Treating ADHD and Improving Brain Function: An Interview with Dr. Connie McReynolds
By Nate Sleger
ADHD and other brain-based conditions are often treated with medication to manage symptoms. But what if there was a way to actually retrain the brain to function better? My recent interview with psychologist Dr. Connie McReynolds sheds light on an emerging therapy called neurofeedback that does just that.
Dr. McReynolds has over 30 years of experience in rehabilitation psychology. She founded neurofeedback clinics in Southern California to help both children and adults reduce or eliminate conditions like ADHD, anxiety, depression, trauma, and chronic pain.
Neurofeedback, also known as EEG biofeedback, is a type of brain training that helps strengthen weak areas of brain processing.
In our interview, Dr. McReynolds explains how neurofeedback works and shares stories of the dramatic improvements she's seen in her patients. She also talks about the limitations of medications for treating ADHD, and explains why getting to the root cause is so important.
How Neurofeedback Retrains the Brain
So what exactly is neurofeedback? Here's how Dr. McReynolds explains it:
"Neurofeedback is using a monitor, sensors and a monitor to measure your brainwaves. And so the fascinating thing is it's the same thing. We're not doing anything to you. Biofeedback doesn't do anything to you. You're just getting information. Neurofeedback, EEG biofeedback, same thing. Doesn't do anything to you. You're just getting information."
The key is that you can see a representation of your brain activity on a computer screen. Dr. McReynolds continues:
"If we're trying to affect attention, we can measure these brainwaves and people can see based on the algorithm and, you know, the software system that's working, they can see, okay, wow, I thought I was relaxed, but this is flashing stress tension. And I can't tell you how many times I've had people come in over the years. Oh, I meditate and we put them on there and they're through the roof with tension or stress and they can't really know it necessarily."
So even though someone may think they are relaxed through meditation or other techniques, the neurofeedback equipment objectively shows what their brain state actually is.
By seeing their brainwaves represented visually, people can then learn to alter their state of mind. Dr. McReynolds explains:
"They can think they're doing all the right things and they can be trying to get there, but their life maybe hasn't really improved a whole lot. And then they can find their way to us and we get them on the equipment and that's flashing that this is saying, no, you have a lot of high tension. You're a lot of, you're carrying a lot of stress and they'll say, well, that isn't, that is what I'm feeling."
The key is that the neurofeedback system provides real-time feedback about your brain activity. You can then learn techniques to improve brain functioning in weak areas. This is what rewires and strengthens the brain over a course of treatments.
Success Stories with Neurofeedback
Dr. McReynolds shared several examples of how neurofeedback has helped her patients:
A 9 year old boy was able to "pay attention even when he doesn't want to" after treatments. The neurofeedback had worked so gradually his mother didn't notice until family pointed out changes in his behavior.
An 82 year old woman reversed early onset dementia symptoms after just a few months of treatments, verified by medical testing.
A high school gymnast wore 5 medals after tuning up her brain before a competition.
A 50 year old man understood why he couldn't keep a job after finding he had almost no auditory memory. Strengthening that area helped him succeed at work.
As Dr. McReynolds explains, each person receives a customized training plan based on their initial brain map. Treatments are done in 30 minute sessions around twice a week, with progress tracked at each 10 hour mark. Consistency is key. She likens it to going to the gym - you must repeat it regularly to build up the brain connections.
20 hours of neurofeedback training is usually sufficient for long lasting results. Some people need more sessions depending on their individual brain and condition. The benefits tend to stick once the brain is rewired.
Why Medication Isn't Enough for ADHD
Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is one of the main conditions that neurofeedback can help treat. So why isn't medication enough?
Dr. McReynolds explains that while prescription stimulants like Adderall and Ritalin can reduce some ADHD symptoms, they are not fixing the underlying brain processing problems:
"The challenge with ADHD and a lot of these other conditions is that it doesn't get to the root of the problem. So we can think of it like a band-aid. It might keep some dirt out. You know, if we've got a cut, it might reduce some symptoms, but take away the medication and the symptoms generally return."
She has seen children go through rounds of different medications and behavioral therapy with no improvement. The problems return when the medication wears off.
Medication also does nothing to address the emotional impact ADHD can have:
"It doesn't take very long for them to recognize that they're different from their peers...They start the very negative self-talk and they always go in the same direction, which is I must not be very smart. It's terrible words such as I'm really stupid. And they start telling themselves that. And so we want to really get that stopped as fast as possible because that goes nowhere fast."
Neurofeedback gets to the root physiological cause and retrains the brain for lasting benefits.
The Underlying Causes of ADHD
What causes ADHD in the first place? Dr. McReynolds explains there may be many potential contributing factors:
Genetics and biology - some are simply born more prone to it
Exposure to drugs, alcohol or smoking during pregnancy
Trauma and stressful events
Overuse of technology and excessive gaming from a young age
Ultimately there is no one cause of ADHD. It varies greatly between individuals. But with neurofeedback, it doesn't necessarily matter what caused it. Dr. McReynolds states:
"We can't go back and undo anything that caused it. So all we can do is from today forward, what we can do is figure out where you are, where your child is. And then we can look at what strategies can we implement while you're doing neurofeedback and what can we do with the neurofeedback and see if we can't get to a different place..."
The goal is to move forward with effective treatment tailored to the individual.
Neurofeedback Can Benefit Anyone's Brain
An incredible fact about our brains is that they can continue to form new neural connections and "rewire" at any age due to neuroplasticity. That means neurofeedback could potentially help anyone become better focused and more emotionally balanced.
Dr. McReynolds has used it with groups from elite athletes to children to senior citizens in retirement homes. Neurofeedback treatments have even reversed early dementia symptoms.
For adults who struggled undiagnosed for decades, neurofeedback can finally help improve cognitive skills. Dr. McReynolds gives the example of the 50 year old man who could never hold down a job due to auditory memory problems.
Not only can neurofeedback help resolve diagnosed conditions like ADHD, it can give anyone an edge mentally:
"It's so broad-based. It's amazing. I've worked with athletes. I worked with a major league ballplayer. I worked with a gymnast who wanted to tune herself up before she went to a competition when she came back. She was wearing five medals."
The key is customizing the training to the individual and their goals.
Takeaways from my interview with Dr. McReynolds
Neurofeedback provides non-invasive brainwave training to rewire weak cognitive areas
It works by showing real-time feedback of your brain activity on a screen
Consistent training can resolve ADHD, anxiety, depression and other conditions
Neurofeedback aims to fix the root cause, not just reduce symptoms like medication
It can benefit brains at any age due to the brain's lifelong neuroplasticity
Consistency with the training is key, like building strength through exercise
Customized protocols target each individual's unique brain map
Anyone can likely benefit from improving their brain functioning
Neurofeedback is an exciting therapy that harnesses our brain's natural plasticity. The applications could be endless. Still in its early stages, more research is underway to explore uses from cognitive enhancement to treating addiction, PTSD and more.
Dr. McReynolds' decades of experience show neurofeedback's promise if done properly. She stresses that assessment should guide custom training. Her book "Solving the ADHD Riddle" further explains the process and possibilities of optimizing our brains.
You can access Dr. McReynolds' work and the book mentioned above on her site: www.conniemcreynolds.com
If you or a loved one struggles with ADHD, trauma, chronic pain, cognitive decline, or want to enhance your focus, it may be worth looking into neurofeedback training. Our brains have incredible potential to heal and grow when guided the right way.