Patty Duke and Bipolar Disorder

by Siegfried Othmer | April 1st, 2016

By Siegfried Othmer, PhD

Patty Duke as Neely O’Hara in the 1967 film '‘Valley of the Dolls.’' Credit 20th Century Fox

Patty Duke as Neely O’Hara in the 1967 film ‘‘Valley of the Dolls.’’ Credit 20th Century Fox

The death of Patty Duke places the challenge of Bipolar Disorder front and center. In her case, it was not diagnosed for many years, which is not atypical. Her turbulent life even after it was diagnosed testifies to the fact that the condition was not under good control.

So what does neurofeedback have to offer? We first worked knowingly and intentionally with a case of Bipolar Disorder in 1995. The person had come to us after her psychiatrist told her that his only remaining option was shock therapy. She was suicidal, and matters were acute. She could tolerate no meds. The neurofeedback training worked wonders; the psychiatrist was in tears when he saw her again. “You are not the same person,” he exclaimed. We were underway with our protocol for Bipolar Disorder.

One of the practitioners in our network used the method with his own son, who was showing bipolar features. There had also been a family history of Bipolar Disorder. The son responded reasonably well for a surly teenager. Spurred on by this success, and in the throes of an epidemic of diagnoses of childhood Bipolar Disorder at the time, this practitioner set up a multi-modal program to get kids like his son off their various psych meds.

The program was built around the neurofeedback training as its core, and it included nutritional management, medication management, and parent training. The work was done by four staff members with the relevant expertise in one or more of these areas. Reflecting recently on his experience from those early days, this is what the practitioner recalled fondly:

“I focused on eliminating all the psychiatric meds that the kids were on. Most of the kids I saw were bipolar and on stimulants, antidepressants, mood stabilizers and sometimes anti-psychotics. With the help of a medical director I took the kids off the meds in the order that they went on the meds (i.e., stimulants first, antidepressants second, and then mood stabilizers and anti-psychotics. Over the course of twelve years and hundreds of kids, only one child couldn’t be taken off all their meds. Only one child was left on a mood stabilizer for optimal functioning.”

This is a remarkable record, even if the clinician’s memory may not be quite as good as he thinks, and the record not quite as good as he remembers. Any reasonable similarity between what he recalled here and what actually happened would constitute a breakthrough. It means that control of Bipolar Disorder using non-medical methods has been within our reach for twenty years now. At a minimum, the clinical toolkit has been usefully augmented. If the meds are still helpful, they should be used.

So why does the world not know about our method? Would Patty Duke not have wanted to know?

“Where’s the research,” said the skeptics.
“What more is needed if one is getting nearly 100% of the kids off their meds and they are functioning better without them?” was our response.
“Why do more research if the answer is already in hand,” we asked in turn?
“That’s the way the world works,” we were told.
Only that world doesn’t really work, which is why we are in the pickle now with regard to mental health. Like cats that are finicky about their food, academics are very picky about what research they recognize as legitimate. Nothing else counts, and that’s a pity.

Multi-modal treatments that are individualized to clients do not fit the standard research paradigm at all. Research like that just does not get done. Don’t bother to apply. We have here a case of the “evidence-based medicine” movement run amok. With experts tilting the playing field, evidence-based medicine turns into eminence-based medicine—-and matters remain much as they were before.
“Thou shalt not threaten the pharmaceutical colossus.”

Siegfried Othmer, PhD

One Response to “Patty Duke and Bipolar Disorder”

  1. Robin Brown says:

    Oh, how I wish I had known about Neurofeedback 27 years ago when my 15 year old son was diagnosed with bipolar disorder with psychotic depression! What placements are most affective with bipolar disorder? Thank you so much for posting this article. It gives so much hope.

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