Neurotherapy: Programming the Brain for Optimal Health and Mental Function–An Interview with Steven Fahrion, Ph.D.
An outgrowth of pioneering research conducted at the Menninger Clinic in the 1960s and 70s, neurotherapy, also known as neurobiofeedbackand brain wave therapy, is an emerging technology that rebalances brain chemistry by normalizing the brain’s beta, alpha, theta, and delta rhythms. In the process, it improves overall brain and nervous system function, making it an effective form of treatment for a wide range of health conditions, including alcoholism and addiction, as well as a quick and powerful way to optimize psychophysiological functioning.
Dr. Steven Fahrion, Ph.D., along with his wife, Dr. Patricia Norris, Ph.D., is one of the leading researchers in the use of neurotherapy, and was an original participant in the Menninger studies that were instrumental in illustrating the technology’s potential. Dr. Fahrion is also clinical psychologist and a leading expert in the fields of energy and mind/body medicine. Past president of both the Biofeedback Society of America and the International Society for the Study of Subtle Energies and Energy Medicine (ISSSEEM), he is a co-founder and current Research Director of Life Sciences Institute of Mind-Body Health, Inc., in Topeka, Kansas. In the following interview, he shares his research into the uses of neurotherapy and discusses the potential it holds for the future.
Explain what neurotherapy is and what it means.
Neurotherapy is the latest term for a form of biofeedback that involves neural events and altering neural events in a specific direction according to one’s intent. An example of it might be to deal with the common problem of not being able to stop thinking about something. This would usually involve a tight focus of attention that is associated with high-frequency brain waves, known as beta waves. To be able to let go of thoughts means being able to let go of high-frequency brain activity, and move toward slow brain activities such as occur in the alpha and theta frequency ranges. Put another way, neurotherapy is a way of altering the function of the nerves and the brain in relation to your desires.
How does it work?
The way it works is the same way that biofeedback works. That is, you set up a picture in which you can measure brain wave activity, and a behavior or neural pattern that you’re interested in changing, and then you feed that information back to the individual whose behavior needs to be changed. As that information is fed back to the person, he or she will begin to move toward the changes that they are looking for.
Biofeedback generally involves establishing a feedback loop and we under-value the usefulness of how this works in our lives. We learn everything through feedback from the time that we are babies and we find our mouth with our hand, to when we’re learning how to drive a car down the street without hitting the curbs. These are all feedback processes that are applied to events in the outside world. What is relatively new in the last several decades, is the idea that you can apply the same type of processes to the events going on inside of ourselves. The process works exactly the same way. We are all masters at feedback. We know how to reach for a glass of water and actually be able to pick it up. That’s a feedback process. But not everybody realizes that they can apply those same processes to warming their hands, to controlling the heart rate, and actually to controlling the brain and, as a result, our behavior and the nature of our experiences.
When someone is having a neurotherapy session they are, for lack of a better word, “hooked up” to a device, correct?
Yes. Usually they are hooked up usually to a single channel EEG, or electroencephalogram, and they’re receiving information about the activities of the brain under that particular electrode.
How does the person who is facilitating the experience determine what is the appropriate feedback that should be entrained in the brain?
Well, usually you’re dealing with a specific problem. Let’s take attention deficit problems, for example. Usually a person who has attention deficit disorder, or ADD, shows one of a couple of patterns of brain wave activity, and depending upon which pattern they evidence, it is apparent what has to change in order to normalize that pattern. Let me be specific. Usually the classic attention deficit problem is that under the electrodes and where you’re measuring things from — which is typically placed over the center of the head at a location technically known as CZ — the person will be showing too much slow-wave activity. There will be too much theta activity, and also delta, which is an even slower wave. If that is the case, then obviously the way to normalize the brain, and thereby to normalize behavior, is to reduce that excessive rate of theta and/or delta activity. With the EEG you can see when the little plane representing the amplitude of data is flying too high or if it’s coming down to a more normal level, and by changing the altitude of the plane on the video screen you can literally change the brain waves that are occurring inside the person’s head.
If, say, five people come to you and they all have ADD, is there any sort of preliminary screening that is done to individuate the treatment or do you pretty much operate on the assumption that they’re all going to have the excess of slow brain wave activity and that you need to up-regulate that?
There is an evaluation session, and usually within a half-hour time frame we can determine what patterns exist. There are two basic patterns that we see commonly. One is the excessive slow wave activity I just mentioned, and the other is one in which all the brain waves may be small in amplitude. The effect of either pattern is that the person is highly distractible. He or she is not easily able to lock onto timeless moments that people ordinarily experiences in their lives, and which are often associated with pleasure. Examples of this would be a person that gets so lost in a good book or a good movie that he doesn’t even hear what’s going on around him, or the elation that can come from watching a sunset, or any other of these kinds of events. People with either of the brain wave states I’ve described are not capable of easily participating in such activities. In fact, they miss out on a lot of the pleasure in their lives because their brain wave amplitudes are so small that their attention becomes highly scattered. We’re training a whole generation of people now to be like this, incidentally. We are seeing this in more and more people, perhaps as a result of television or all of the other items in our society that clammer for attention in quick little bites, you know, two seconds here or two seconds there.
Just like the evening newscast.
Exactly. The whole idea in television is to move quickly so people won’t get bored. But in moving so quickly, we are teaching a pattern of using the attention that is not too good for some other purposes, like experiencing pleasure.
I read recently of a study that was published in that last few months which found that people in the younger generation, particularly people in their 20’s, who have grown up with computers and video games and other such devices, are showing a very high incidence of short term memory loss and things of that nature.
That would make a great deal of sense because memory requires, first of all, that you are attending to the event that occurs and, secondly, that you have time to consolidate what you attended to in memory. And that second stage wouldn’t occur readily if you are constantly drawn on to the next thing and the next thing.
So we are actually conditioning an entire generation to be susceptible to a lot of these conditions. You mentioned ADD. What are some of the other health issues for which research has shown neurotherapy to beneficial?
It can provide benefit in a lot of areas. Obsessive compulsive thinking, meaning that you’re highly focused on what you’re thinking about and you can’t really let go and let your attention float and just daydream, is one example. The way we are constructed is that, in a healthy state, we go through cycles during the day that are approximately 90 minutes long. At one point in the cycle we are very focused and alert, and at the mid-point of the cycle we are more day dreamy and floating in our attention. This is the way our brains are designed to function. But if you constantly try to maintain peak alertness through the day, what happens is that you get very tired. Basically, you need to let go and recover your energy at the mid-point cycle. Once you become aware of this cycle, you can notice it occurring. Sometimes I find on planes, for example, that I’ll notice at one point in this cycle that the sound of the engines disappears and I get much more quiescent and turn inward with my attention, and then I come back to the normal kind of alertness. But people who are having trouble with their thoughts and remaining too focused, miss out on the natural recovery that would ordinarily occur in that mid-point in the cycle.
Another area in which neurotherapy has been shown to be significantly effective has to do with problems with addiction. People who have addictive problems usually have brain waves that are just exactly the opposite of those who are not focused enough. People who have addictions are highly focused. They have brain waves much like the obsessive compulsive pattern, with a lot of beta activity, and when you help them to restore a more normal brain wave function by teaching them how to increase their alpha and theta activity, it restores the normal balance that has been missing. People with addictive problems will often say, “I feel like there is a hole inside me,” and the hole is the missing kind of imagery and symbolic activity that ordinarily rise up to the surface of the unconscious and comes into consciousness. Addictive people don’t have as much of that type of neural activity. So teaching them to get into the normal kind of slow brain waves helps them to recover that process.
I know that you and Patricia have done a lot of work involving the use neurotherapy to help people recover from alcoholism, drug abuse, and other and addictive behaviors. Summarize your research in this area, particularly what you were doing in the Kansas prison system.
In the prison system we began with a study funded by the State of Kansas that was a randomized control study where we were looking at two treatments. The first involved a somewhat conventional addiction treatment that occurred within a seven week time frame, and the other involved the same more or less conventional components plus alpha-theta brain wave training through neurotherapy over the same time frame. The study participants were assigned to either the group receiving conventional treatment alone, or to the group receiving conventional treatment plus neurotherapy. In both groups, the treatment was usually provided within a matter of weeks from the time that they would be released from prison, and the individuals themselves were all convicted felons who typically had a number of inprisonments previously and who were typically convicted for substance abuse problems. They usually had used one of three drugs at the time of their conviction, which were alcohol, cocaine, or marijuana, and they ranged in age from their early 20’s to their 50’s, with a median age of around 35.
