Neurofeedback began in the late 1950s and early '60s through the work of both Dr Joe Kamiya at the University of Chicago and Dr Barry Sterman at UCLA.
In the mid 1970s, neurofeedback caught the attention of meditators as an aid in spiritual development, and so wandered into the no-man's land between science and religion. Conferences were attended by two people in orange robes for each one in a white lab coat. Soon neurofeedback gained a dubious reputation as a meditation or spiritual tool, which considering the extreme biases of the time made it an unpopular choice for career minded researchers.
Neurofeedback didn't fit the (now defunct) medical view of how the brain functioned. Though the empirical data proved that neurofeedback worked, it couldn't possibly work under the scientific beliefs of the time. Thus, neurofeedback became regarded as 'spooky' medicine.
Out on the fringes of science, work continued. By the late '80s neurofeedback was being applied to attention deficit disorders, and through the '90s to a wide variety of psychological and central nervous system based conditions.
Over the last decade, the medical view of the brain has changed completely and the principles of neuroplasticity are universally accepted. Neuroscience has come to accept the interrelation between the central nervous system, the autoimmune system, emotional, physical, and mental health. It has conceded that indeed, the brain can change at any age, and that we create new neurones throughout life. The natural mechanisms underlying neurofeedback are now becoming clear.
To most medical practitioners, neurofeedback is still foreign. Many hold a view based on its old reputation, and have had no exposure to the research. Old views die hard, particularly regarding competing methods that lie outside of their expertise.
Brainwave monitoring is no longer 'experimental'. It is common practice in scientific studies to assess how people's brains are functioning under various conditions of illness, stress and mental difficulties. Patterns in the EEG reflect emotional and cognitive states and predict whether people are paying attention, or even what their mood is likely to be. Today, to describe a condition properly, you have to describe its effect within the brain. This research allows neurotherapists to target a wide range of conditions.
With the advances in computer software and brainwave monitoring equipment, neurofeedback practitioners now have affordable precision tools. With 50 years of independent development behind it, the methods have become highly sophisticated, and highly effective. In the realm of brainwave training, neurofeedback has a half century head-start on conventional medicine.
Today neurofeedback is used for peak performance by professional sports teams, Olympic athletes, and business people. It is commonly used as a non-drug solution for ADHD, post traumatic stress, and emotional conditions of all sorts.
We’re at an extraordinary moment where the entire scientific foundation for mental health is shifting, with the 20th century discipline of psychiatry becoming the 21st century discipline of clinical neuroscience.
Thomas Insel, head of the National Institute of Mental Health