OCD and Neurofeedback
I came across a very interesting article a few days ago about a possible new treatment for OCD on the horizon. Nope, it’s not a new medication, deep brain stimulation (DBS) or focused ultrasound. It involves real-time functional magnetic imaging (rt-fMRI), which is a type of brain imaging that gives patients immediate feedback regarding their neural activity. In other words, it utilizes neurofeedback.
What does this actually mean? Well, as far as I understand it, this technology, in a nutshell, shows patients their own brains. While I’m familiar with the concept of neuroplasticity – our brains can be retrained and rewired – this is the first I’ve heard about people with OCD actually being shown, in real time, how their brains react in different situations.
In this particular study, participants were shown images which might trigger their OCD. Subjects were taught mind-control techniques (I’m unclear as to what this entailed) and were then asked to use them when viewing the triggering images. Because fMRI feedback is in real time, these study participants were able to see how they could control their own anxiety. Those who received neurofeedback did show a decrease in anxiety compared to a control group. This use of neurofeedback is believed to have great potential in the treatment of anxiety and anxiety-related disorders. To quote the article:
Anxiety-heavy disorders are particularly well suited to treatment by neurofeedback. “Anxiety is partly induced by environmental experiences,” said Michelle Hampson, assistant professor and director of rt-fMRI at the Yale School of Medicine. “The brain is obviously plastic in that circuitry can learn to become more anxious or less anxious,” she said.
While this is promising news, the researchers agree there is much more work to be done before neurofeedback becomes a commonplace treatment for OCD and anxiety disorders. Controlled experiments in a laboratory don’t always easily carry over into real life.
But still, it’s exciting to think about. Whoever thought we’d be able to delve into our own brains, and then use what we find to unlearn a lifetime of anxiety? It sounds like science fiction, and definitely too good to be true. But I’m feeling optimistic, and believe that these amazing advances in technology coupled with the hard work of dedicated researchers will yield some pretty incredible results. We just have to be patient.
In the meantime, I suggest reading the article yourself, as I’ve only skimmed the surface of it. And if you’ve ever tried any type of neurofeedback, I’d love to hear about your experiences.
Singer, J. (2016). OCD and Neurofeedback. Psych Central. Retrieved on March 19, 2018, from https://blogs.psychcentral.com/ocd-reflections/2016/02/ocd-and-neurofeedback/