Can Neurofeedback Help Anxiety & Depression?

Dr Daniel Amen and Tana Amen BSN RN On The Brain Warrior's Way Podcast

In this episode of The Brain Warrior’s Way Podcast, Tana Amen is joined by Dr. Jay Gattis to talk about neurofeedback. This process is used to address the brain’s focal abnormalities, especially ones that can’t be helped using supplements or medication. It can help with anxiety, depression, traumatic brain injuries, epilepsy, and even those who don’t have the ability to talk.


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Dr. Daniel Amen: Welcome to the Brain Warrior's Way podcast. I'm Dr. Daniel Amen.

Tana Amen: And I'm Tana Amen. Here we teach you how to win the fight for your brain, to defeat anxiety, depression, memory loss, ADHD and addictions.

Dr. Daniel Amen: The Brain Warrior's Way podcast is brought to you by Amen Clinics, where we've transformed lives for three decades using brain SPECT imaging to better target treatment and natural ways to heal the brain. For more information visit

Tana Amen: The Brain Warrior's Way podcast is also brought to you by BrainMD, where we produce the highest quality nutraceutical products to support the health of your brain and body. For more information visit brainmdhealth dot com. Welcome to the Brain Warrior's Way podcast.

Welcome back. I'm so happy today to be talking about neurofeedback with one of our experts, Dr Gattis, who's at our Costa Mesa Clinic. And, this is a topic that we don't spend enough time talking about, because we actually recommend it to a lot of people. So I'm really happy that you're here explaining what it is.

Dr. Jay Gattis: I'm glad to be here.

Tana Amen: Yeah, what are we doing.

Dr. Jay Gattis: Okay, neurofeedback is so fantastically exciting because, what I love about neurofeedback, is that we can address focal abnormalities in the brain. So, you know, with our nutraceuticals and our medications we can support the brain in its general function, you know, we can help move it one way or another in its function and self-regulation.

So, for instance, when people have an injury, you know, a TBI or a concussion, right? And they have, you know, a slow focus, which I see all the time on my QEEG brain maps, right over here, well, there's no particular medication that's going to improve the function just right here, right?

Tana Amen: So when you slow focus, you're talking about sort of almost like just a little targeted spot.

Dr. Jay Gattis: That's right.

Tana Amen: Okay.

Dr. Jay Gattis: There's a decrease in the blood flow to this region right here because it was bruised, it's healed a little bit, but it's not fully recovered.

Tana Amen: Right.

Dr. Jay Gattis: Right?

Tana Amen: So these really smart guys, I have to like make sure that we're ...

Dr. Jay Gattis: Right. I know, I totally am guilty of talking in jargon.

Tana Amen: No, it's okay.

Dr. Jay Gattis: So, thank you for catching me.

So we have a little decrease in blood flow, and so what we can do is we put the sensor on, for the neurofeedback, which picks up the electrical activity in the brain, and we feed that into the computer, and what happens is I'm creating a brain computer interface, which is actually used to help people, for instance, who can no longer speak to communicate.

Tana Amen: Oh, interesting.

Dr. Jay Gattis: It's the same technology, right? So, they can use their brainwaves to select letters to ...

Tana Amen: Oh, fascinating.

Dr. Jay Gattis: Create words and sentences to communicate because they're, it's called locked in, where they literally have lost all control of their body and so they can use their electro activity, it's like words but we can do the same thing with, for instance, watching a movie. So, you're watching a movie and it gets dark when that lack of blood flow happens and, the movie gets bright when your brain increases the blood flow [crosstalk 00:03:26].

And so, we encourage the brain, like a gentle exercise and, it was one of my main metaphors for neurofeedback, it's really like going to the gym for your brain.

Tana Amen: Okay.

Dr. Jay Gattis: Well, maybe more like physical therapy, right? Because, it's very targeted, particular exercises for your brain, based on a map, you know, correcting the abnormalities.

Tana Amen: So, I know when my daughter was really young she had extreme anxiety. We thought she might have ADD, turned out to not even be anything close to ADD and now that she's older, it's obvious it's not ADD. She's the extreme other end.

Dr. Jay Gattis: Right.

Tana Amen: She's like very anxious and like everything's got to be done ahead of time and perfect.

