsolateral prefrontal cortex that may promote a similarly large change in state. To find new ways to think about and live in a dynamically tuned or dissonant nervous system can be really disruptive. We can change our brains, but there is work to do with memory and how we see our place in our families and communities, when we suddenly are able to have options for our lives rather than living in fear states or in many cases with chronic pain. How do relationships hold up when things are changed? And can we find appropriate support, when we are vulnerable, from the mental health system, from trustworthy people, and in most cases with limited financial resources and privilege? It’s one heck of a tall order, and I think, why so many readers and authors are here at Mad in America, because we want something better and we want to have a conversation about that with people who might get it.

    Comparatively, in mental health, neurofeedback is a small and growing field with lots of promise. Even with my enthusiasm for what I do for work and my hope that we can continue helping people feel better, you account of your personal experience is so tremendously valuable. I want to encourage you though, to not sweep us all with a broad brush and if you are interested, gather information about what else is out there that might better suit your unique needs . Research for neurofeedback has less support from the pharmaceutical lobbies that drive the prescription pad in traditional psychiatry (though even that is changing, and it is very political). I have met so many amazing, caring people in the last 5 years of working in the field, some who have lots of experience, some who have lots of enthusiasm and real life experience but all who want something better for their patients. We’re all human and we are trying to build a bigger body of peer reviewed research without big dollars. Your feedback is part of that work, even when it is hard to read.

    With my best wishes,

    Heather Duke

    • “We can change our brains, but there is work to do with memory and how we see our place in our families and communities, when we suddenly are able to have options for our lives rather than living in fear states or in many cases with chronic pain.”

      It seems here you are implying that the brain change is always beneficial and any treatment failure is down to the patient not doing the work. But in this article it seems pretty apparent that change was overwhelming and disabling. How can one “do work with memory” if the memory is just gone? Also, it sounds like the psychiatristdi didn’t inform about what the changes might be.

      Psychiatrists should never destabilize people. Using euphemisms like “dynamically tuned” or “dissonant” to explain that destabilization just sets off alarm bells for me.

  7. I enjoy your writing, Eric. A few years ago I was umming and ahhing about getting hold of a consumer-grade God helmet. They now sell them as Shiva God helmets. But experience has taught me that meddling with the most sophisticated known organic illusion machine (the brain) generally leads to much hullabaloo.

    Respect to you for experimenting and being openminded.

  8. “I decided right then that rather than ever trying to look like an artist, I would simply be an artist, and never attempt to show it on the outside. And one of the results of that is that hip-looking people tend not to interest me very much. I even tend, I’ve noticed, to not like them very often.”

    I know what you’re saying. I agree with you. There are exceptions, worthy exceptions. Most obvious being Salvador Dali.

  9. Hi Eric,

    It sounds like you had passive neurofeedback as opposed to active neurofeedback. I have heard more adverse effects being reported with passive neurofeedback in which you don’t need to do anything and the machine stimulates your brain in a way the technician sees fit.
    With active neurofeedback I’m not sure how it’s possible to have such adverse affects because in active neurofeedback the screen only displays your own brainwaves to you, it doesn’t actually stimulate your brain in any way. You try to change your brainwaves by relaxed breathing or expanding awareness for example and see the results on the screen.
    I personally would never do passive neurofeedback because of fear of adverse effects but active neurofeedback could be promising.

    Take care

  10. I notice you were troubled by how your thoughts were different Eric. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Maybe you had been undergoing a paradigm shift and suddenly came to realize it while visiting your “hipster” acquaintance.

    I plan on visiting a psychiatrist one last time–to get my stigmatizing “diagnosis” removed. My best bet is seeing one of the doctors who write here. A long trip to California or New England from my home in the midwest looks inevitable.

  11. Thank you for this article, Eric, it’s a great piece of work. I would comment with more opinions on severall points if I had time. I am back working (from hospital) and working out my way of hospital (should be in the next days). Some doctirs and medical personell in my area finally seem to get ‘it’. Cheers mate, take care!

  12. Hey Eric,
    great to see you. I am so sorry you went through such a horrible experience. I can feel into everything you said and imagine what it must have been like to some extent. I know what being that sensitive is like and I’ve had those sorts of radical back and forths with various different things I thought at first were therapeutic.

    And I also I have a radically different experience with neurofeedback (and thus it is with us sensitives…different thing affect us differently at different times and different people too can have radically different experiences.)

