An innovative approach to treating depression has patients watch their own brain activity on a computer screen, as researchers display positive images on another display. People are able to see their brains respond to the images, and can help consciously boost that response.
In fact, say researchers at the Cardiff University, depression sufferers were able to better control the outcomes of their brain activity manipulation attempts. As a result, they tended to report feeling less depressed after the study, the team explains.
In order to conduct this research, scientists enlisted the help of 8 people who had been previously diagnosed with depression. Each of the participants was asked to watch positive imagery, as a Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) scanner surveyed their neural activity patterns.
According to Cardiff scientists, after just four therapy sessions, all patients displayed remarkable improvements in the severity of their condition. A control group – also made up of 8 depressed individuals – was asked to think positively, but was not exposed to images of their brains.
People in the second group did not display the same signs of improvement. The team believes the difference stems from the fact that participants in the first group were able to determine the type of positive emotional imagery that was most helpful to them, through a trial-and-error approach.
The approach the team took is called neurofeedback, and has been in use for some time in treating patients suffering from the severe neurodegenerative condition known as Parkinson’s disease.
Cardiff scientists now plan to conduct the same research on a larger scale, in order to confirm that this proof-of-concept is actually reliable. Another thing they need to focus on is establishing how long these effects will last, PsychCentral
According to study leader and Cardiff professor, David Linden, neurofeedback could soon become part of standard treatment packages for depression. This is a significant breakthrough, since one in three patients does not respond to standard medication.
Additionally, nearly 20 percent of the general population will develop depression at some point in their lives. “One of the interesting aspects of this technique is that it gives patients the experience of controlling aspects of their own brain activity,” Linden explains.
“Many of them were very interested in this new way of engaging with their brains,” the investigator adds. Details of the study appear in the latest issue of the open-access journal PLoS ONE, which is edited by the Public Library of Science.