Dr. Jay Gattis: Right.

Tana Amen: So she's like not ADD at all.

Dr. Jay Gattis: Right.

Tana Amen: But when she was little, it manifested, the anxiety was so intense that it would sort of shut her down.

Dr. Jay Gattis: Right.

Tana Amen: And so we didn't know what was going on and, yeah, it was almost crippling.

Dr. Jay Gattis: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Tana Amen: So it was recommended that she do some neurofeedback in fact, Daniel wanted to do an EEG and do some neurofeedback with her and, it was hopeful.

Dr. Jay Gattis: Right.

Tana Amen: So, I know anxiety is one of the reasons.

Dr. Jay Gattis: Oh yes.

Tana Amen: You mentioned TBI.

Dr. Jay Gattis: Right.

Tana Amen: What are some other, who are some other people who will benefit from neurofeedback?

Dr. Jay Gattis: You know, one of the less well known applications of neurofeedback was the original application of neurofeedback, which is epilepsy.

Tana Amen: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Interesting.

Dr. Jay Gattis: Yeah, so they, it was a coincidental discovery that it inhibited seizures when people trained a particular stabilizing rhythm on the top of their head ...

Tana Amen: Oh, interesting.

Dr. Jay Gattis: That it would decrease the number of seizures that an epileptic had and then what happened was they coincidentally discovered, while training people for seizures that their depression got better and their anxiety got better and their attention got better and then, [Jalubar 00:05:16] and the University of State Tennessee started applying it to ADD children and found that it got their attention better and began to spread in its application from there.

Tana Amen: So interesting. So, when I walked in, my daughter was doing neurofeedback, it looked like she was playing video games.

Dr. Jay Gattis: Right.

Tana Amen: Explain to me.

Dr. Jay Gattis: Well, that's the brain computer interface. So we can use the brain computer interface to control any particular kind of feedback. I mean the earliest neurofeedback was just a little light would come on. That was it. If you achieved an alpha brainwave, a little light would go, Ping, you know, and you would know you were making alpha. Alright? That particular amount.

And it's only in this personal computer age and now we have really infinite options of what we want to use for feedback.

Sometimes I train people with, you know, a little number that's a representation of how much of a brainwave they have and they're watching that number and looking for it to increase or decrease and that's a very basic kind of neurofeedback where you can train with a tone or music or video or they have 3D video games ...

Tana Amen: Right.

Dr. Jay Gattis: Some even with controllers where the kids can, you know, steer the car but their brains controlling how fast it goes.

Tana Amen: Interesting.

Dr. Jay Gattis: Yeah. Or a spaceship or whatever.

Tana Amen: So fascinating. So it's really can seem almost fun, to kids and not like they're doing something weird.

Dr. Jay Gattis: Right.

Tana Amen: Not like there's something wrong with them.

Dr. Jay Gattis: Right.

Tana Amen: And it can actually seem interesting and fun.

Dr. Jay Gattis: Absolutely. I mean, thanks to the new kinds of feedback that we have, particularly watching videos, what kid doesn't like watching videos?

Tana Amen: Right. Video's. Exactly. It's like a digital age, right?

Dr. Jay Gattis: So, we have very little difficulty getting them to come in and sit down for a session when they get to watch their favorite video.

Tana Amen: Right.

And so you get, what kind of results do you get with ... ?

Dr. Jay Gattis: Well, it's really quite amazing.

So, you know, we can target these particular abnormalities and as they correct, they find it, you know, I can concentrate where I used to fall asleep.

Tana Amen: Okay.

Dr. Jay Gattis: You know, or, approaching that task that used to seem so overwhelming, well, now it doesn't seem so overwhelming. My brain is functioning the way it should, I'm calmer or, I'm more activated, depending on what my brain needed or, more connected, depending on what it needed and, things are better.

Tana Amen: It's so interesting.

Dr. Jay Gattis: Yes.

Tana Amen: It's really exciting.

Dr. Jay Gattis: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Tana Amen: So, do you work mostly with children or with adults or, who do you work with? A mixture?

Dr. Jay Gattis: Well, I would say I work mostly with adults here because I find that a lot of the kids who come are coming from so far away and so we end up giving them referrals.

Tana Amen: Right, okay.

