A Review of Thought Technology Ltd.'s workshop in Toronto on using biofeedback methods

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 and advise.

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 suicide.

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.

A 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 clinical applications.  

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 from Mexico.
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!
Days 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.

Lynda and 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. 

People 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.

The 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 their medications.
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
author of Finding Care for Depression - Mental Episodes & Brain Disorders and 90 Day Plan for Finding Quality Care and Depression Survivor's Kit

Robert 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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