Both groups were given some additional components besides the components I just mentioned. One was hand warming, a form of biofeedback self-regulation exercise that they were taught. This enabled them to lower their sympathetic activation by warming their hands as a stress management procedure. They were also taught diaphragmatic breathing exercises, which are useful for dealing with stress, promoting calm, and so forth. Both groups received training in how to properly perform these exercise over a period of one week.
They were also subdivided into smaller groups in which they received counseling that included various psychosynthesis processes, with a more spiritual focus than traditional talk therapy, and a larger kind of orientation, if you will, that was geared towards providing them with the “big picture “with respect to their core values and exploration of growth issues, and so forth. All of the study participants were treated within a very human context, and one of the things they commented on that was most different about our program from other programs that they attended was that they were treated in a more humane way. We didn’t regard them as convicts who were out to somehow manipulate or use the staff and so forth. In addition the staff which oversaw the study was highly experienced; it was comprised of addiction counselors who were able to take a more human kind of orientation due to the people that they worked with generally.
The six weeks was spent with the first group receiving the components of conventional addiction treatment, and with the second group also receiving these components, plus a one hour session each day of compensative brain wave training via neurotherapy. Each group received the same amount of treatment time, which was approximately five to six hours per day. At the end of the treatment process, the individuals who had received neurotherapy said that that was the most important component of the program, while the individuals in the other group said that the small group work was the most important component.
Soon after the conclusion of this pilot study, the participants were release back into society, after which time they were followed on parole by the State parole officers, who saw them once a week and did follow-up in terms of how well they were adhering to the terms of their parole and so forth. Two years later, based on the follow-up data supplied by the parole officers we found that over 50 percent of the individuals who were given brain wave treatment had not relapsed. They did not test positive for any drug during the ongoing drug testing that were given randomly by the parole offices. They did not return to incarceration for any reason, including technical violations, any one of which would have caused them to be categorized as being a failure. And they did not abscond from parole. This was quite a tight criteria they were asked to meet, and they were quite closely watched by their parole officers, which doesn’t necessarily help matters, incidentally. There is evidence that suggests that when you are observing people closely in that type of a situation, it actually results in more returns to incarceration. So over all, they did very well. Ordinarily, one would have expected only between 10 to 20 percent of the parolees to have remained sober and free of re-incarceration, and yet here was a much larger percentage of people who were able to succeed for a two-year time frame.
There are a few other things to point out here. One, the total length of their treatment was only seven weeks long, and was conducted within a prison setting, which is hardly the ideal setting for such treatment. And, two, the vast majority of these people had histories of recidivism and returning to jail due to their addictions, and all of them had previously undergone multiple alcohol and drug treatments, none of which had proven to be successful in the long-term.
What was the response on the State level, and by the prison system?
Because the results were so statistically significant, the State immediately tripled the number of people within the prison system who received neurotherapy, and we eventually expanded to six different facilities, one of which was the county jail, and five of which are five different prisons where the programs are operative. We’ve trained people to continue delivering the treatment and they are continuing to do so. There is one threat to this continuance now, however, which is that the state budget is in some degree of trouble and there is a possibility that all addiction treatment in prison may be eliminated. We don’t know whether that will come to pass yet, but I would say that would be extremely shortsighted if it does.
Are you getting the same sort of success rate in the additional facilities?
Yes we are. In addition, at one of those facilities the program is being administered to women inmates, and we are very pleased to see the very positive response among the women that we are treating. They are making significant gains in terms of their issues related to substance abuse. I should point out that one of the things that happens during the course of the brain wave training is that, through the imagery that the participants will have, there will be an accompanying awareness of these triggering issues that occurs in a climate in which its tolerable to think about them without provoking a need to drink or do drugs, or whatever. The participants essentially go through a therapeutic process that fixes these things, to the point that repetition of the addictive behavior is no longer required.
Based on your experience, would you say that the primary reason neurotherapy is proving to be so successful in this regard is due to its ability to normalize, or optimize, brain wave activity?
Very much so. We know that people who are prone to alcohol and drug addiction have a relative absence of alpha and theta activity during the course of the day. If you do a spectral analysis of their brain waves, where there would be a peak for most people, for most of the addicted people there is just a flatline there. There’s a very profound absence of slow wave activity, which means basically that the person is not likely to experience satisfaction from everyday life events that most of us take for granted. Looking at a sunset or playing with a child, for example, doesn’t really bring them the same kind of pleasure that it brings to the rest of us. Unless they drink or take drugs. That is one of the primary reasons, I believe, that people become addicted — the drug or alcohol temporarily and artificially produces these slow brain waves for them and therefore, for a time, they find themselves more relaxed and able to enjoy themselves a little bit more. Otherwise, often without knowing it, because of their brain waves, they are in a chronic state of stress or depression.
What neurotherapy does for such people is restore the brain waves to their normal function, which allows them to access these pleasurable states on their own. After that, they find they don’t need the drugs or alcohol. This is a very big biological correction that occurs with the treatment process.
After the treatment is completed, does spectral analysis show that the flatline, as you describe it, has changed back to a normal gradient?
Absolutely. And not only that, but we’ve discovered that there is a change that occurs, typically about two weeks into the treatment, that seems to represent an adult developmental state change. Before the treatments, the people, as you experience them, seem to have some kind of invisible wall between you and them. Rapport is absent. They’re not responding to you as a person so much as something to “get around” or whatever. But after this developmental state change occurs — and it’s demarcated by complicated changes in the EEG spectrum — we see that the person is “back,” if you will. Their sense of humor returns and they are now relating to you like a human being. They also change in terms of their core values, and begin to think in terms of being responsible citizens within society. The only way to describe it is that it’s a transformation. I’ve never seen anything in my years as a psychologist that transfroms people in the way that neurotherapy does.
You mentioned imagery a moment ago. By that, are you talking about subjective experiences that the participants have as a direct result of neurotherapy?
That’s right. When you are producing the theta brain waves that result from the neurotherapy process, you typically will experience hypnogogic imagery which comes from a different source than the thoughts and imagery that occur during our ordinary thinking process. It’s evident that this type of theta imagery is much more symbolic in nature, and often the person who looks at it from his or her ordinary waking frame of consciousness will ignore it, or dismiss it as not meaning anything. But while you’re in this theta state, the imagery makes perfect sense, and if you can maintain the state long enough, you can often discern its meaning.
So what we do is to have people report back the images that they have had during the treatment sessions and we encourage them to work with the imagery, asking them to consider that it might mean. We don’t tell them what it means. We would never presume to do that. But we allow them to have the imagery in front of themselves, and typically the meaning of many of the images will emerge to them and they’ll realize that there is somebody behind the scenes in their lives who is guiding the show to some extent, and is helping them to overcome the problems that they have had in the past. This revelation usually fills that hole that we talked about earlier.
What do you mean by someone behind the scenes?
A part of themselves that you could think of as a sub-personality or a different state of consciousness that has more answers to the problems in the person’s life than they have often recognized in the past. You can also think of it as a higher self, if you will. It’s that part of us that is usually nonjudgmental and is not fear-based, and acts as kind of a watcher of everything that we do and experience without passing judgement on it, and yet it has some ideas about what would be better directions for us to take. Some guidance that it is waiting to offer help once we become aware of it.
In one of the conversations that you and I have had in the past, you’ve also mentioned that sometimes what occurs during neurotherapy training is that the painful memories that in many cases are at the heart of the reason why people take drugs or use alcohol in the first place will also emerge, often with startling results, in the sense that they get reframed or that the person gains a deeper understanding of them. Would you talk about that?
