According to the National Institute of Mental Health: “Bipolar is a brain disorder causing unusual shifts or cycles in mood, focus, energy, and ability to function. Unlike the normal ups and downs that everyone goes through, the symptoms of bipolar disorder are unpredictable and severe. Untreated these symptoms can wreak havoc in a person’s life resulting in damaged relationships, and poor job or school performance.
The problems with medications
Medication is the common “solution” prescribed by medical doctors to manage bipolar patients. However, medications are not really a solution. At first, there is the trial and error phase often taking weeks to see if the medications works. Some people don’t tolerate medications or respond at all and others dislike the side effects. Some medications require liver toxicity testing, cause weight gain, rashes, sleepiness, and/or have sexual side effects. Clients commonly report feeling tired, flat or robotic. To counteract side effects other medications are added creating a medication cocktail. The longer meds are used the more risks involved. Many people build a tolerance and require more medications to obtain the initial effect. Sometimes, medications stop working or insurance companies refuse to pay for the ones that do. Then, it becomes a medication merry-go-round to again find the one (or two or three) that now work
Reliance on medications medications for bipolar are designed to target the brain and central nervous system. They help stabilize mood and address symptoms such as mood, sleep, energy, and focus. However, the brain quickly becomes reliant upon medications and doesn’t learn to cope or manage itself. When a person goes off medication, they are in the same place they started. This creates a vicious circle of managing medications that manage you.
Can bipolar sufferers learn to rely on their brain?
One remark that clients commonly make after starting neurofeedback training is “I can trust my brain again.” What does this mean? Bipolar clients who utilized neurofeedback report less susceptibility to mood swings, ability to focus, reduced anger. Their daily functioning increases as they find themselves less reactive and increasing more able to make appropriate responses and choices.
Ed Hamlin is a neuropsychologist in North Carolina with the Pisgah Institute, consisting of several therapists and five psychiatrists reported on a ongoing study involving the use of neurofeedback with over 40 bipolar patients. Many of these patients had been repeatedly hospitalized for bipolar disorder often once or more a year. Following treatment those patients were able to reduce medications and enjoyed stability including increased daily functioning, improved relationships, better performance at work and school, and a dramatic reduction in hospitalizations. Some patients who had been on medications for 20 years were able to become medication free. Previously these patients were told they would be on medications their entire life.
Clients enjoy the independence and ability to gain control over themselves that neurofeedback provides. Many reported they no longer felt flat – they can feel again but without getting out of control. For some who still needed some medication they reported feeling better on lower dosages.
You can exercise your brain back to health. Training the brain strengthens the brain and teaches it to maintain a particular state versus random mood swings. Learning self-regulation allows a person to maintain a particular state or stabilization. For this a number of training sessions are required. Once the brain is strong enough to remain in the appropriate state for the task and time of day then training can stop or be reduced to an occasional maintenance training. The number of sessions required differs from person to person depending upon the complexity and severity of the disorder. For information on how we can help you learn to help yourself contact the Center for Brain Training.
At the center we also offer additional effective well-researched interventions for teaching and supporting the brain. Recommendations are tailored to meet each individual's needs based upon a detailed client assessment and consistent re-evaluation by our team of professionals.
When working with bipolar clients, we are often struck by how amazingly sensitive most are. The smallest thing will throw them off. No wonder proper medication management can be a nightmare! It is not uncommon that with just a few minutes of neurofeedback training, these sensitive patients notice a shift in mood and become calmer. This can occur even when they are on large dosages of medication. Neurofeedback has the advantage of strengthening the brain. As brain functioning improves our skilled practitioner constantly fine tunes the training to help maintain these gains– even within a single session. With medications seeing what works takes much longer is and changes occur much less often.
Reducing medications gradually
For most bipolar clients, reducing the use of medications is important due to the unpleasant side effects and lack of feeling like themselves. Our center works carefully with our clients' doctors regarding medication reduction. We do NOT recommend clients reduce medications on their own. Normally, as training builds stability, medications can be reduced. Most MD's are willing to reduce medications as they observe increased stability in their patients. As stability becomes the dominant pattern in the brain most clients can begin to reduce the amount of neurofeedback training Call us to discuss training for your situation – or to get started.