Changes Coming February 1st

In case you’re considering doing brain training with me, now is the time to get started.  At the end of January, I will be increasing my rates for all new clients.  Rates for existing clients will remain the same, so you can avoid the increased rate altogether by starting before January 31, 2018.

For all trainees old enough and/or able, training begins with an assessment of electrical patterns in the brain.  It’s non-invasive, harmless, and takes about an hour.

If you’re still not certain that training is right for you, call or email to set up a complimentary consultation.

The Divided Brain

Many of my clients have had some significant misunderstandings about the differences between the two hemispheres of the brain.  This short (under 12 mins) Ted talk from the brilliant psychiatrist Iain McGilchrist provides an easily understandable introduction to this confusing subject.  With cartoon illustrations, it’s also kind of fun to watch.

Check it out here:  https://www.ted.com/talks/iain_mcgilchrist_the_divided_brain

Explaining Severity of Concussions

A recent paper published in Physical Review Applied suggested that something called shear shock waves may explain why people experience varying degrees of injury, sometimes with more severe problems from lighter impacts, according to Neuroscience News.  Check out the fascinating article here:  http://neurosciencenews.com/tbi-concussion-damage-7845/?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+neuroscience-rss-feeds-neuroscience-news+%28Neuroscience+News+Updates%29

Practical Wisdom–The Effect of Environment

It’s been awhile since I posted any Practical Wisdom reflections.  For those who don’t recall, these are quotes of wisdom, followed by a reflection, followed by prompts for you to respond by creating art, journaling, or simply thinking about.  These are intended, over time, to create transformation rather than simply providing a warm, fuzzy, emotional response.  My forthcoming book, Practical Wisdom–A Guide to Moving from Inspiration to Transformation, contains dozens of these reflections, categorized by topic.  I hope you enjoy this sample.

We are the children of our landscape; it dictates behavior and even thought in the measure to which we are responsive to it.

Lawrence George Durrell

Indian-born and of British descent, Lawrence George Durrell (1912-1990) was a novelist who considered himself cosmopolitan rather than a citizen of any one country.

I haven’t lived in the Midwest for over 25 years, and I am happy with my life and current home. Yet, every spring, I develop a strong bout of homesickness. I miss the strong scent of freshly plowed, fertile soil. I miss the vibrant chartreuse of crops as they pop out of that soil. I miss being able to see the horizon. I miss my friends and activities and work from when I lived there. The bout of homesickness and nostalgia is gripping and lasts from several days to a week.

Once it passes, I am myself again. However, I know that primal love and connection to the place where I grew up affects me in many ways that I have yet to realize. What’s more, my personality internalized Midwestern culture and values, and I am not always aware of that, either.

Others who’ve lived their formative years elsewhere undoubtedly wonder how I can be so sentimental about a bunch of farm land that lacks mountain vistas or sandy ocean beaches. The answer is that, in many ways, I am a child of the land where I was born.

The same is almost certainly true of you, too. Even if you have no desire to return to the region or regions where you spent your childhood, you are still, in some way, affected by that environment.

Questions and Thoughts for Consideration

In what ways are you nostalgic about the place or places you spent your childhood? What images, sounds, and smells are of particular importance to you?

What have friends or co-workers had to say about the places where you lived?

If you have moved frequently throughout your life, how has the process of continually changing your environment affected you?

Environment includes culture. Spent some time thinking and journaling about how the cultures you inhabited affect you now. How do you feel about the depth and strength of that influence?

Why Haven’t I Heard About Neurofeedback?

Usually, I can tell when someone wants to ask me why they haven’t heard of neurofeedback before or why, although they have heard of it, they haven’t heard more. People get a funny look on their faces, as if trying to find the right way to ask the question without sounding accusatory or rude.  After all, the question makes it sound a bit like they suspect some kind of snake oil promotion is afoot.

Obviously, I cannot answer why any one individual does not know more about neurofeedback, but I understand the point behind the question. Neurofeedback has been around since the late 1960s, and it works, so why isn’t it the most popular tool in town?  Those of us who use neurofeedback discuss this from time to time, and these are some of the answers we have for ourselves, in no particular order.

It’s a Tool, Not a Field. Most people have heard of occupations like chiropractor, acupuncturist, psychologist, or teacher.  Occupations usually have some professional, guild-like organizations behind them that promote interest in the field and increase awareness.  Neurofeedback, however, is not an occupation, it’s a tool.  And, the people who use neurofeedback span many occupational categories, including tutors, coaches, occupational/physical therapists, chiropractors, spiritual guides, doctors, mental health care providers, and enthusiasts with no related occupation at all.  The result of this broad usage means that because neurofeedback doesn’t belong to any one field, it doesn’t have any one champion.  Most people end up hearing about neurofeedback from a friend who’s had a good experience.

Infighting. Sadly, a subset of neurofeedback practitioners fight among themselves over who “owns” the right to use and practice neurofeedback.  Some, especially in the mental health care professions, even go after each other legally, accusing each other of practicing medicine or psychology without a license and dragging various professional licensing boards unwittingly into the fray.  It’s unseemly, ego- and money-driven, and this sort of infighting does nothing to improve the image of those who use neurofeedback.  It also does the opposite of what these people are hoping to achieve, undermining instead of improving the reputation of the tool.