Yes, that’s very true. There is something about the theta state that is slightly disassociative, in the sense that it protects you from feeling the hurt too much. When people have a bad experience and they disassociate, they do so as a protective measure, to kind of cut loose from what’s happening and maintain their integrity, but at the expense of no longer being fully integrated. But the theta state helps us to integrate because it allows the reemergence of material from a bad experience, such as, let’s say, an abusive situation. It allows us to re-experience what actually happened and, in doing so, often will enable us to discover that in fact we have been thinking about the experience in the wrong way. We discover that there was something about the experience that we had not taken into account, and when we do this it changes the meaning that the experience has for us, and allows us to process the event and to let go of it in a much more favorable way then we were capable of before we gained this insight. And these insights are commonly achieved as a result of the imagery that emerges during treatment when the person is cycling through theta.
I would imagine that this would also be a large part of the reason why people who previously had addictive personalities are achieving success and recovery from their addictions after they undergoing neurotherapy training.
Absolutely. It changes the way that they think about themselves, and the way in which they relate to others. They are able to get rid of some of the barriers that have kept them isolated and alone and separate from other people.
What other conditions can neurotherapy be beneficial for, according to research and case histories?
One of the areas is the field of personal growth. These same procedures that we can use to treat a condition like addiction or ADD, can also be used to pose questions to these other parts of ourselves that we tend to be less conscious of in our normal state and see what answers emerge as we move into the “alpha and theta levels of awareness.” Typically, when we have a certain life problem that we’re trying to deal with, we put it in terms of a question and hope that if we just think about it intensely enough then we will know what to do. We think, “I’m in charge of my life and I’ve got to solve these problems myself.” That’s all well and good, but what we often forget about in trying to solve these problems is that usually what works better is to address the question to this larger or higher self that we can make contact with. The way you do that is to be very clear about what you want, then to be very easy about answering the question. In other words, you don’t push it or force it to come to you; you allow it to occur on its own, trusting that it will do so. When people begin to take that approach in their personal lives and to apply it to themselves, they will often find the answers they are looking for emerging as they are, let’s say, shaving or putting on their make-up, or that kind of thing. They find that the answers just naturally and spontaneously occur and suddenly they know what they need to do. And the answer will often appear almost as a set of images that can be directed. When I write papers now I very often write them in this kind of way. That is, I don’t necessarily start at the beginning of the paper and march on through to the end under the advice of my ego, so much as I get a clear idea of what it is that the topic is and then I try to allow myself to just quiet down and be very much into this meditative state and very often something will emerge. It might be an entire section that I don’t ever have to edit again. It’s curious, but the things that come through are often in good form. They’re not loose and unformed. But usually I won’t know exactly where this fits into the paper until more pieces emerge and then they gradually take shape. This way of operating or accessing information and guidance can be used in any creative process. It’s very much a creative way of being, in the same way as it is when you are painting a picture or writing some music. You get into this very contemplative or meditative type of state and simply allow the more unconscious parts of ourselves that have more of the big picture, as it were, to inform us. I often think of the rational mind as the dwarf and the rest of the mind as the giant. The giant needs the dwarf because it can’t do anything by itself. On the other hand, the dwarf all too often doesn’t recognize that it needs the giant if it’s going to do anything significant.
Many people, however, require training before they can regularly access information in this sort of way. There are many approaches that can facilitate them in learning how to do so, but neurotherapy, in my experience, is certainly one of the most effective and efficient, in that usually you start to see these type of results after only a few weeks of treatment, and after that you can do it on your own.
It seems to me, based on your explanation, that if someone were to experience neurotherapy over a certain period of time their actual thinking process as a whole would be integrated, and I would assume that this integration would therefore have a positive effect on the function of the central nervous system as well. Is there any evidence to support that?
There is. One of the things that has been observed in the research about alpha/theta training is that after the traumatic incident has surfaced and been processed there is an increase in synchrony in the brain so that more areas are doing the same thing at the same time. Now synchrony is exactly what we see in meditative states with highly experienced meditators. There is an increased tendency for different brain areas to become integrated into the whole, and synchrony in that sense can be a good index of integration. We see this very clearly when people receive neurotherapy training.
Taking that one step further, if the central nervous system is starting to be optimized as a result of this, and since the central nervous system in effect controls all of the other physiological processes in the body, would it be accurate to say that neurotherapy has the potential to enhance the functioning of the over-all body?
