Can Neurofeedback Make You Worse – What Are The Risks

Image of neurofeedback provider discussing remote neurofeedback
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Written By: Dr. Starr, MD, FAACAP

Dr. Starr is a medical doctor, psychiatrist and computational neuroscientist who has been active in Brain-Computer Interface and Neurofeedback since 1990.

Can Neurofeedback Make You Worse

As a general rule, most neurofeedback clients experience no adverse effects from Neurofeedback when done professionally.

Neurofeedback therapy has been gaining traction as a non-invasive, drug-free approach to managing various psychological and neurological conditions. By training individuals to regulate their brain activity, neurofeedback promises improvements in areas like anxiety, ADHD, and even chronic pain.

However, as with any medical intervention, it’s crucial to understand that neurofeedback therapy is not without risks. This article dives into the potential downsides, including the possibility of worsening symptoms, and emphasizes the importance of working with qualified professionals.

What is Neurofeedback Therapy?

Neurofeedback therapy is a form of biofeedback that focuses on teaching self-regulation of brain activity. During a session, sensors are placed on the scalp to monitor brainwaves. This real-time data is then used to provide feedback through visual or auditory cues, helping individuals modify their brain function. The intended neurofeedback benefits range from improved focus and reduced anxiety to better sleep and mood regulation.

Potential Risks and Side Effects

Can neurofeedback make you worse? These are some of the main concerns and side effects associated with neurofeedback therapy. Common concerns include:

  • Temporary Discomfort: Some individuals may experience headaches, dizziness, or fatigue, particularly during the initial sessions as their brain adjusts to the new training.
  • Worsening Symptoms: There have been reports of neurofeedback exacerbating existing symptoms or even creating new ones, such as increased irritability or insomnia.
  • Emotional Distress: Emotional responses can be intensified during therapy, leading to episodes of anxiety or depression.
  • Physical Symptoms: In some cases, patients have reported physical side effects like muscle tension or even gastrointestinal issues.

Case Studies Illustrating Potential Risks

To better understand these risks, let’s look at a few real-world examples:

  • Case Study 1: A 35-year-old male with a history of anxiety and depression experienced increased irritability and insomnia after several neurofeedback sessions. It was later discovered that the therapy was not properly adjusted to his individual response, underscoring the importance of personalized treatment plans.
  • Case Study 2: A 25-year-old woman with ADHD developed headaches and dizziness during her neurofeedback sessions. An investigation revealed that the intensity of the sessions was too high, emphasizing the need for proper monitoring and adjustment of therapy settings.
  • Case Study 3: A 42-year-old male undergoing neurofeedback for migraines found his symptoms worsening after initial sessions. Further assessment revealed an undiagnosed neurological condition, highlighting the importance of comprehensive pre-treatment evaluation.

Factors Increasing the Risk of Negative Outcomes

Several factors can elevate the risk of negative outcomes from neurofeedback therapy:

  • Pre-existing Conditions: Individuals with complex or severe psychological conditions may be more susceptible to adverse effects.
  • Improper Application: Using neurofeedback without a tailored approach or adequate supervision can lead to ineffective or even harmful outcomes.
  • Lack of Professional Expertise: The qualifications and experience of the practitioner play a crucial role in minimizing risks and ensuring the therapy is applied correctly.

Expert Opinions

A study published in the Journal of Neurotherapy also found that while neurofeedback can yield positive results, there is a small risk of adverse effects, particularly if the therapy is not tailored to the individual or is unsupervised by a trained professional. The American Psychological Association (APA) considers neurofeedback a promising intervention for certain conditions but emphasizes the importance of informed consent and careful monitoring to mitigate risks.

Precautionary Measures

Given the potential risks, taking precautionary measures is crucial for anyone considering neurofeedback therapy:

  1. Comprehensive Evaluation: Seek a thorough assessment from a qualified healthcare professional to determine if neurofeedback is suitable for your condition.
  2. Qualified Neurofeedback Practitioners: Ensure that the practitioner offering neurofeedback is licensed, experienced, and specifically trained in neurofeedback techniques.
  3. Transparent Communication: Discuss any pre-existing medical or psychological conditions with both your healthcare provider and neurofeedback practitioner to identify potential risks.
  4. Informed Consent: Understand the potential benefits and risks by obtaining informed consent before starting therapy.
  5. Ongoing Monitoring: Engage in open communication with your practitioner about any changes or reactions you experience during or after sessions.
  6. Adherence to Treatment Plan: Follow the recommended treatment plan without attempting to modify the sessions or intensity without consulting your practitioner.
  7. Stay Informed: Keep up-to-date with the latest research and guidelines on neurofeedback to make informed decisions.

Are The Neurofeedback Risks Minimal

Many critics believe that the risks associated with neurofeedback are minimal compared to traditional pharmacological treatments, which can have severe side effects. Proponents also highlight the individual variability in responses, noting that while some may experience adverse effects, many others benefit from the therapy without complications.

Recognizing and Reporting Adverse Effects

It’s vital to know how to recognize and report any adverse effects experienced during or after neurofeedback therapy:

  • Monitor Your Symptoms: Keep a detailed log of any new or worsening symptoms.
  • Immediate Reporting: Inform your practitioner immediately about any concerns or adverse effects.
  • Seek Medical Advice: If symptoms persist or worsen, seek advice from a healthcare professional.

Conclusion

Neurofeedback therapy holds promise as a non-invasive treatment for a variety of conditions, but it’s not without potential risks. Can neurofeedback make you worse? Understanding these risks and taking appropriate precautionary measures can help you make an informed decision.

Always work with a qualified and experienced neurofeedback professionals to minimize risks and maximize the benefits of neurofeedback therapy.

Myneurva Is A Global Leader In Neurofeedback and QEEG Analysis

Myneurva is a global leader in computational QEEG analysis. Dr. Starr holds the US patent for a System and method for analyzing electroencephalogram signals.

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