This is a story about a purported surge in the popularity of neurofeedback to treat a host of neurological ills, despite a chronic lack of large, well-controlled trials to provide reliable evidence about benefits and harms. The existence of a single, small trial sponsored by the NIH (involving a mere 36 children with ADHD) hardly demonstrates that the treatment is "gaining attention from mainstream researchers." The story could have done a better job of highlighting that support for this treatment comes primarily from those with a financial interest in its popularity.
This story did provide information suggesting that neurofeedback is not an effective treatment. It erred in spending too much time suggesting that it might be of benefit when there is a complete absence of data to support such claims. While the headline of this story is slanted, on the plus side, it includes comments from many experts with a variety of perspectives.
This story matters because it lends credence to a treatment modality in the absence of documentation.
The story provided cost estimates for a couple of neurofeedback treatment regimens. It also indicated euphemistically that it is not paid for by insurance companies.
Although the story points out that there has not been enough study of neurofeedback to know whether claims of benefits are justified, it highlights an anecdote of a family who believes the treatment helped their child. Without any countervailing examples, this sort of personal story overwhelms the dry statements of doubt, leaving an unbalanced impression. In considering this criterion, perhaps the most troubling aspect of the story is that it jumps from one condition to the other. Is the treatment good for autism, ADHD and other attention issues, cognition in old age? It’s a red flag when proponents of a treatment claim, in essence, that it’s good for whatever ails you.
We will give the story the benefit of the doubt on this criterion because it did at least mentions that there are potential harms, but the story would have been better if it had given more detail about the type and frequency of harms. It should have also clearly noted that risks exist even when a treatment is supervised by a skilled practitioner.
One of the potential harms raised is this uNPRoven treatment may be favored over proven options like behavioral therapy and medication. The story mentioned readily available neurofeedback packages while at the same time had stern warning from a society spokesperson that people can have seizures or anxiety attacks if they use equipment that they get from ebay and use without supervision. No information about how commonly problems such as these occur.
In trying to give readers an overview of the available evidence on neurofeedback, the story fails to give readers enough information to judge the quality of the research. Most of the references to studies fail to note whether they were randomized controlled trials or something less rigorous. Although the story includes sharp comments from experts who note the paucity of evidence on neurofeedback treatments for serious conditions, it blunders by allowing a researcher to claim prematurely that participants in his trial are showing improvement, even though the results have yet to be released or reviewed by others. It also seems odd that the story portrays the National Institute of Mental Health as a "former skeptic" of neurofeedback, simply because the institute is sponsoring a trial. Studying something is not the same as supporting it, after all, isn’t putting something to the test exactly what a skeptic does?
The story did not engage in overt disease mongering.
The story included quotes from advocates as well as skeptics about benefit to be obtained through neurofeedback treatment.
Although the story includes one comment refering to proven treatments, readers are short-changed by the lack of detail or any discussion of the weight of evidence backing alternatives as comapred to the vague and scarcely studied claims of benefit from neurofeedback.
The story mentioned that there are 7,500 mental health professionals that offer neurofeedback services.
The story seemed to provide a nice history of neurofeedback devices from the 1960’s.
The story does not appear to be based on a news release.