Intermittent Explosive Disorder (IED) is a relatively common and often undiagnosed condition primarily affecting younger males. IED is characterized by frequent bouts of mounting tension followed by a sudden and often violent rage response. People with IED are subject to these anger outbreaks despite a lack of apparent provocation.
Another psychologist from a mental health crisis center referred a young man reportedly suffering from IED. As often is the case with IED sufferers, his situation had reached a crisis point after a violent incident occurred with his girlfriend, and he had threatened suicide. Even though he appeared somewhat guarded during the initial interview, he did express a desire to get his violent outburst under control.
During that interview, he described directing his violent temper toward his girlfriend on more than one occasion. He was raised by his alcoholic father after his mother had abandoned the family when he was a child. His father was at times abusive with his son, and for the most part, his manner was ill-tempered throughout the young man's childhood and teenage years. The father's drinking worsened after he took early retirement from the utility company where he worked.
The patient reported that now that he had reached adulthood, his explosive behavior seemed to be getting worse and increasing in frequency. He said he felt powerless once he began feeling tense, and the result was inevitably him violently lashing out either verbally or sometimes physically toward his girlfriend.
He had also displayed his violent temper at his job as a delivery driver for a local retail store on a few occasions. He related that his aggression episodes always followed an intense sensation of tension or arousal. Immediately after the outbursts, he immediately felt a sense of relief. Afterward, the patient would experience remorse and embarrassment due to his demonstrations of anger.
Once the IED diagnosis was confirmed, the patient was introduced to the concept of the electrical activity of brain waves. The process of Electroencephalography (EEG) and how it could potentially be used to help him control his disorder was explained. The patient would learn to increase the amplitude of slow brain wave (Alpha and Theta) activity to enhance his ability to relax.
At his first EEG training session, several sensors were placed on the back of the patient's neck at C-7, on his ear lobe and the surface of his scalp. He was told to close his eyes and relax. He listened to tones that represented his having surpassed the Alpha and Theta EEG amplitude thresholds set during the initial training session. It was explained to the patient that hearing the sounds meant he had produced the type of brain wave activity that induces a calm state. By memorizing the sensation of achieving this state, the patient would be better able to gain control of his episodes of rage.
The program also consisted of daily 20 to 30-minute home training sessions in which the patient attempted to produce the same sensations he had experienced during the office sessions. Through this process of frequent repetition, the patient began to learn how to change his EEG activity consciously. Another aspect of his treatment involved his identifying the feelings he experienced and the situations that triggered an internal emotional conflict that increased his physical tension.
He quickly developed the ability to increase his Alpha and Theta amplitudes. By his third session, he reported that he felt generally calmer and more in control than he had previously. During his fifth office session, he described calmly walking away from situations that would have typically caused him physical tension and possibly led to an anger incident. After week six, he was able to start decreasing the frequency of his office training sessions. He had learned the process of influencing his brain wave activity and was well on his way to being able to control his violent temper.
This case is purely anecdotal and does not represent a peer-reviewed study. However, it does demonstrate the efficiency of treating individuals with IED with EEG Biofeedback training. I have personally treated at least a half dozen other patients and obtained similar results. It appears that using this treatment, which is free of any drug therapy components, is a way to help patients control their aggressive anger issues quickly. EEG Biofeedback may hold significant promise in reducing spousal/partner and child abuse and in helping build better social and family relationships.