Category Archives: Uncategorized

How I Got Started

Many people, when coming for a consultation want to know about my background and how I decided to offer neurofeedback, so I thought I’d share that story here.

A few years after I had graduated with a master’s degree in counseling psychology, I ran into someone I knew when I had been a student doing clinical work.  She was from a different university, and our paths had not crossed after we finished working at the same non-profit mental health care provider.  So, it was with some surprise that she told me she had been thinking of me and had intended to start tracking me down.  She explained that she had something she wanted to share with me and invited me to lunch to discuss it.

Even though I looked forward to reconnecting with her, I had great trepidation about the fact that she said she’d had me on her mind despite the fact that we’d gone our separate ways years earlier and made no effort to keep in touch.  Who does that, I wondered.  To make matters worse, she had an excited gleam in her eye that made me suspect that she was going to pitch me to get involved in something like a multilevel marketing organization, which I had no interest in doing.

So, I was greatly surprised when she told me she’d been told by a friend about this exciting thing called neurofeedback and was certain it was right up my alley.  She spent almost an hour telling me all about her research into it and insisted that I not take her word for it but start researching on my own.

I was dubious that it could possibly be as wonderful as she made it sound, but I lived up to my promise to look into it, and the truth is that the more I read, the more excited I became. My friend was right that this was something that captured my interest and seemed like an excellent fit. I realized that if what I was reading was true, I could help make a powerful difference in people’s lives within just a few months.  I met with a couple of local practitioners, a couple of home trainers, and read voraciously.  A month later, I agreed to sign up to take a training class along with my friend.

Back then, neurofeedback was the subject of research in neuroscience labs, but almost no universities were teaching courses in how to do neurofeedback. Indeed, it never even came up as a topic in my graduate studies–perhaps this is because it is interdisciplinary and not just counseling or psychology-related.   Regardless of the reason, this meant that practitioners learned to offer it by attending seminars offered by private companies (and still do today).  The week-long introductory course I took with my friend was excellent, but it was obvious that a one-week class was wildly insufficient to be a competent provider.  More training was needed.

So, I signed up for extensive additional training with other companies and learned other theoretical approaches.  I visited the offices of practitioners and studied at their feet to acquire practical tips and techniques.  Once I felt I had enough academic learning, I started practicing with every guinea pig family member or friend who was willing to indulge me.  Then, I did a 500-hour supervised apprenticeship.  And, even though it is totally unnecessary, I took an exam with a certification board to earn the label of certified specialist.  Once past that first and rather steep learning curve to acquire basic competence, I continued to read and learn, because the field of neuroscience does not stand still.

Now, close to a dozen years later, I am grateful to that friend with the crazy gleam in her eye.  She was right that neurofeedback was and is an excellent fit for me.  I love what I do and feel excited about the challenge each client brings.  I feel honored that my clients trust my reliable tool and me to help improve the quality of their lives.

Neurofeedback and Tinnitus

According to a new study that was just presented at the Radiological Society of North America annual meeting, neurofeedback may work with tinnitus. The caveat is that this was based on fMRI at the same time as neurofeedback training and is not necessarily repeatable in a standard neurofeedback practice. It is exciting to see that researchers are exploring ways to provide such training without needing to use fMRI. For more information (and some pretty graphics!), see Neuroscience News’ coverage here.

It’s here!

 

It’s here!  Practical Wisdom was published on November 24th, and you can find copies online at Amazon here, or you can order it through your local bookseller.  If you like what you see, please leave a review, as that will help me reach more people.

Reducing Anger, Creating Calm…

Most anger management programs talk about triggers and ways to control one’s anger. That’s all well and good, but the truth is that anger and rage flare up in a tiny fraction of a second, making it difficult if not impossible to stop an outburst. The key is to stop the anger before it starts, and that requires more than just vowing not to let that temper get out of control again. Besides that, it’s practically impossible to eliminate all triggers (though it IS nice to imagine our crazy Northern Virginia traffic without all the bad drivers).

Fortunately, neurofeedback is an excellent way to calm the body and therefore reduce angry outbursts. Sessions can help soothe something called the autonomic nervous system so that the body is no longer in fight, flight, or freeze mode. If you’re calm and your body is relaxed, anger cannot exist as the same time.

