A couple of months ago, a woman (we will call her Beth) and her husband (we will call him Bob) came into my office for a Neurofeedback consultation. Her husband was suffering from suicidal ideation, along with depression. It had been a long, arduous road for the couple, and Beth was emotionally drained, tired of living in fear of losing her husband. Bob was on medication for his depression but experienced too many side effects, which left him fearful of taking any medication further. As you can imagine, with everything she was going through, with taking care of her husband who she loved dearly, she was faced with becoming depressed and feeling hopeless herself. After coming to the Eustache Institute, we were able to come up with a treatment plan for him when we figured out he was suffering from passive suicidal ideation. During his treatment plan which included Neurofeedback therapy and cognitive therapy, we also treated the wife with neurofeedback therapy. It was important that she remain healthy mentally and emotionally while supporting him on his journey to better health. When taking care of someone who is suffering from an illness, whether it be mentally or physically, caretakers are under a great deal of stress and repress their emotions, which can ultimately lead to panic attacks. So it’s important that they too take care of themselves, and receive some form of therapy as well.
When it comes to suicidal ideation, interestingly enough, people don’t understand that there are two types, active and passive. People who consistently think about dying, and wanting to die, with a severe sense of hopelessness suffer from passive ideation. People diagnosed with active suicidal ideation imagine the physical act of killing themselves, with the intent to do so. Sadly, according to a 2016 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, 4 percent of adults in the United States had suicidal thoughts. This number was highest in 18- to 25-year-olds, with 8.8 percent of that age group experiencing suicidal ideation.
With this in mind, several complex factors add to suicidal ideation. Often these thoughts come when a person is feeling hopeless like their life has no meaning or purpose. Where they think nothing they do is right, or helpful in any way. This may be due to certain factors like relationship problems, trauma, substance abuse, loss of a loved one, the pressure of work, a physical or mental health issue, or financial difficulties; it can also be an inherited behavior. Having a neurological disorder such as depression, bipolar disorder, post-traumatic stress (PTSD), or anxiety can also contribute to suicidal ideation. Like Beth whose husband Bob suffered from passive suicidal ideation, he also suffered from depression, which unfortunately ran in his family.
At the Eustache Institute, we understand the severity of this disorder. Therapy for a person experiencing severe suicidal thoughts and behavior depends on their particular circumstance and the underlying problems causing their suicidal thoughts or behavior. We analyze each patient to determine their level of suicide risk before we begin neurofeedback therapy. Upon discovery of the underlying condition causing the suicidal ideation( i.e., depression, bipolar disorder, post-traumatic stress (PTSD), or anxiety), a treatment plan will begin. Treating the underlying problem is crucial, and will automatically help a person overcome the constant thought of suicide. It’s important to understand that each individual is unique; therefore the length of their treatment plan will differ too. In this case, when it comes to someone who’s underlying condition is severe depression, like Bob, we prescribe neurofeedback therapy (brain training) and cognitive behavior therapy (talk therapy) simultaneously. Equally important, we work with our patient’s medical doctor closely and together monitor our patient’s progress, to ensure safety and make adjustments if need be.
Neurofeedback therapy and cognitive therapy work incredibly together as they train a person how to rethink their thought process from a negative to a positive one. Neurofeedback therapy teaches a person how to retrain their brain, from a chaotic state to a more relaxed and focused state. In a comfortable setting, we will conduct a brain map on our patient to identify the part of the brain causing the underlying condition and suicidal thoughts. We will then target those specific areas during each neurofeedback sessions, and conduct extensive brain exercises in order to retrain the brain. It’s important to acknowledge that our brain is the control center of our bodies and mind, and our thoughts affect our physical and emotional health. Once the brain is balanced (healthy), a person’s brain and body will find harmony. Cognitive behavior therapy (CBT) helps patients identify the negative thoughts and feelings, and teaches them how to replace them with positive, supportive ones. CBT helps people change their negative thinking patterns and behavior by encouraging happiness and modifying dysfunctional emotions, actions, and thoughts. During a CBT session, we focus on the now (what you feel and think) rather than your past, or personality traits. This kind of therapy typically involves understanding the problem, documenting your daily activities and thoughts in between appointments, and performing homework assignments that were discussed and taught during sessions. Patients will learn the skills needed to change their thinking patterns during each therapy session, but it’s crucial they practice these skills regularly, to see a vast improvement in their mental outlook and emotional well being.
Getting back to Bob, my patient above, he’s doing tremendously better, and his wife couldn’t be more at peace with his progress. To put it mildly, it wasn’t an easy journey, but as a result, the two of them have been able to reclaim their marriage and lives together because of neurofeedback and CBT therapy. Altogether, Bob remains in therapy on a regular basis, but his condition is no longer debilitating, and he’s able to engage in social activities and has resumed interest in his career, and he’s happy with his life.
Dr. Elena Eustache is a specialist in neurofeedback therapy, with a Ph.D. in Psychology and Cognitive Behavior Therapy. Dr. Elena Eustache helps her patients reach their full potential so they can live the life they’ve always dreamed. You can read more about neurofeedback therapy by visiting her blog. You may also find her on Instagram and Facebook.