Feature Archive

A New Consciousness

Biofeedback trains your brain to treat diseases.

WebMD Feature

Feb. 21, 2000 (San Francisco) -- It looks like a scene from a 1950s science fiction flick: Patients with electrodes attached to their skulls sit deep in concentration, focusing their minds to control the beeps and squiggly lines produced by an electronic monitor.

Now these fantastic visions are unfolding with increasing frequency in real medical clinics around the country; people with epilepsy, attention deficit disorder, and other forms of serious mental illness are treating these ailments by learning to control electrical patterns in their own brains. This therapy, known as neurofeedback, is emerging as the hottest new twist on biofeedback.

Though biofeedback was first developed by psychologists, its primary uses have been for illnesses below the neck. Standard biofeedback teaches you first to become conscious of normally unconscious functions such as pulse, digestion, and body temperature, then teaches you to control them in response to sounds or other cues from monitoring devices. These techniques have allowed patients to lower their blood pressure, banish their headaches, and control their incontinence without using drugs.

Now new insights into the biology of mental illness have made it possible to treat them in a similar fashion.

Aerobics for the Brain

In neurofeedback (also known as neurotherapy), therapists attach electrodes to patients' unshaved scalps. Through these electrodes, a device measures electrical impulses in the brain, amplifies them, and then records them. These impulses are divided into different types of brain waves.