Because neurofeedback is a teaching tool that helps the body to create new electrical patterns, trainees set themselves up for a lifelong skill. This means that rather than having some short-term solution, people who use neurofeedback create conditions for responding more calmly long term.

If you’re curious to learn more about how neurofeedback might help you, call or email for a complimentary information session.

Why do Neurofeedback?

Recently, I was asked about the reasons that people choose to do brain training using neurofeedback, and I thought my answer might be worth sharing here. Each person has her or her own reasons, of course, but these are some of the common ones I see:

School Stress.  Life in Northern Virginia is stressful for high school students, and there is a tremendous amount of pressure on students to excel, regardless of academic ability.  It doesn’t seem to matter whether one has learning challenges or is an exceptionally gifted student.  Indeed, being a typical student seems to carry a special burden in such a competitive environment.  It’s no wonder that many seek out tools to help them not just cope, but thrive, despite the pressure.

Feeling Stuck.  Many people, including older adults, seek neurofeedback because they feel stuck in life and aren’t performing or feeling the way they’d like.  Feeling overwhelmed, unhappy, anxious, and angry often come from the body overresponding to what life sends our way, and neurofeedback is great for helping self regulate.

Seeking the Best Tool.  In the wake of the Decade of the Brain, there are many games and gimmicks for brain performance and brain health, and most are not really supported by science.  Neurofeedback has been around for over 50 years, and when people realize how powerful such a gentle tool can be, they want to use it.  This is especially true for older adults who want to recover or maintain cognitive function and for students who are wanting a boost or a leg up academically and emotionally.

Desperation.  Frankly, many people come to try neurofeedback after they’ve tried everything else.  It’s a shame, but neurofeedback becomes a last resort when it could have been a first resort.

Natural Enhancement.  Neurofeedback is an interesting combination of exercise and teaching.  It is non-invasive and creates long-lasting results without chemicals, without “zapping” the brain, and without harm.

Destressing and Coping Better.  Some seek neurofeedback to cope in the wake of a major life challenge.  I’ve had clients seek training after car accidents, peer suicides (especially among high-school students), and other types of trauma.  Neurofeedback is no replacement for psychotherapy or medical treatment, but it’s an excellent way to calm the body’s nervous system.

One thing people do not come to my practice for is treatment of a specific diagnosis. I am quite clear that my paradigm is one of optimizing brain performance through training, however that looks for the individual client, and not one of treating for brokenness.  And, frankly, the brain does not really subscribe to the diagnostic manual for mental health disorders.

If you see yourself or a family member in this post, call for a consultation to learn more in a no-pressure environment about how neurofeedback can help you.

Better Approaches to Trauma–Neurofeedback, Body Work, Even Theater

Beginning this week, my intention is to share periodically about a book I’ve read that may be of interest to anyone who is exploring or considering neurofeedback training for whatever reason. Some of these books may be scientific and heavy on neuroscience, whereas others may have a more spiritual bent, because neurofeedback encompasses mind, body, and spirit.  In any case, I am sharing what strikes me and not providing a review or report.

Normally when I read a book, I end up scanning pages and sometimes entire sections or chapters, simply because either the writing failed to capture my attention or the content was weak. With The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma, by Bessel van der Kolk, I found myself doing the opposite.  I read slowly, taking in the long but well-written and content-rich words of one who is in my mind the most prominent and respected name in the field of trauma.  For someone whose life has been touched in any way by life’s traumas large and small, this book is worth reading the same way—a few pages at a time, with a notebook nearby.

Van der Kolk decries the emphasis that mainstream psychology places on medications and cognitive approaches to resolving trauma and treating Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), noting that they have a dismal record of success in restoring a person to healthy emotional functioning. He also points out that many people end up with a multitude of false diagnoses that share only a trauma response underneath the myriad of symptoms. Van der Kolk prefers an approach that recognizes how the body’s safety systems have been hijacked and that reconnects body and brain in a way that makes it safe for individuals to experience healthy emotions so that they can actually live inside their bodies again.  He explains why this is so through an explanation of brain functions—including a description of the limbic system and polyvagal theory, and the memory distortions that occur in individuals who have experienced trauma.  He speaks to the irrationality and non-verbal nature of trauma, and he talks about how trauma in childhood causes different physiological responses than trauma in adulthood.  Most importantly, Van der Kolk offers hope to those who suffer and their families.

