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How do Doctors Use Biofeedback for ADHD?

By C. Webb
Updated Feb 26, 2024
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Biofeedback is a method sometimes used in the treatment of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). The method teaches the mind to control body functions to help the user remain focused and reduce impulsive actions. During biofeedback sessions, clients are shown brain responses on a monitor as they practice what the biofeedback therapist told them to do. This allows them to know exactly when a positive response is occurring in the brain so they can begin to work toward duplicating that response in everyday life.

Impulsive behaviors and the inability to focus are hallmark traits of ADHD. Not being able to stay on task and acting impulsively can adversely impact school, work, and relationships. ADHD is typically a lifelong disorder; therefore, learning how to manage it can make a significant difference in the ability to succeed. Biofeedback for ADHD is used in place of medication such as Ritalin.

There are two primary types of biofeedback. Electromyography (EMG) biofeedback measures muscle tension while the client practices techniques for relaxation. Peripheral biofeedback measures the temperature of the skin on the hand while the client works to increase it using his or her mind. An example of this type of biofeedback is listening to a tape that triggers mental images of blood flow to the hands. Generally, biofeedback for ADHD can take up to 40 sessions to master.

Biofeedback for ADHD shows promise as a treatment option. The biofeedback process changes the way an ADHD brain works. The goal of using biofeedback for ADHD is for the client to function like a non-ADHD person.

Of the two biofeedback methods, electromyography is the more popular one in the treatment of ADHD. With this method, an electroencephalogram (EEG) is conducted, mapping the five types of brain waves, which are beta, sensorimotor, alpha, theta, and delta waves. Beta waves are the most active and used when a person is most attentive, while delta waves are the slowest and occur during deep sleep.

Advocates of biofeedkback for ADHD believe ADHDers' brainwaves misfire when concentration and self-control are needed. A non-ADHD person has an increase in beta waves while he or she reads, works a math problem, or does anything else that requires mental concentration. When someone with ADHD attempts to concentrate, the beta waves do not increase. Instead, the theta waves increase, which are the waves most active during daydreaming.

The premise behind using biofeedback for ADHD is that the client can retrain his or her brain to increase the beta waves and reduce the theta waves when concentration is called for. Through the practice of concentration exercises and the ability to see results on a monitor, the client teaches his or her brain how to react when concentration is needed. Biofeedback doesn't cure ADHD; however, research indicates that in some cases it provides an effective tool for enhancing social behavior as well as academic and professional success through an increased ability to remain on task and follow through with projects.

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Discussion Comments

By bear78 — On May 31, 2014

@ysmina-- Yes, biofeedback is usually used for stress disorders. But some doctors say that ADHD is a stress related disorder, and that's how biofeedback works for ADHD.

When biofeedback tests are done on someone with ADHD, the brain waves show that the longer someone with ADHD sits still, the greater the stress he or she experiences. With biofeedback, therapists can help the individual control his emotions and actions, which in turn have an effect on the brainwaves.

By ysmina — On May 30, 2014

I did not know that biofeedback is used for ADHD. Isn't biofeedback usually used for stress and anxiety disorders?

By SteamLouis — On May 30, 2014

I agree that biofeedback doesn't cure ADHD. It's more about managing the effects of ADHD and it requires regular therapy and sometimes, support with other therapies.

My son is receiving biofeedback therapy for his ADHD. It is certainly making a difference, but it took about six sessions to start seeing the changes. If he doesn't go to the sessions or if he forgets to do the relaxation exercises at home, I can see him getting more hyperactive. So I think that biofeedback is a long-term treatment that he will have to stick to for benefits.

If at some point, he can learn to control his brainwaves without the therapy, he can continue to benefit without the therapy sessions.

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