I was reading in the preface of Sebern Fisher's book Neurofeedback and the Treatment of Developmental Trauma: Calming the Fear Driven Brain comments made by her friend and mentor Bessel A. Van der Kolk, MD. Just a little background on me and Dr. Van der Kolk. I have been involved in the field of trauma almost from the beginning of my clinical career, which began over forty years ago. Before Dr. Van der Kolk had published books, I discovered papers he had written on PTSD and trauma resolution. The one that comes to mind is The compulsion to repeat the trauma: Re-enactment, revictimization, and masochism (1989). Dr. Van der Kolk may be the foremost expert in the world on trauma, its effects, and its resolution. So it caught my eye that he was writing the Foreword to this humble clinician's book. In the Foreword, he makes this comment:
"Neurofeedback training has been shown to improve cognitive flexibility, creativity, athletic control, and inner awareness. I do not know of any other psychiatric treatment that can do this." (Emphasis is by me).
What astounds me about this statement is that Van der Kolk is a psychiatrist. I naturally assumed he would say that psychiatrists are trained to treat an individual's disorders with medication.
The context of this statement was describing peak performance for athletes using brain training with neurofeedback; however, the larger context was developmental trauma and how it handicaps its victims from interaction with the world and creates debilitating fear in its victims. He defines this all-encompassing fear as being
"…usually the result of severe childhood abuse and neglect- otherwise known as developmental trauma- in which lack of synchronicity in the primary caregiver relationship leads to abnormal rhythms of the brain, mind, and body."
My astonishment subsided when I remembered reading in the early 1990s Van der Kolk encouraging his fellow professionals by saying,
"don't medicate your clients. Instead, learn and do EMDR."
This created vast waves of criticism from his peers. This was before he was introduced to neurofeedback.
For those who do not know what EMDR is, it stands for Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing, and Dr. Francine Shapiro discovered it in the 1980s. I was working with a population of clients crushed by childhood trauma and was looking for any way to help them more effectively. I read a journal article written by her in 1989 in the Journal of Traumatic Stress and decided to try EMDR with my clients. I was amazed at how quickly these damaged individuals began to respond and become better equipped in their lives. It was faster and easier on them than the prevalent theories of trauma therapy of the day. It was also easier on me. It is now considered a standard and effective treatment for treating trauma.
I'm getting off track, but suffice it to say, I have great respect for the courage of Dr. Van der Kolk for continuing to pursue different and effective modalities of treatment for those who have been harmed the most by life's events.
In 1998 I was challenged to pray for an even more effective treatment than EMDR for not only trauma-related disorders like PTSD, depression, and anxiety but for anyone who walked into my door. So I prayed every day for something better. Then about ten years ago, it walked into my door.
A former client came to see me. He was broken-hearted by his marriage and the events that had taken place. I had known this individual for about ten years. He was an elite athlete but had suffered from childhood trauma. When he sat down, he began to unfold the story of great sadness and disappointment. What was different was how balanced and emotionally regulated he was. He was so different that I finally asked him why. He went on to tell me another story of meeting an individual on the golf course, a cart girl, who told him about neurofeedback. Since I knew where he played, I had an inkling of who that young woman was. He thought I was a psychic because I was correct. He went on to tell me that he went to the clinic where she was a neurofeedback tech and started the process. My only exposure to neurofeedback was that young lady's experience years before. She just happened to be the daughter of a dear friend who was also a clinician. When she was a teen, she had her first psychotic break. She was also diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder. I had known her father since I was a teen, and I knew his brother suffered from the same issue- manic, psychotic breaks, then deep dark depression. I called my friend and asked him how his daughter was. He told me they sent her for neurofeedback treatments. She came back well, had never been on medications, and had never suffered a reoccurrence of the disorder.
I was dumbstruck. I asked myself, "Is that even possible?" To make a long story short, I called the clinician who trained my client's brain with LORETA Z-Score neurofeedback. I spent several hours with this remarkable clinician. I even had a neurofeedback session. Finally, I decided to go all in. Was it possible that this could be the answer to my prayer and longing for something better to help the people who walked into my office? I think after ten years of clinically treating people with neurofeedback, the answer is "yes."
One more piece of background about me, I am a clinician's clinician. Although I do a ton of research, I am not a researcher. I have never published a study, although I have read thousands. I believe I am built to help others heal. Although I am interested in the theoretical, I am much more interested in what works to heal people and help them be transformed into the people they were meant to be. I believe that is who I am called to be.
Before I began practicing neurofeedback, I saw my patients heal substantially. They were less depressed, less anxious, and more engaged in the present in their life's pursuits, their relationships, and their families. They were better parents, better employees, and better spouses; however, if they had depression, it was more likely than not that they would spend the rest of their lives on medication.
I believe that psychiatric medication is a stop-gap treatment that may help individuals get back on the horse if they have fallen off. Still, it does not cure or resolve the underlying issues being treated. Sometimes, however, individuals temporarily need the help medication provides. Psychiatric medication is not like a cancer therapy that successfully treats cancer and allows people to return to their pre-cancer lives. Can you imagine being forty and being told you have cancer, and then being told you will have to be on chemotherapy for the next 30 years? Yet, this is often what patients with depression are expected to do. And that was what my patients also experienced when they came in with depression. I would send them off to a psychiatrist or doctor. They would be prescribed a medication and still be on it and probably, even more, ten years later. I would counsel them and help them heal, but they would still be assigned a life where they would take a pill in order to live their lives, often with side effects from those pills. That is until I began treating people with neurofeedback.
