Neurofeedback for Depression: Definiton, Theory, and Research Regarding It.

Neurofeedback for Depression: Definiton, Theory, and Research Regarding It.
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What is Neurofeedback?

Neurofeedback is a therapy, perhaps better defined as a strategy, to change a patient’s unique brain wave patterns for the better once brain mapping and monitoring technology have been used to map those waves. It’s non-invasive, as the monitoring sensors are festooned systematically all over the patients scalp and ears to pick up and chart the characteristics of their brainwaves using Electroencephalogram Biofeedback (EEG).

The term feedback is pivotal, as this strategy counts on learning where the brainwaves need to be altered to alleviate depression so that the patient can be proactive in making those changes themselves during neurofeedback depression sessions. It has been well established that the brain can be changed so that neural pathways are restored or made anew so that it can work at optimum efficiency. Brain scans do show that imbalances in the temporal lobes of the brain indicate the presence of depression.

The Theory Behind Why Neurofeedback Works

The theory behind this therapy is that a person’s brainwaves are altered with depression, making them less interested in things they’d normally find enjoyable and not wanting to interact socially with friends and family. The feedback on brain wave activity, measured by the sensors which are connected to brain imaging software, is given in real time in the form of a video that the patient is watching simultaneously. While retraining specific brain wave patterns to increase in frequency over a localized area of the brain, the patient with depression will see or hear a “reward” on the screen they are watching.

In contrast, when treating ADHD with neurofeedback, the goal is to decrease the brain wave frequency. For either disorder, if the feedback goes in the opposite direction it’s supposed to move toward, the “reward” is withheld (the movie or music will slow or even stop and the theory is that patients will not want that to happen). This informational feedback loop teaches the brain through guidance and reinforcing positive shifts in brain waves.

Image credit/Wikimedia Commons/Unknown Author

Neurofeedback Session

In theory, interfacing brain monitoring technology with a video that shows the patient exactly what’s going on in their brain sounds beneficial.

Furthermore, just being proactive in doing something to alleviate the symptoms of depression will cause an improvement for many patients whether all those electronic gizmos and monitors are working or not. Therefore, that could pose a problem for researchers looking to quantify whether neurofeedback for depression is benefiting the patient or not. But let’s take a look at the results of a few encouraging studies.

In a small study of 20 depressed patients given 20 neurofeedback sessions apiece, self-ratings of depression after each session greatly diminished. In fact, on average those ratings on a 0-10 scale went from 8 down to roughly 3 after the 20 sessions. Furthermore, after only 6 sessions, many patients reported feeling less depressed. (Larsen, 2006).

Positive and encouraging results were also found by administering neurofeedback training to increase alpha and theta waves in randomized, control group studies of alcoholic and PTSD populations experiencing depression. In these studies, patients reported marked improvements in alleviating their depression after a certain number of sessions (Peniston and Kulkosky, 1990; Peniston et al., 1993).

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Undergoing neurofeedback treatment for depression is certainly worth a try in my opinion if you’re suffering from it. Since it’s a non-invasive procedure and a proactive attempt at getting on the road to recovery, what do you have to lose? Although research isn’t extensive, plenty of neurologists and patients with depression have reported its effectiveness in alleviating symptoms. Neurofeedback for ADHD treatment is also touted highly by some. Since this is cutting edge technology involving the complex nature of the brain that is only beginning to be fully understood, time and further study will reveal more about how well this treatment strategy can help those who need it.

NB: The content of this article is for information purposes and is not intended to replace sound medical advice and opinion.


Dr. Robert G. Kohn: Neurology & Psychology @

Larsen, S. (2006). The healing power of neurofeedback. Rochester, VT: The Healing Arts Press.

Peniston, E.G. & Kulkosky, P.J. (1992). Alpha-theta EEG biofeedback training in alcoholism and posttraumatic stress disorder. The International Society for the Study of Subtle Energies and Energy Medicines, 2, 5-7.

Peniston, E.G., Marrinan, D.A., Deming, W.A., & Kulkosky, P.J. (1993). EEG alpha-theta brainwave synchronization in Vietnam theater veteran with combat-related posttraumatic stress disorder and alcohol abuse. Medical Psychotherapy: An International Journal, 6, 37-50.