USING BIOFEEDBACK TO IMPROVE BRAIN PERFORMANCE
If their episodes of anxiety and blue moods recur, people fear the
stigma of mental illness. Too many sick people suffer in silence, not knowing
who to call or what to expect when they consult with a mental health professional.
Should they pull up their socks, seek expert help or just shake their craniums?
We all know that mental health professionals are trained to care. Family
physicians and psychiatrists can diagnose, prescribe medications, use talk
therapies and educate; psychologists and social workers can assess, counsel
A Review of Thought Technology Ltd.'s workshop in Toronto on using biofeedback methods
Patients, family members and caregivers who worry
about bad moods, distorted thoughts, attention deficits and other brain dysfunctions
usually expect mental health professionals to keep treating until patients
recover. Too often this goal proves elusive. If brain problems are not diagnosed
properly or treated effectively, they can get worse. Quick fix ‘cures’ may
not correct medical conditions, restore normal functions or resolve root
cause(s). Psychiatrists use mental status exams, medical tests and questionnaires
to diagnose before prescribing antidepressants, anxiolytics, anti-psychotics,
mood stabilizers and combinations of medications. Psychologists counsel patients
to improve their patterns of thinking, feeling and behaving. Many hours of
therapy and large numbers of prescriptions result, but few patients know
when and how their brains ‘misfire’. Without taking objective measurements
or using questionnaires or computer screens to monitor progress, many
mental health professionals rely on substandard short cuts rather than encouraging
patients to work toward recovery. Sick patients may deteriorate; worst cases
Even if the patient consults an expert, the professional
cannot just remove a sick brain to find, repair and replace its faulty components.
Is medication enough? Can counselling rewire neurons? Can a mental health
professional spot dysfunctional cells inside the patient’s skull and then
recalibrate them? Can technology check physiological functions, measure biological
parameters, monitor performance, feed back information, prepare progress
reports and help patients recover? Yes.
Decades ago, researchers linked patients to computers and learned to amplify
electrical signals from their brains (and bodies), measure their energy waves,
detect sub-optimal functions and monitor performance. The resulting electroencephelograph
(EEG) information allows patients and clinicians to assess symptoms and track
progress. Objective data about brain neurology and body physiology enables
EEG clinicians to teach their patients how to stay calm, focus and recover.
growing number of health professionals use feedback equipment to assess brain
functions, monitor progress and facilitate training. Whether the diagnosis
involves mood, thought, attention or pervasive disorders, EEG practitioners
customize sessions to suit each patient’s diagnosis, goals and objectives.
Brain training can wake up sluggish parts of the brain, slow over-active
cells and sustain optimum performance. Even with symptoms, challenges,
problems and distresses, patients can improve their patterns of thinking,
feeling and behaving until they recover normal brain function.
Thought Technology Ltd.
in Montreal, Quebec manufactures and distributes biofeedback equipment. Their
Pro-Comp BioGraph system uses a desktop computer to provide objective feedback
so mental health professionals can help patients recover and keep well. With
over 5,000 installations worldwide, Thought Technology Ltd. offers regular
workshops to demonstrate set ups, guide system users and share the latest
Thought Tech offered a three-day
workshop in Toronto from July 11 to 13, 2003. Participants included psychiatrists,
psychologists and other caregivers, a fascinating group of dedicated clinicians,
from across Canada and the US, not to mention one from overseas and another
On day One, tech supporter
Frank DeGregorio demonstrated how BioGraph users can set up their systems.
Mr. GeGregorio has a wealth of knowledge and years of experience helping
people hook up their wires, set up their feedback instruments and operate
their software and hardware. He explained how the manufacturer updates the
equipment for instance, to include fibre optics. When people connect the
wrong wires or plug their amplifiers into printer ports and wonder why they
don’t get useful output, Frank minimizes down time by diagnosing hardware
glitches and treating software hiccups - over the phone!