When I began treating my patients with neurofeedback, they came in with complaints, and after treatment, they no longer had those complaints. Instead of being emotionally dysregulated, they left emotionally regulated. We taught them how to literally change their brains so that they could control how they felt, how they thought, and even how to regulate different issues in their bodies. As a result, their lives would be transformed.
I'll give you some examples of the powerful transformations I have witnessed since I began treating clients with neurofeedback. I had one client who had been a talk therapy client for several years. He had been sexually abused as a child, and besides suffering from PTSD with horrendous intrusive memories, he also had been on antidepressants for about twenty years for dark depression. Even on medication, he would have periods of debilitating depression. I offered him the opportunity to try neurofeedback. The depressive episodes were mainly gone within the first ten sessions, and he chose to discontinue his antidepressants. Unfortunately, he had to move away for personal reasons and did not complete our protocol, but we stayed in contact. He would tell me that his depression had been transformed from debilitating, I can't get out of bed depression, to short episodes of what he called low-grade depression and anxiety. Finally, he came back. After the subsequent ten sessions, he called me up and said,
"It's gone! I am no longer depressed at all, and I have no anxiety!"
We finished his training with another ten sessions to ensure the brain had learned to continue regulating itself. But, again, it has never come back, which is consistent with the longitudinal studies on neurofeedback.
I will give you another example. We had a young woman come in who was on the autistic spectrum. She was a computer scientist and a wiz at her job; however, she suffered from acute anxiety and panic attacks. We treated her for these issues, and she improved dramatically. We had a significant software update that allowed us to see how 8000 connections and 450 different metrics in the brain were communicating. Since autism is partially due to poor connectivity between the left and right hemispheres (autistic people are very left hemispheric dominant, which makes them great at repetitive factual detail, but makes them poor at gathering new and novel information), I asked her if she wanted to train the autistic network and see if we could create a new dialogue in her brain between the right and left brains. She said, "yes"! What happened after five sessions was totally unexpected for us both. She wrote me this text that said something like this.
"I am so excited. I feel like a whole new wonderful world has opened up to me. Besides being even calmer internally, I can see, hear, and feel things I have never experienced before! This is amazing!"
She was so enthused that she wanted to write a case study on her experience and present it for publication. She has also decided to consider going back to school and seeking a degree in neuropsychology.
In my initial paragraph, I quoted the most prominent researcher in the world of PTSD.
"Neurofeedback training has been shown to improve cognitive flexibility, creativity, athletic control, and inner awareness. I do not know of any other psychiatric treatment that can do this."
I have been a clinician for over 40 years. I, too, have never seen treatment that does this. It offers individuals a new lease on life- free of emotional turmoil, life-long medication with side effects, and a life where they are empowered to regulate themselves.
About The Author Mike Pinkston:
Mike received his Master degree in 1980 from Denver Seminary and has done extensive post graduate work. He was certified as a Licensed Professional Counselor in 1995 in the state of Texas and in Colorado in 1998. Most of his practice throughout the years has been centered on helping individuals through complex trauma issues- Including sexual trauma, violent mental, and physical abuse to sexual addiction and sexual criminal behavior.
As a member of the Tarrant Counsel on Sexual Abuse, Mike chaired a multi-modal committee of doctors, lawyers, psychologists, psychiatrists, and child protective services to create a screening and treatment protocol adopted by the state of Texas for the treatment of adolescent sex offenders.
But that is not all, Mike also has expertise in PTSD and Dissociative Disorders, Codependence, Love addiction and love avoidance, parenting, and marriage and family structures,. He has advanced certification in EMDR and clinical hypnosis. Mike has also spent over 25 years supervising and mentoring other clinicians.
In 2012, Mike changed the emphasis of his practice from clinical counseling to clinical neurofeedback. After seeing the great benefits of teaching individuals how to change their brain functioning to overcome psychological and learning disorders, he jumped into this field with both feet. He has trained extensively with the top leaders in this field including Dr. Joel Lubar, Dr Robert Thatcher, Dr. John Demos, Dr Stephen Stockdale, and Jay Gunkelman. His primary expertise is in the quantitative assessment of individual’s brain activity (QEEG), and retraining the brain back into normalcy using LORETA Z-Score Neurofeedback.
He is board certified by the International QEEG Certification Board as a QEEG-Diplomate and is now an executive member of the IQCB . He is also a member of other professional societies like the International Society of Neurofeedback Research (ISNR) and the Society for Brain Mapping and Therapeutics.
He also mentors medical professionals, psychologists, psychiatrists, and other clinicians in learning how to accurately assess patients using QEEG, and then applying the assessments to practical treatment using neurofeedback.
If you are looking for more information about neurofeedback or want to contact Mike for an appointment, he can be reached at:
I am fortnate to have called Mike my counselor, and now my friend and colleague. I am forever indebted for how he helped me save my life.
I am also the client who walked into his office so drastically different which led him to become an expert in neurofeedback.
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