Biofeedback shows promise as mental health treatment

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A recent meta-analysis has demonstrated some positive results using real-time functional MRI neurofeedback (rtfMRI-NF) in treating various mental illnesses.

The reviewed studies showed that participants could use a neurofeedback signal and self-regulate brain activity in targeted areas.

While the data demonstrated that rtfMRI-NF had a moderate effect on neural activity in targeted brain regions during training, the researchers observed a more significant effect later, in the absence of a neurofeedback signal.

However, the review found that rtfMRI-NF had only a small effect on behavioral outcomes. More research on how rtfMRI-NF works, and for whom it is most effective, is necessary to establish its clinical usefulness outside of a research setting.

Mental health conditions can cause changes in thinking, emotions, behavior, or all of these, impairing interpersonal relationships and daily functioning. They can be temporary or chronic.

Approximately 26% of adults in the United States will experience a mental health condition within a given year, with close to 9.5% having a serious condition, such as major depression or bipolar disorder.

Although pharmacologic and psychosocial treatment options for psychiatric illnesses can be safe and effective, there are cases in which the treatments may cause significant adverse effects in some individuals, potentially leading to discontinuation. In addition, some illnesses are treatment-resistant.

One possible reason why current standard-of-care treatments have varying efficacy is that they do not target the disruption to neural circuits that researchers have associated with mental illness.

Researchers can use functional MRI (fMRI), a noninvasive neuroimaging tool that measures brain activity through changes in cerebral blood flow, to comprehend the neurobiological changes accompanying psychiatric illness.

In the new study, the researchers used rtfMRI-NF, which incorporates biofeedback, to teach the participants how to control their own brain neural activity instantaneously while in a scanner.

Biofeedback is a treatment that healthcare professionals sometimes use to control involuntary bodily processes.

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