    If I hadn’t met the neuropsychologist who is now, many years later, still a good friend, I might not have come off drugs at all!! he was the first professional who treated me as an equal and told me I could come off drugs if I wanted to. Neurofeedback as practiced by him (and there are a lot of different sorts of neurofeedbacks) did nothing radical for me…and in fact did nothing at all really…I was on a massive cocktail of drugs at the time and that’s probably why…in any case…that man became a wonderful ongoing supportive friend over the years as I came off drugs and then started the long journey of healing off of them…he no longer practices and we’re still friends. We’re colleagues even. We’ve loved to share our work with one another. He understands the nature of consciousness and is very sensitive about folks like you and me…he believes everything I tell him about my radical experiences and that’s very unusual.

    When I was coming off the drugs he was the first to name my experience as brain injury. That was not commonly understood when I was coming off…I documented that and now the sorts of injuries we incur are generally understood to be brain injury (among those who know drugs do that, anyway) …

    I’m again sorry that the neurofeedback did that radical yoyo thing with you. A phenomena I know too well…(with other things as I’ve been healing my drug injuries) … the yoyo too seems to heal over time, slowly.

    My very best to you. With love,
    Monica Cassani

    PS: I shared this with my friend as he is still writing and speaking and I know he’ll find it a valuable contribution. Thank you.

  13. Having looked into this myself, and consulted with a well-known psychiatrist who practices it (or was at that time), my strong impression is that this is at best something in its infancy, there are all sorts of varieties (e.g. different frequencies) with the proponents disagreeing with each other and nothing approaching a consenses, there are really no good studies showing its efficacy, and there is strong reason to suspect many of the positive responses are placebo. And there are seemingly countless practitioners, many of whom make outlandish claims including that it’s good for pets. I remain quite skeptical that being passively hooked up to what is essentially a video game can really make lasting changes.

    • There are many studies that show its effectiveness. But the Gold Standard is double-blinding. It’s really hard to do that although I know that giving person sham ‘feedback,’ ie. reinforcing the wrong type of brain waves can screw people up.

  14. I would add that from my study of this topic when I was considering NF, I have my doubts that we are anywhere near knowing what brainwave frequencies are problematic for a given individual, or what frequencies should be reinforced via the supposed “feedback” provided by watching the video game. That many people feel better after a “training” session just screams placebo effect to me, and another thing that really bothers me is the near-universal list of symptoms and problems NF supposedly can help.

    In the course of my research I exchanged emails with a neuroscientist at a major university who was researching this, and his assessment was that it’s nowhere near ready for prime time, as he put it.

  15. Hi Eric, I have no comments on neurofeedback, but am glad for the heads up, as it can be easily confused with “biofeedback” in people’s minds, as you have demonstrated. I’m intrigued with your description of the contrast of Eleanor Longden’s voices with your own. I’m obviously not an expert in these matters but what you wrote reminded me of Dr. Abram Hoffer’s observation that paranoid schizophrenia (which sounds more like Eleanor’s as hers didn’t seem to involve the cosmos, God, angels and demons, etc.) is relatively easy to “fix.” I’m visiting a friend who has been committed to the hospital once again and if she’s ever had a religious or philosphical thought enter her head, she keeps it VERY well hidden. Her delusions seem to quite banal and focused on people she actually knows (her husband’s a fake, people are out to get her, etc.) I’ve always heard that women’s schizophrenia is not generally as severe and women are more likely to recover than men. The content of the delusions may be one of the clues. Thanks for another enjoyable and thought provoking story, and best wishes going forward.

  16. I’ve been using neurofeedback ocassionally for the last couple years since finding a practitioner who got me set up. I was able to buy my own equipment and software for not too terrible an amount and there’s a company that does a measurement that takes about an hour to do and gives training protocols based on reported diagnoses and the measurements that were done — it’s not QEEG, it’s much less expensive and just measures within-brain variances as opposed to versus-population standards. I think the effects on my state of mind are real (beyond placebo) and can last a couple days when I do it but I doubt it will ever be an instant cure by itself.
    I’m not trying to do a commercial here, but I’ll just mention the company is brain-trainer.com.
    I think there’s probably a lot of things that have to be right first in order for neurofeedback training to work — this company for example makes a point that there are nutritional issues that people sometimes need to get solved before seeing results. I’ve also been seeing a nutritionist/psychiatrist/allergist for a couple years (all one doctor) and it’s been eye-opening how many environmental/nutritional factors may play a role in “altered”/”distressed” states. Unfortunately, the treatment one receives in psychiatric crisis (at least in my case (and I’m lucky)) is to get housed for a week or two, get drugged by people who make money by drugging you, get your insurance billed tens of thousands of dollars for less than ideal treatment and be put on your merry way given zero or very little insight into what may be real causes or solutions to the problem (and of course to go home and find that you’ve been stuck on a drug that promises to knock 25 years off your life (maybe low doses aren’t too bad, don’t really know but so far I’m still needing a very low dose)). I want to get back to the topic of neurofeedback, but before I do I want to say that one thing that helped me a lot on an emotional level was realizing and coming to learn that although the treatment is somewhat worse for people in acute psychosis than other conditions in which medical treatment is given, there is no shortage of medical conditions for which the standard of care is mostly driven by maintaining a lucrative status quo at the expense of the patient.

    Getting back to neurofeedback, I took note of Eric’s comment that previous psychological defenses stopped working. It’s something I’ve had happen before with myself and it may again happen in the future. (Before it gets really bad), my own psychotic states or periods of personal psychological distress are to categorize them: intensely semantic, deeply internally argumentative. I’ve never had a period of distress where there was no thought crossing my mind. Anyway, the supposed thing about neurofeedback training, if it works, is that it can be about the brain on some level before thought or words. In my experience, intense thoughts do show up on neurofeedback as high frequencies (maybe 18-26 hz). The purpose of NF should probably not be to brainwash yourself, but to give yourself a little more control and I’ve been advised that it can take a lot of practice. If you hook a Buddhist monk or an experienced NF trainee up to NF, will it show a stronger alpha rhythm (10 hz) and control of moderate frequencies (6-16 hz) and inhibition of higher undesired frequencies? — if so then I guess it’s trainable and if it can be controlled during an NF session then there should also be control eventually outside of an NF session. Does that solve one’s problem – dunno. Want some other ways to stimulate an alpha (or other) rhythm? Try binaural beats. Again, not doing a commercial just sharing things I’ve found useful: binauralbeatsmeditation.com has well-made tracks for like $10. Want to watch a neat video of an alpha rhythm being stimulated throughout a man’s brain (look at 31:00 to get the idea) :

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E63Z37O1UUc
    “Integrating Neurofeedback and Photobiomodulation for Neuropsychiatric Disorders (ISNR 2016)”
    –this is a device you can purchase for personal use if you have the funds

    Sadly, most people with psychiatric problems don’t have ~$5,000 total lying around to try out some of these things that might be useful (and really pose very little risk of harm). Since this site is mostly for people who don’t simply accept a lifetime of drug-maintenance (like me), I feel it’s worth the risk of sharing even if these things aren’t cure-alls and aren’t exactly cheap — if these things do work, a just society would offer these relatively inexpensive things to those who are suffering — that is beyond me, but I’m just offering my own experience.

    Like I mentioned above I’ve been seeing a psychiatrist/nutritionist/allergist who really has devoted much of his life to understanding as best as possible all the factors that may affect “psychiatric” conditions and we’ve worked on a lot of things. It can take a long time to successfully address enough of the many non-drug factors that can impact one’s situation and there are many, but it seems worth it to me to keep trying a lot of things intelligently and with appropriate guidance and eventually I hope it will add up to a solution. Personally, I currently think 10-20 minutes of neurofeedback / HEG training a day on average might be a good investment.

    • Hi Chris, as I sit reading your e-mail I am listening to Koshi wind chimes on Youtube high frequency (432 Hz) music. I also listen to Mozart violin concertos and Gregorian chants, which were specifically recommended by Dr. Alfred Tomatis in his work with learning and language problems. Dr. Tomatis did not specifically address the condition of schizophrenia and bipolar (and one can imagine why). Drawing on Dr. Tomatis’s work as well as Dr. Guy Berard’s, Laurna Tallman modified the method by, amongst other things, blocking the LEFT ear in order to strengthen the right ear stapedius muscle, which she maintains is essential for overcoming conditions like schizophrenia, bipolar, chronic fatigue, and dyslexia. In my case I seem to have kicked a life long nail biting habit. (Never saw that coming.) I did an interview with Laurna on my blog. https://tinyurl.com/y9469nfy What is missing in a lot of what passes for treatment today is “access.” Few people can afford or can afford to travel the places that offer things like neurofeedback or Tomatis. For the price of a good headset and access to downloaded music, people can do the work from home.

