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Ease up on the drugs: Retraining your brain can improve your mental health

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More and more primary care physicians are prescribing anti-anxiety and depression medications, which is good news for the pharmaceutical companies but not always good for the patient. While medications are often prescribed to manage symptoms, they may fail to treat the true cause of the problem and produce undesirable side effects.

Thankfully, there are numerous non-medication approaches to mental health treatment that are having dramatic results. Neurofeedback, for instance, has been used to improve the mental health of those suffering from depression, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, anxiety, drug and alcohol addiction, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, autism, migraines, panic attacks, epilepsy and traumatic brain injury.

It works by allowing patients to alter their own brainwaves through practice and repetition so that the brain functions more efficiently. This “retraining” allows patients to act, feel and relate better to others.

Neurofeedback does not involve pain, medication or surgery and has no side effects. The process begins by placing electrode sensors on the patient’s scalp and ears to record brainwave activity. When the brain behaves as desired, the patient is encouraged with soothing sounds and pleasant visuals.

When it moves into a less desirable state, the opposite occurs. This feedback allows the patient to regulate their own brain patterns and it is these altered patterns that affect positive physical and emotional changes. Each treatment builds on the last with the patient’s ability to alter their brainwaves improving with each successive treatment and studies show that the results are long-lasting.

By incorporating neurofeedback with other holistic forms of treatment and minimal use of medication, patients are seeing dramatic results. Among the other non-medication based treatments are meditation, yoga, sleep therapy, acupuncture, massage therapy, group therapies, sleep management and art therapy. Achieving a healthy balance between mind and body in a natural way is key to restoring the patient’s sense of well-being.

Jeff Ball, PhD, is Executive Director of PCH Treatment Center ( in West Los Angeles, which specializes in intensive and holistic psychological treatment. He is also an Assistant Clinical Professor in the UCLA Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior.