"Brain Training" Working Miracles

from the Inland Valley Daily Bulletin

Neurofeedback may help treat a myraid of disorders



Saturday, November 09, 2002 - CHINO HILLS - Serenity can be a difficult state to achieve even for a student of oriental medicine. Currently, Maria Munoz' most important study aid is a device that displays her brain's activity on the screen of a personal computer.

This interface of neurons and software -- called EEG neurofeedback -- helps the 54-year-old massage therapist control the anxiety which made it difficult for her to concentrate.

"Before, I would study, study, study, then go take the test and not remember anything," said Munoz. "Studying doesn't seem as draining anymore."

Munoz, who uses the therapy under the guidance of Chino Hills psychotherapist Mark Waller, says it's getting her through her course work on a degree in oriental medicine.

Waller, like a growing number of mental health professionals, believes that many adverse mental conditions and syndromes can be managed or overcome by fine tuning our brain's electrical waves. Problems ranging from depression to insomnia to addiction are often just a matter of adjusting the ratio of different frequencies of brain waves.

Waller, a marriage and family therapist, became interested in neurofeedback three years ago. He studied it and purchased a neurofeedback unit that interfaces with a standard computer.

Having the technology gives him options, he said.

For example, if a patient suffers from depression, Waller said, "I can hook you up to a machine and protocols that treat depression. We can do things other than talk."

Doing neurofeedback looks similar to playing a video game without a controller. The user's electrical brain signals, generated by the firing of brain cells, are monitored by electrodes gelled to the scalp and clipped to the ears.

One game popular with Waller's clients shows a first-person view of flying through a long, winding canyon. When the computer receives the desired brain waves, the image glides serenely along the canyon walls and rewards the user with audible points. When the brain waves are wrong, the image gets stuck.

"I felt a little silly," said Munoz, remembering her initial reaction to being hooked up. She said Waller told her not to think about making her brain work or about calming herself down. Her brain eventually figured out what it needed to do, she said.

"It's easy man. You almost have to try to not try. You just got to let go and relax," said Jack Martinez, an instructor at Ayala Golf Center who did several neurofeedback sessions at Waller's office to enhance his performance on the greens.

Martinez said after the treatment that "it seemed it was a lot easier just to focus on things and stay with one task without getting sidetracked."

"For athletes, a brief moment of distraction is what kills performance," said Mike Cohen, director of education for EEG Spectrum Inc., a center for education and research into neurofeedback.

Cohen said neurofeedback helps athletes stay in "the zone" -- a mental state of extreme clarity and focus that many people claim to have experienced but few can summon at will.

Martinez said neurofeedback not only helped him focus, but revived his appreciation for his sport after his interest had started to wane.

"Too often I would let emotions get the best of me when I played, and that would affect my score. I started playing a lot after the treatments and started playing well," Martinez said.

Many of the claims of neurofeedback advocates have been validated by independent studies in recent years and practitioners have seen their numbers grow sharply. Some feel the technology is on the verge of bursting into the mainstream of psychotherapy.

Cohen and Waller both stress that while advances have been made and many problems can be treated, as of yet neurofeedback is not an exact science.

"It's more art than science," Waller said about determining the protocols and settings used to treat individual clients and their specific issues.

Nevertheless, for 30 percent of the people who try it, Waller said neurofeedback is "nothing short of a miracle."

Joseph Tsidulko can be reached by e-mail at joseph.tsidulko@dailybulletin.com or by phone at (909) 597-7149

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