Two and Three of the workshop featured two experts in EEG neurofeedback research
and clinical practice. Psychologist Lynda Thompson, PhD and Michael Thompson,
MD, a ‘retired’ physician who does EEG neurofeedback training, demonstrated
clinical set-ups and shared success stories. They recommended A Symphony in the Brain
as an introduction to the history and development of EEG neurofeedback. Workshop
participants received a research report and a workbook by the Thompsons called
Setting Up for Clinical Success with the ProComp+ TM / BioGraph (R)
(published by The Biofeedback Foundation of Europe). Their user guide has
sample screen displays, set-ups and instrument configurations with detailed
instructions for assessment, neurofeedback and biofeedback training, complex
procedures and running a typical session.
Michael Thompson made the workshop come alive by demonstrating set-up after
set-up and explaining how they use the ProComp BioGraph system to help patients
cope with attention deficits, autistic spectrum disorders, anxieties and
other problems. Even if there is no diagnosed mental disorder, the Thompsons
know how to apply neurofeedback and biofeedback training to help students
learn, athletes compete and executives perform. The Thompsons operate the ADD Centre and the Institute for Optimal Performance Training in Mississauga and Toronto, Ontario.
who suffer with symptoms of depression, schizophrenia, ADD and autism trust
their health professionals to diagnose accurately and treat effectively.
Conventional psychiatrists usually start with quick chats, assign DSM labels
and prescribe powerful medications. DSM Diagnostic and Statistical Manuals
have multiple diagnostic categories but psychiatrists cannot see inside ailing
brains. Even the most experienced clinician may not make a differential diagnosis
or identify all the cause(s) of symptoms. If a doctor relies on short cuts,
ignores practice guidelines or omits standard of care procedures, the patient
has little chance of getting an accurate diagnosis or effective treatments.
Successive drug trials can turn into tribulations if prescription pills interfere
with metabolism, cause toxic effects or trigger adverse attacks. In the worst
cases, sick brains get worse as doses increase and medications multiply.
Several years ago, Lynda Thompson, PhD and her husband Michael
Thompson, MD learned that EEG neurofeedback could objectify their clinical
work. Wanting to understand and treat their patients better, they adapted
EEG neuro- and biofeedback equipment and developed training sessions. They
learned how non-invasive feedback can complement medications and improve
therapies. While they don’t claim to have all the answers, the Thompsons
help many patients, consult with clinicians and teach at workshops.
Lynda and Michael Thompson have a particular interest in helping people live
well with ADD. Affected children and adults can learn to optimize their performance.
Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder is commonly diagnosed as a mental
disorder but people with ADD have FASCE capabilities: flexibility, attention-switching,
creativity and enthusiasm. Many patients take stimulant medications such
as Ritalin to wake up their sleepy brain cells so they can focus. Neurofeedback
training can help them to function normally.
ADD Book co-authored by Lynda Thompson PhD and Dr. William Sears outlines
the symptoms associated with an ADD diagnosis and shares insights into the
positive capabilities of ADD, strategies for improving behavior and plans
for success at home and at school. The neurofeedback chapter explains how
biofeedback can highlight dysfunctions and how training can restore patients’
mental health. After successful feedback sessions, some patients can reduce
Thought Technology Ltd. offers regular
workshops to help clinicians set up biofeedback equipment, fine-tune instruments
and develop clinical applications. ProComp+/BioGraph equipment can facilitate
restorative mental healthcare. Objective feedback helps clinicians train
their patients to cope with symptoms and recover from bad moods, mental episodes
and brain disorders. This brings new hope to patients and families who live
with chronic conditions such as anxiety, depression, ADD and autism.
by R Sealey, BSc, CA
Finding Care for Depression - Mental Episodes & Brain Disorders and 90 Day Plan for Finding Quality Care and Depression Survivor's Kit
Sealey, BSc, CA is an independent consultant in North York offering accounting,
tax and planning services. His mental accounting and consulting services
help people cope with depression, mental episodes or brain disorders or care
for family members. Bob authors the SEAR series of layman’s guides.
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