“Native Americans, Neurofeedback, and Substance Abuse Theory”. Three Year Outcome of Alpha/theta Neurofeedback Training in the Treatment of Problem Drinking among Dine' (Navajo) People

  • Matthew J. Kelley


This three year follow-up study presents the treatment outcomes of 19 Dine' (Navajo) clients who completed a culturally sensitive, alpha/theta neurofeedback training program. In an attempt to both replicate the earlier positive studies of Peniston (1989) and to determine if neurofeedback skills would significantly decrease both alcohol consumption and other behavioral indicators of substance abuse, these participants received an average of 40 culturally modified neurofeedback training sessions. This training was adjunctive to their normal 33 day residential treatment. According to DSM-IV criteria for substance abuse, 4 (21%)participants now meet criteria for "sustained full remission", 12 (63%) for "sustained partial remission", and 3 (16%) still remain "dependent" (American Psychiatric Association, 1994). The majority of participants also showed a significant increase in "level of functioning'! as measured by the DSM-IVAxis V GAF. Subjective reports from participants indicated that their original neurofeedback training had been both enjoyable and self-empowering; an experience generally different from their usual treatment routine of talk therapy and education. This internal training also appeared to naturally stimulate significant, but subtle, spiritual experiences and to be naturally compatible with traditional Navajo cultural and medicine-ways. At the three-year follow-up interview, participants typically voiced that these experiences, and their corresponding insights, had been helpful both in their ability to cope and in their sobriety. From an outside perspective, experienced nurses also reported unexpected behavioral improvements during the participant's initial training. Additionally, administrators and physicians generally found the objective feedback and verification quality of neurofeedback protocols compatible with their own beliefs. An attempt has also been made to conceptualize the outcome analysis of this study within both a culturally specific and universal socio/bio/environmental context.