In the final and perhaps most important section of his book, Van der Kolk shares what he views as essential approaches to helping individuals tone down their internal alarm systems in ways that allow them to function better in life. He suggests body work, especially yoga, massage, and EMDR.  He suggests a more dynamic approach to psychotherapy called IFS, or Internal Family Systems, which is quite similar to psychosynthesis.  Van der Kolk also encourages therapeutic theater participation, although that may be much harder to find such a program than his other suggestions.  Of especial interest to me is that Van der Kolk is a strong proponent of integrating neurofeedback into any wellness plan for trauma recovery and dedicates an entire chapter to the subject.

His emphasis on brain training and body work have not yet received support from the American Psychological Association, but individuals around the country are paying attention to his ground-breaking efforts. As someone who has been a long-time neurofeedback trainer and has specialized training in the IFS-related field of psychosynthesis, I especially appreciate his wisdom, leadership, and courage in the face of nay-sayers.

If you have any interest in this topic or relationship with someone who’s experienced trauma, put this book on your must-read list.

 

Fix What You’re Tolerating to Create Space

If you’ve read the previous post, you know that putting together a list of the things you’re tolerating in life can result in a daunting list. The first time I did it, my list was close to 200 items. I worked on the little ones first, because getting something done in 10-15 minutes made me feel like I was making progress, not just from the task itself but from the process of crossing out items on my tolerations list. It meant that I was tolerating less in life.

What I wasn’t expecting, though, was that no sooner would I cross off one of the more moderate-sized items, than I’d realize that there were a handful of items that either popped up or I had forgotten about. It meant that although my tolerations list got low, it still existed. I realized that it was a flow—some things off, some things on the list. That ebb and flow, as long as I did a reasonable job of making sure I was taking care of things rather than putting up with them, meant that my overall stress level reduced just enough that I was able to sit back and look at the bigger picture.

Looking at the bigger picture is the key aspect of this exercise. Yes, you’ll feel better about taking care of the little things—the gnats and mosquitos of life, as one of my former counseling clients put it, but you’ll also be creating room in your life to take a more serious, more careful look at the bigger stressors in your world.

What you’ll find is likely to surprise you. You are likely to see that it really isn’t the thing you THINK is making you crazy that is really the cause of stress in your world. Instead, it’s almost always something underlying the surface problem. Bad bosses, delinquent children, poor relationships…there’s always something else fundamental to how the situation got to where it is for you. Knowing that there’s something deeper and that you can find it is life changing, because it opens up new doors and new options for change.

Neurofeedback and Improving Reading Skills

Every now and then, I run across a study that is particularly exciting.  An article in the latest issue of the journal NeuroRegulation is among those findings that are worth sharing.  In it, researchers report that they were able to increase the reading level of students with learning disabilities by more than an entire grade level using a short course of neurofeedback.  Granted, it was just one study with a small number of participants under laboratory conditions, so the improvements may be better and have come faster than typical results might be, but the findings point to a promising method of helping children for whom reading is a struggle.

You can read the article for yourself here:  http://www.neuroregulation.org/article/view/15893.  The jargon may be a bit confusing to a lay reader, so feel free to call me if you’d like to explore what it means in more depth.

Reducing Anger, Creating Calm

Most anger management programs talk about triggers and ways to control one’s anger. That’s all well and good, but the truth is that anger and rage flare up in a tiny fraction of a second, making it difficult if not impossible to stop an outburst. The key is to stop the anger before it starts, and that requires more than just vowing not to let that temper get out of control again. Besides that, it’s practically impossible to eliminate all triggers (though it IS nice to imagine our crazy Northern Virginia traffic without all the bad drivers).

Fortunately, neurofeedback is an excellent way to calm the body and therefore reduce angry outbursts. Sessions can help soothe something called the autonomic nervous system so that the body is no longer in fight, flight, or freeze mode. If you’re calm and your body is relaxed, anger cannot exist as the same time.

Because neurofeedback is a teaching tool that helps the body to create new electrical patterns, trainees set themselves up for a lifelong skill. This means that rather than having some short-term solution, people who use neurofeedback create conditions for responding more calmly long term.

If you’re curious to learn more about how neurofeedback might help you, call or email for a complimentary information session.