Friday, August 13, 2010

Depression and Health

Besides feeling awful and keeping people from fully living their lives, depression needs to be treated because of associated health risks. For example, this recent article discusses the possibility that depression may increase the risk of dementia.

Some things you can do:
  • Psychotherapy even if you are taking medication that is helping - studies show therapy is better at preventing reoccurrences.
  • Regular exercise helps reduce both depression and anxiety.
  • As demonstrated in a study of the positive effects of a form of meditation called Transcendental Meditation, meditation and mindfulness training can alleviate depression. (Jon Kabit-Zinn, the doctor largely responsible for bringing meditation into mainstream medicine, teaches meditation in the video on this post on my psychotherapy blog.) (Please note that this study of TM does not imply that all forms of meditation may reduce depression.)
What does this have to do with neurofeedback? One of the results people typically experience from neurofeedback training is increased ability to live in the present moment - and that's what meditation is all about. For those of you who can't sit still and think that because of that you can't meditate, I predict that you'll be surprised at how that changes for you after even a few neurofeedback sessions.

And I have had many, many clients whose depression lifted and anxiety lessened with neurofeedback.

If you have questions about any of this, please post them here or email me.

Catherine Boyer, MA,, LCSW
New York Neurofeedback


  1. I have been practicing meditation twice a day for most of my life and found it indispensable.

    I've also been studying the scientific literature on the various types of meditation. Scientific research has shown that neurofeedback, mindfulness and various meditation techniques have been found to have their specific and varying effects.

    The emerging scientific and scholarly paradigm is that not all meditation and relaxation practices produce the same results. Research has revealed that different meditation practices consistently produce different effects on brain functioning, levels of rest, reduction of anxiety and depression, and range of health benefits.

    It's not valid, in any scientific sense, to state that research on one practice, such as Transcendental Meditation, equally applies to all others. It is unfounded to claim that research showing that TM alleviates depression demonstrates that other forms of meditation will be equally effective at reducing depression.

    An accurate assessment considers each practice on the merit of its own research and effects. Otherwise, it's like a doctor telling a patient, "Go take some medicine. Any old medicine will do."

    The three major types of practices -- controlled focus (concentration), open monitoring (mindfulness type practices), and automatic self-transcending (such as Transcendental Meditation) each have a specific and very different EEG pattern. (See "Cognitive Processing," 11, 1, 2010.) For example, TM has been shown (even in new meditators) to consistently produce high alpha coherence in the prefrontal cortex and throughout the rest of the brain (Travis et al., 2010). Mindfulness likewise has its own EEG signature -- frontal theta, which is an EEG pattern associated with memory tasks and internal focus (Cahn, Delorme, & Polich, 2010). Controlled focus typically shows strong gamma (Lutz A, et al, 2004).

    I haven't seen that neurofeedback is associated with a specific EEG signature, because it seems to depend on what the desired goal is with a given subject and the person's ability level with the process.

    It will better serve the purpose of helping people overcome stress, anxiety and other problems if there is a clear scientific framework for predicting what each of the various practices might accomplish.

    Also, while Kabat-Zinn has done much to establish credibility for his Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction program, it's a stretch to credit him for "bringing meditation into the mainstream." Scientific research on TM began at UCLA and Harvard in 1970, and now there are over 600 published research studies on TM from over 250 medical schools and institutions worldwide. The NIH has granted $26 million over the past 18 years for scientists to further the body of research on TM. More than 6 million people worldwide have learned Maharishi Mahesh Yogi's TM technique. No other meditation teacher, in our time or in recorded history, has gained such widespread acceptance for his practice. It's also obvious that no teacher has done more to bring the scientific community's attention to meditation.

    Scott Holsclaw
    Biloxi, Mississippi

  2. Thank you for your detailed comments. Regarding the TM study, I meant only to cite it as an example of the many studies done and being done; but you're quite right about the variety of responses and the need to choose a form of meditation that is appropriate for the individual's goals. I'll alter the post to reflect that.

    Your point on Kabat-Zinn is well taken. I do think, though, that he gets much of the credit for bringing mainstream credibility to the benefits of meditation as a "treatment."

    The type of neurofeedback I use with my clients does not pursue a specific EEG signature. Rather it provides information to the CNS about its own activity, which allows the CNS to use that information in the way that is organically right for each individual. I particularly like this approach because it is virtually side effect free - and because it utilizes the ability of the system to change itself.

    It's certainly an exciting time in terms of the research being done, generally regarding brain function and treatment, but also regarding meditation (such as Richie Davidson's work), and holistic treatments.


  3. Yoga does wonders for me. It made me stay fit as well as it clears my mind and soul.

  4. I'm a regular yoga practitioner myself. It's a good choice for many people. Personally, I do slow yoga, so have to choose something else for aerobic exercise; but there are certainly forms of yoga which provide that as well.

  5. Meditation is the best medication for depression. You achieve the body that you want and you make your mind alert and healthy.