Dr. Jay Gattis: Right? And, locally it tends to be the adults who are coming in and doing the neurofeedback.

Tana Amen: Very interesting.

How many sessions does it take?

Dr. Jay Gattis: It's one of the hardest questions I deal with, Tana.

I really have to look at the brain map, see how many things we're dealing with, you know, I used to have a rule of thumb but this is with the older, traditional neurofeedback, which was 20 sessions per kind of major problem you want to address.

Tana Amen: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Dr. Jay Gattis: Okay.

The new kind of neurofeedback we're doing is called LoRETA which is super exciting because it, we have to put on a full cap of 19 electrodes but then what we can do with that cap is we can trace the actually source of the signal.

So, instead of we used to put a single sensor on and pick up some surface activity. Well, the EEG travels in all directions from wherever it's coming from so that's not as specific when you're telling the brain to change that. Then when you use the cap and you can tell it, "No, I want you to change this particular activity in this little three dimensional region over here" you're being much more specific of what you're asking the brain to do so it can learn much faster.

Tana Amen: Oh, I like that.

Dr. Jay Gattis: Right.

And so, we get the same response that we used to take 20 sessions in like five sessions, okay?

So, my rule of thumbs is adjusting from 20, it's moving down, I'm not sure exactly where it is. Maybe it's 10.

Tana Amen: Sort of depends on the person?

Dr. Jay Gattis: Yeah, depends on the person and again, the more complex the case, you know, generally the more sessions.

Tana Amen: Okay.

Yeah so, what I love is that we, you know, when people come here it depends on what you have, what's going on with you. It's why I have so many experts on the show. We have experts in different, you know, to deal with so many different things at our clinics and, I love that because we're really about skills, not just pills here and so we want to be able to be sure that we can offer people a variety of different treatments depending on what they're going through.

I love that we have hyperbaric oxygen. That we have EMDR therapy. That we have neurofeedback. That we have all these different modalities that are not just typical, traditional Western medicine. We've got an integrative medicine doctor who tests for Lyme and hormones and, you know, so, it's just such a unique place.

Dr. Jay Gattis: And I have to jump in and say, I love being a part of that, Tana, because, so often when treatment would fail in my private practice it was because I didn't have access to all these specialists with all these additional resources and I would know, like, man, I really think there's something biological going on that I need a integrative medical doctor for but I don't even know enough about that.

Tana Amen: Well all of those things affect the brain and your brain can affect all those other things.

Dr. Jay Gattis: Right.

Tana Amen: Like, when I had thyroid cancer and no-one explained to me, "Oh, by the way, you might get a little depressed." Well, I didn't get a little depressed, I got really depressed. No-one told me so, and no-one bothered like sending me to any expert, they just let me sort of suffer through it until I thought I was going to die or, wanted to die.

You know, it's like silly. So, we really try to like look at the person holistically. We make sure that we've got experts that are all here. It's like your body is not a bunch of individual organs, it's all connected.

Dr. Jay Gattis: Yeah.

Tana Amen: And it all makes a difference and, I love that.

Dr. Jay Gattis: That's right.

Yeah, I mean, our chances of success are so much higher when people have this comprehensive program, you know, they're addressing nutrition, you know, it's just so, so important, you know.

Tana Amen: Huge.

Dr. Jay Gattis: Do they have systemic inflammation because they have an infection or because they're eating Taco Bell every day.

Tana Amen: You would be surprised how many people don't actually want to deal with that.

They're like, "Give me a pill. I don't want to know."

Dr. Jay Gattis: I don't want to know ...

Tana Amen: Crazy.

Dr. Jay Gattis: Yeah, yeah.

Tana Amen: So, well, I thank you so much for joining me.

Dr Gattis is in our Costa Mesa office and he does neurofeedback here so, contact us if you think you might benefit from this. Or, if you're not sure, we'll have someone in our call center reach out to you. You can leave me a message below.

If you're going to leave contact information, please leave it in my private mailbox.

Thank you so much.

Dr. Daniel Amen: Thank you for listening to the Brain Warrior's Way podcast. Go to iTunes and leave a review and you'll automatically be entered into a drawing to get a free signed copy of The Brain Warrior's Way and, The Brain Warrior's Way cookbook we give away every month.