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|Alice in Neuroland - Page 14|
In 2000, psychologist Laurence Hirshberg, an assistant professor in clinical psychiatry at Brown University, returned from neurofeedback training to a Providence, Rhode Island, psychology practice full of children with AD/HD and autism spectrum disorder. He now supervises six technicians who deliver 105 treatment hours per week at his office at 13 neurofeedback stations. Another 16 families, many with autistic children, do neurofeedback training at home under Hirshberg's supervision, on leased machines.
"Part of the problem with this field is that the stories are so amazing that nobody believes them. I'm trying not to sound like a wild man," says Hirshberg, who guest-edited a major positive review of neurofeedback research for the January 2005 volume of Child and Adolescent Psychiatric Clinics of North America.
The treatment, Hirshberg adds, has transformed his understanding of the neurological substrates of some disorders he once considered primarily psychological. "You take a child with reactive attachment disorder who's struggled for years with expressing any feeling of warmth and affection. You do five or six [neurofeedback] sessions, and, suddenly, the parents report, 'O my God, he's showing warmth and affection.' He sits next to them on the couch, he smiles.
"Or take a child with autism. A mother may report something as mundane as her child's recognizing that she's carrying bags of groceries and holding the door open for her. This relatively innocuous intervention certainly suggests there's a primary contribution from the brain."
The View from the Trenches
The longer a therapist stays with neurofeedback, the more complex their view of the technology becomes. Therapist Sebern Fisher, for instance, was an early adopter who took neurofeedback training from the Othmers in 1995 and returned to Northampton, Massachusetts, to a private caseload of trauma survivors. She'd tried teaching them self-regulating strategies drawn from Dialectical Behavior Therapy, but she'd often run up against their ingrained physiological reactivity. That changed when she added neurofeedback. One of her clients, a talented young teenager with a childhood-abuse history and Asperger's disorder, had no friends, had been hospitalized with bulimia, and was prone to violent outbursts, in which she threw things at walls. Over several years of neurofeedback and conventional psychodynamic therapy, the girl developed the capacity to empathize with others, stopped her violence and bulimia, and went off to a demanding college.