      • That is certainly interesting Rossa. I had never heard of Dr. Tomasi. It’s good that there are some things that aren’t prohibitively expensive out there. Even regarding the weird alpha-entraining light therapy device I mentioned above, most of the similar health benefits can probably be had just by spending maybe half an hour in the sun with one’s hat off, it’s just the unique feature of getting the whole brain to enter an alpha rhythm for awhile via pulsed light that that device has (I do have one and have found it useful to me to help me get to sleep without needing quite as much drug for that purpose, but I sincerely doubt it would do anything to stop a manic state for example). I’ve read only a little bit of research papers on neurofeedback and it’s hard to know what’s really legitimate, but a lot of them do seem/allege to identify patterns that show up repeatedly in depressed or “schizophrenic” people. I only know for sure what I feel in my own brain. After dabbling with it (neurofeedback) a couple years now I am able to recognize that yes I can for short some span of time do other things with my brain (when my attention is not totally on some task) besides being stuck in some thought pattern. I wish my brain would just rest at times, but at least now it’s possible for me to just be conscious of different areas of my brain and be aware and control or imagine to some extent how quickly or slowly pockets of neurons are firing and communicating from one part of the brain to another without attaching too much significance to it — just sort of an inventory and gathering oneself of sorts. It’s like a short-lived non-semantic option of being that can break up what would otherwise be some nonstop thought pattern. And also it gives an extra moment to try to get out of some negative thought pattern and decide to do something else or figure out something possibly helpful to do. I’m sure the Buddhist monks are much better at it than I’ll ever be, but I do feel like the neurofeedback has at least given me that so far. Thanks for sharing though Rossa, I’ll make a note to look more into those modalities you mentioned sometime later.

        I used to visit this site a lot like 8 years ago when I first had problems, but haven’t much lately — just saw Eric’s article on neurofeedback and was interested in what he had to say.

    • My family and I have benefitted from neurofeedback. I’ve done home training on my son with seizures. I hung out with practioners a lot in the days when the internet was all text. I have degrees in Psychology and Biology. Light entrainment makes it easier for you to get your brainwaves in a desirable state but it doesn’t really differ in any other way.

      The first session is usually one to normalize sleep. The first time I had my ADHD boys done, they all fell asleep in the car on the way home.

      I once owned a small NF box that a man with schizophrenia developed for his own treatment. Yet, the bulk of NF is done on ADHD, OCD, seizures and depression. I suspect this guy did not know much about the neurophysiology of schizophrenia. The second session, he likely overstimulated your frontal lobes. You should have gone right back and told him, “This was wrong.”

      You know by now that there are no demons and angels talking to you, right? You weren’t permanently injured in any way. I’d look for a new practioner. If one isn’t nearby, give him a chance to make it right. The blessing of having a quiet brain is worth pursuing!

      He needs to do more actual NF and less entrainment. Unfortunately, few companies are paying for this powerful, drug-free alternative. If they were, I’d take my son back in a heartbeat. (We have home trainers but the headsets don’t fit right on him because he’s microcephalic. My therapist cured my OCD that I didn’t even know I had.)

      Let us know if you try it again.

  17. Eric, Ypu received a form of brain driving which many argue is not really neurofeedback at all because it is missing the feedback/learning part. It was terrible what happened to you and it is rare. Personally, however, I avoid these approaches just because they are so powerful and have these risks. Yet I use neurofeedback to quiet brain reactivity which is, too simply put, what “mental illness” is and it helps the vast majority suffering unbearable fear, shame and rage.
    Sebern

  18. Eric:

    I’ve had this image in my head for a while: Current psychiatric “treatments” are like throwing a wrench at a car engine – maybe sometimes by total chance the engine will work better for a while, but then it will fail and probably be a lot worse off. But usually, things will just get worse right away. (I know, it’s a rough analogy and that’s probably why I never shared it before.)

    Anyway, I appreciate you sharing this. I’ll admit, at first, the treatment sounded like fiction, but OMG it is a real thing. And your first treatment – wow – so scary in an ominous truth is stranger than a Twilight Zone episode kind of way. (Does “treatment” warrant quotes here? Not sure.)

    Your article has got me rethinking a lot of things, especially the true nature of being “present” (which is something I’ve been striving for in my own life) and even the spiritual concept of “enlightenment.”

    I appreciate so much that you are open about your experiences. It helps to counteract the times when I, for instance, look at a youtube about depression and the people commenting are usually dead set in their ideas of the goodness and even necessity of psychiatric “medications.” So sick of that, and I hope that things will shift for the better and SOON.