Research. Neurofeedback is a gentle teaching tool for the brain, but many skeptics treat it like it’s a pharmaceutical and argue that because there aren’t “enough” double-blind, placebo-controlled studies, it must not be a valid tool.  One of the problems researchers run into when trying to create this gold standard type of study, though, is that many trainees can tell when their neurofeedback is sham training, so an approach more like doctors use with surgical techniques is probably more useful.  Moreover, when someone is trying to use neurofeedback for mental health reasons, they often run into the problem that the brain does not subscribe to the committee-created diagnoses contained within the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-V).  So, researchers who are studying people with, say, depression, may not be looking at study participants with similar-looking brainwave patterns at all.

All that said, there are many well-done studies on neurofeedback showing that it works for people. The bigger problem is not the issue of how to design double-blind studies, it’s determining what is “enough.”  Someone who has a bias against neurofeedback will never accept its validity no matter how many studies get published in peer-reviewed journals, and someone who is gullible may not care even to ask the question.  Add this to what appears to be a concerted effort from the pharmaceutical industry to undermine the reputation of neurofeedback, and it is enough to keep some people dubious about whether neurofeedback works.

It Does Too Much.  In theory, neurofeedback can affect anything the autonomic nervous system covers.  In reality, neurofeedback’s impact is less than that, though still quite broad.  Researchers have shown that it works on a wide variety of training goals, and practitioners around the country use it for a long list of goals:  migraines; traumatic brain injuries including stroke and concussion; seizures/epilepsy; mental health diagnoses such as ADHD, anxiety, depression, and bipolar disorder, among others; personal performance improvement, especially with educational/school goals, sports, and musical performance; spiritual development; personal growth and awareness; serenity and calm; and still others that I may not even have heard of yet.  With so many potential uses and applications, it’s no wonder that the field ends up spread thin and not well known.

People Want Privacy. Some people like to share broadly about their experiences with neurofeedback (I’d have no practice if this weren’t the case.), but many others like to keep their training to themselves, almost as if it’s a secret weapon.  Neurofeedback is popular among professional and elite amateur athletes, and sometimes, you’ll hear about them in the media, as with the Canadian Olympic team prior to the Vancouver Olympic games.  More often, though, athletes seek confidentiality.  This means that, although it’s being used effectively, the public never knows that neurofeedback helped someone.

Technological Improvements. In the early days of neurofeedback, the equipment was large and expensive, meaning that very few had the means to use or apply neurofeedback tools.  Even though it existed as a tool, it was only for people with the passion and money to make it happen.

The advent of personal computers and, especially, the development and rise of laptop computing meant that the speed of everyday computers was enough to provide the brain with fast enough feedback. Plus, the cost of purchasing laptops and the gear required to do neurofeedback has fallen over the past 15 years, making it affordable for more and more people.  I suspect that as the technology improves, a greatly expanded number of people will know about and be able to apply neurofeedback in their lives.

Despite improvements in technology and decreasing costs, we’re still hamstrung to a large degree in bringing this into private homes. Professionals now find it affordable if they shop well, but the technology is costly enough that only people with powerful motivation are investing in and learning to do neurofeedback on their own.  And, despite burgeoning efforts to make free apps for anyone to use some aspects of neurofeedback/brain training, they are no match at all to seeing a professional practitioner.  However, even toy and game makers are interested in how to bring neurofeedback profitably to the masses, and if they succeed, the field of personal growth and development will expand dramatically.

The bottom line is not to let the absence of major, positive media coverage of neurofeedback stop you from considering whether to use neurofeedback on yourself or a loved one. If you do your homework, you’ll find that neurofeedback is safe, effective, and powerful—so powerful that it’s used for dozens of reasons by people from all walks of life—and the future looks bright.

The Power of Habit

If you’re looking to change some aspect of your life, whether it’s a tendency to become anxious during exams or overeat late at night, the simple act of examining your habits may be a worthwhile start, according to Charles Duhigg, author of The Power of Habit:  Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business.  He argues that habits are an important part of how we live our lives in efficient ways, such as when we learn to do something, and that new skill becomes automatic (as in learning to drive a car, for example).  Often, however, some habits we’ve unconsciously taught ourselves do not serve us as well as others, as in, say, the habit of brushing one’s teeth but not flossing.  Duhigg holds out the hope that if we can become aware of where our habitual behaviors lie, we can shift what he calls the “habit loop.”

The habit loop involves a cue, a routine, and a reward, and through identifying this loop, then changing aspects of it, we can make dramatic changes in our lives, no matter how many times we’ve tried before and failed.

In his book, Duhigg provides clear and easy-to-understand explanations for how this works, how we can identify our own troublesome habits, and how by simply changing our routines, we can break the habit we don’t like and create new ones that serve us better.  He even approaches mood-related issues such as anxiety and depression from a habit perspective, which I found particularly interesting.

Duhigg moves beyond individual habits to explain organizational behavior in terms of habits, making this an excellent read for someone who manages others or someone who’s interested in shifting a challenging work environment.

You can find this book in most major book outlets—I found mine at a local indie bookstore called Bard’s Alley.  As always with book recommendations, if you don’t wish to purchase a copy, I keep a copy of The Power of Habit in my office and am willing to share with clients and their families.

 

Exercise Preventive for Depression

In an article published today in the American Journal of Psychiatry, researchers from Norwegian and English institutions say they’ve found that as little as one hour a week of exercise has a preventative effect on depression.  A summary of the article is available through Neuroscience News at http://neurosciencenews.com/exercise-depression-7643/?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+neuroscience-rss-feeds-neuroscience-news+%28Neuroscience+News+Updates%29.

A great deal has been written about the link between mental health, well-being, and exercise.  You may also be interested in the first three chapters of the book Spark! by John Ratey, which also address ways that exercise can improve one’s outlook and, in the case of Spark!, improve academic performance.  If you’re local, I have a copy of Spark! in my office.