Violence: The Inoculation Remedy

by Siegfried Othmer | October 6th, 2015

By Siegfried Othmer, PhD

Once again the nation goes into reflexive agonizing over yet another mass shooting, in the face of which we feel so helpless.

The obvious remedies are not available as a practical matter. The attachment to our firearms has deep roots in our nation’s history, going back to the British attempt to strip the colonists of their weapons in Massachusetts. The quarter million that are in private hands will remain there, by and large. This is a bountiful resource for anyone seeking to accumulate their own arsenal, and will remain so for the foreseeable future.

The mental health remedy remains similarly remote. One would like to be able to predict where trouble might come from, in order to initiate timely intervention, but the prospects of this are negligible for a variety of reasons. The notion of making such predictions is fanciful; the likelihood of our society mobilizing resources along these lines is questionable; and finally, we don’t really have an answer for this kind of thorough-going alienation within the realm of mental health, even if the resources were available. The problem lies deeper.

The events involving slaughter on the large scale are rare enough for the nation to accommodate them. We mourn, we recover, and we move on. But in fact, matters are worse than they seem. There have been 985 events involving four or more victims since Sandy Hook in December 2012. This means a more than 90% likelihood of such an event on any particular day. Shootings take an average of more than 90 lives in this country every day. On average eight of those 90 victims are children or adolescents under twenty. Nine more are shot per day but survive the ordeal.

It is noteworthy that in the majority of those 90 cases, the shooter and the victim are the same person. We are dealing with suicides. And among the minority of shootings that are left, the majority involve people who know each other.

If we take a mental health perspective on this epidemic of firearm-related deaths, where does one start? It should start with suicide, and it should include relationship violence. We know that veterans are more likely to commit suicide than the average citizen, but the same can be said of police officers, and even of medical doctors! We know also that teenagers are at particular risk. We know that relationship violence is relatively independent of economic circumstance. This diversity of ‘facts’ cannot have a straight-forward explanation.

With so many opting out of the life they lead, perhaps we ought to look not only at the mental health of individuals but of the society as well. Actual suicides are the proverbial ‘tip of the iceberg’ of people leading very desperate lives. Those who point their weapons outward rather than inward also know that they are ending their life as they know it. So relationship violence can also be understood in the frame of suicide. It emerges out of a similar state of desperation, of not caring what may happen to oneself and of writing off the future.

Once we look at suicide and relationship violence as a barometer of a much larger underlying mental health issue, the problem appears at once more urgent for the society and more daunting. What does it mean when so many are driven to such desperation? The matter would appear to be urgent, given the sobering statistics. Yet when it comes to mental health, society avoids the issue. Insurance companies can’t cope with it; the legal system ignores it; the educational system denies it; and the public misunderstands it.

The problem with all our present measures is that they are applied after the fact—-if they are applied at all. Mental health issues are addressed only when they rise to a certain level of severity. The categorical answer to mental health issues is to avoid them in the first place—-if one can. We are persuaded—on good evidence—-that we have it in our power to prevent most mental health issues with the early resort to neurofeedback: brain training. The only real hope lies with prevention rather than with remedy, and now neurofeedback offers us the means.

Emotional regulation can be trained; cognitive function can be enhanced—-at any age. Neurofeedback can do what the medications cannot. In fact, if truth be told, the brain drugs are part of the problem of suicide and of violence in general. Addictive drugs are yet another major issue. Neurofeedback provides the remedy for both addiction and the excessive reliance on brain drugs.

Neurofeedback can reasonably be seen as a kind of inoculation remedy—-by analogy to vaccines. Since we don’t know who is vulnerable to childhood diseases, nearly all children are to be vaccinated. Similarly, since we don’t know who is going to be vulnerable to a mental disorder later in life, everyone should be given the opportunity to train his or her brain with neurofeedback.

With vaccines the intention is to build up the competence of our immune system. With neurofeedback, the intention is to train our emotional and cognitive repertoire to meet the challenges of life. The emphasis is on building function, not on expunging dysfunction. However, it is function that displaces dysfunction, so both objectives are accomplished with the same approach.

The indisputable fact is that the vast majority of mental health issues experienced by adults have their roots in early childhood development. At that early stage, the nascent problems are as yet easily manageable—with the aid of neurofeedback. If that is done, then they will not metastasize into full-blown syndromes later. It turns out that medical issues later in life also correlate strongly with early childhood emotional development. Third, the capacity for learning is enhanced directly by means of early neurofeedback training.

The irony is that whereas we have no hope of ‘fixing’ a problem of mass shooters like James Holmes, we do have the power now to inoculate the whole society against its vulnerability to mental dysfunction and educational failure. All we have to do is to recognize this and go into action with the remedy.

Of course there is also an important distinction between vaccination and neurofeedback that should be noted. Vaccination always involves some kind of foreign biological agent being introduced into the body—-with all of the potential mischief that that might involve. With neurofeedback we have an entirely natural remedy.

The brain learns by seeing itself in action, and that is what neurofeedback facilitates. In consequence, the core self is allowed to flourish; a healthy ego emerges; and the capacity for relationship is enhanced. This armors the person with greater resilience in the face of life’s insults—-even those that occur within the family.

This is a matter of the greatest urgency for a society that is under severe duress and is losing its capacity to cope.

Siegfried Othmer, PhD

2 Responses to “Violence: The Inoculation Remedy”

  1. Siegfried, perhaps the most expedient path to widespread delivery of neurofeedback is through the school system. Imagine if neurofeedback could be part of the curriculum of every grade school student? Yet after more than 25 years, neurofeedback has hardly scratched the surface of public awareness. How do we get there from here?

    A program of the magnitude of the Manhattan Project is in order.


  2. Siegfried Othmer says:

    Our infra-low frequency neurofeedback training is currently being offered in six charter schools in Los Angeles, mainly because an enterprising practitioner marketed his services. Most likely, penetration of the educational system in a general way will not happen until there is demand for it by parents.

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