Katherine Ellison's New York Times piece on neurofeedback (NF) is as refreshing as it is old and tired. For almost 30 years now, journalists like Ms. Ellison have begrudgingly written about the field of NF as if it were the unwanted stepchild of healing modalities. This literary pabulum is so clockwork that one could easily set one's watch by it. "NF is time consuming!" "NF is expensive!" And my personal fav..."It's really, really controversial!" (Lions, Tigers and Bears anyone?) When was the last time a newspaper reporter uttered this holy trinity of disapproval about a Big Pharma outfit before they were fined a billion dollars or so? This media game of emperors new clothes is so widespread that those in the field of neurofeedback have become completely unwilling to call out this journalistic abuse that seems to be accepted on both sides; writers by their editors in chief, and by those in this field of practice.
Until now of course.
So what is it that really makes neurofeedback so different from mainstream medicine?
The answer is simply this: Those of us the field of NF have been more focused on patient outcome, rather then on major income. Historically, we haven't spent huge dollars on major media ads, taken on vulture-capital investors, or sent lobbyists to the FDA. And for the most part, even though we've been repeatedly handed the dixie cup, we have chosen not to drink the Managed-Care Kool-Aid. Clients have come to count on us to tell them the truth. If we feel that neurofeedback won't help them, we refer them to someone who possibly can. If they can't afford the $100 or so per session, many of us will give sliding scale rates. Most importantly, those in neurofeedback actually listen to their clients. It's part and parsel to the process. Their brain is continually giving the clinician data about what it likes or dislikes about the NF training by what the clients say .
If journalists like Kathy would just do the research before penning these three cliches, here's what they might find:
"It's time consuming"
Try comparing 30 visits of NF (now less than 20 due to advances in technology) to visiting a merry-go-around of doctors offices, specialists and pharmacies for your child's on-going ADHD problem. Please throw in the daily battles trying to wake Bobby up because he slept only four hours due to the pharmaceutical speed he's been taking for, lets say, five years now.
Linguistically, expensive is a loose term. Expensive relative to what? Is seeing a cognitive behavioral therapist for 10 years expensive? How about $4.00 a pill for Ambien CR? ($1440.00 per year if your lucky to have to only take one a night). You see, if someone, anyone, would write about the fact that NF therapy is finished after 20 or so sessions, with clients rarely needing more treatment thereafter, then this may be the medical bargain of a lifetime.
Finally, lets explore the controversy. In the 40 years since Dr. Barry Sterman performed NF on the Apollo astronauts, there has not been one successful lawsuit in the fields history. If you compare this to the med-mal deaths related to Avandia, you could replace the buzz-word controversy with something like "unheard of". This so called controversy is, and has always come from medical professionals who just love to play the game of "no data/no science". We (in power) will de-legitimize you by claiming you have no data, while at the same time deny you any funding to prove that your modality has therapeutic-scientific merit. This charade has gone on for decades. Thankfully, and commendably, the NIMH has stepped up and conducted their own controlled, double-blind and soon to be published study giving the clinicians in NF and their little field of endeavor a fair shake.
We, as a scientific community have a number of legitimate studies of our own showing promise for treating the symptoms of chronic insomnia, substance abuse, unresolved emotional trauma and more. So why is it that someone like myself, a layman's reporter, can find these studies and you reporters cannot?
So, my dear Katherine, consider this your opportunity to balance yourself between the powers that be, and your readers in need. Feel free to call me anytime. Coffee and a big bottle of shampoo are on me...