Affective Neurosciences PLLC

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Why are people suffering with bipolar disorder looking for alternatives to medication?

Medications for bipolar disorder are very problematic due to their side effects, compliance rates, and the results of taking them over a long period.

Medications prescribed for bipolar disorder can cause a variety of troublesome or even dangerous side effects, including liver toxicity, weight gain, rashes, fatigue, sexual side effects, and feeling “flat and robotic” as some have described it. In turn, patients may be prescribed even more medications to counteract the side effects of the original one.

In addition, taking medications for bipolar disorder over the long term can have very negative effects. First, many patients develop a tolerance to their medication, requiring increased dosage to obtain the same benefit they received initially. This increased dosage also brings an increased risks of side effects. Sometimes, tolerance is so great that the medication no longer helps at all.

Alternately, others develop a reliance on bipolar medication. Bipolar medications influence the brain and the central nervous system in order to improve mood, energy, sleep, and concentration. Unfortunately, the brain starts to rely on the medication to regulate those issues and does not learn how to cope on its own.

How can neurofeedback help a person with bipolar disorder?

Brain training via neurofeedback teaches the brain to maintain a consistent state. Learning self-regulation allows a person to achieve mood stabilization.

After beginning neurofeedback, clients commonly comment that they can once again “trust their brain.” What does this mean? Bipolar clients undergoing neurofeedback training report less susceptibility to mood swings, increased ability to focus, and reduced anger. Their ability to function increases as they find themselves less reactive and increasingly able to respond and act appropriately.

Ed Hamlin, a neuropsychologist at the Pisgah Institute in North Carolina, reported an ongoing study of the use of neurofeedback in patients diagnosed as biopolar. Of the more than 40 patients studied, many had a history of being frequently hospitalized for bipolar disorder. Following neurofeedback training, patients were able to reduce medications and enjoy stability including increased daily functioning, improved relationships, better performance at work and school, and a dramatic reduction in hospitalizations. Some patients, who had been medicated for 20 years and told that they would be on medications for their entire lives, were able to safely become medication-free.

Bipolar clients can be very sensitive, making proper medication management quite difficult and tricky. It is not uncommon that, with just a few minutes of neurofeedback training, these sensitive patients notice a shift in mood and become more calm. This can occur even when patients are on large dosages of medication. In addition, it can take time to see whether a new medication regimen is effective. As brain functioning improves during neurofeedback training, a neurofeedback practitioner can constantly fine-tune the training to help maintain and build on these gains, even within a single session.

In order to see results, a number of training sessions are necessary, and the number of sessions required differs from person to person, depending upon the complexity and severity of the disorder. Once the individual’s brain is strong enough, training can stop or be reduced to occasional maintenance training.

For most bipolar patients, reducing the use of medications is imperative, due to both the unpleasant side effects and the lack of feeling like themselves. It is not recommended that clients reduce medications on their own. However, as neurofeedback training builds stability, most doctors are willing to reduce medications as they observe the increased stability in their patients. And, as stability becomes the dominant pattern in the brain, most clients can begin to reduce neurofeedback training as well.


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