I think very much so. I think we make too much of a distinction in a way between brain and body. After all, it’s the same neural transmitters in both places that are facilitating behavior. The way that meditative groups, like practitioners of Transcendental Meditation, for example, describe this synchrony we’re talking about is as the “state of least excitation.” The aim is to quiet the nervous system and the brain to the point that the nervous system becomes very responsive to things that happen, with improved sensory detection and intuitive, “big picture,” all of which enables the organism to function more optimally. You can think of it as a general kind of phenomenon that helps keep the whole body and brain coherent, and this too is one of the results that can occur during neurotherapy sessions.
That being the case, it would seem to me that at some point this might actually be something that’s available as a matter of course in the health clinics of the future.
I would expect that it would be. I think we’ll see a lot more research on the value of meditation, for example, and as that becomes more and more apparent in general, and when that research is cross-referenced with research that shows similar positive psychophysiological outcomes, to have neurotherapy be more widely available will definitely be an item of desire on the part of health care professionals, as well as the lay public.
What about recovering from brain injury; is neurotherapy effective in this regard too?
It’s very effective in that regard. We use the same basic approach that is used with attention-deficit disorder. That is, we may identify a particular area within which to work using multi-channel brain scans, and perhaps an array of twenty or more electrodes. Once the area has been identified — and there are some quick ways of doing that, by the way, that don’t require a lot of expensive equipment — then training that area to be active, if it is responsive, normalizes behavior. The basic equation is normalize brain function and you normalize behavior, and the results can be remarkable.
My most, almost magical experience in this regard involved a man who was a mechanic who had had a stroke. After the stroke he could still do a lot of things, but he didn’t know the difference between a bolt and a nut and a screw. I saw him for two half-hour sessions — the evaluation session and one training session. During the evaluation, we identified an area on the right side of his brain that was not functioning well. He wasn’t showing enough good beta activity there, so I trained him in this during the first half-hour session. He got the basic idea and he went home and he began to sort bolts, nuts and screws, and he did this consistently for one whole week, just doing that and not much else — just eating and sleeping and sorting. When he came back the next week, the area where we had been working had normalized in its brain wave indication, and his behavior had normalized. And his wife said it had generalized into other areas. He stopped repeating himself by telling the same stories over and over again, for example, and he began to be able to fix his lawnmower again, and things of that kind. I followed him for about two years after that and the improvements continued. Once you fix these things, usually they do continue to show improvement since they have to do with the way you use your attention and you get practice every moment.
In other words, there is not a built-in dependency on the neurotherapy device itself. I would imagine that once people start to normalize their brain wave activity and also learn how to distinguish between beta, alpha, theta, and delta they also develop a skill that allows them to regulate and shift between these states for themselves. Is that correct?
That’s exactly right. You learn the “feel” of it so that you know when you’re producing theta, for example, and it’s easy to be able to repeat that state if you’re not under some kind of intense stimulation or whatever, which would tend to take you out of theta. And the same thing is true of beta — you can tell when you’re really focused and concentrating. There is not that much scientific evidence yet about this, but the research that has been done so far shows that ten years later the person who has been trained using neurotherapy is still functioning properly. They haven’t forgotten the skill of regulating these brain states by themselves, in other words.
I’m sure it varies from individual to individual, but typically what is the average number of treatments that are required before the skill really starts to take hold?
With alpha/theta training usually it’s about six sessions, and these are one-hour sessions in this case. After about six of those you begin to really lock onto it. If you’re talking about addiction treatment, I would say 30 sessions is about the minimum. Beta training to treat ADD or things of that nature is usually delivered in half-hour sessions and typically around four sessions we will begin to see some indications of improvement, and after six to ten sessions you will see substantial positive changes occurring. It doesn’t need to take a long time, although that’s partly a function of how we do the training. Unfortunately, a lot of our colleagues are doing, for example, the ADD training over large blocks of time. They may hook the person up and have them watch the machine for 20 to 30 minutes at a time. That is not optimal. It’s not efficient because the person is often getting reinforcement for practicing the wrong thing as their attention drifts off onto other things, and so forth. We don’t do that. What we do for ADD training is have them watch the screen in one minute intervals and within that time frame we collect and collate their brain behavior so that it can be averaged across multiple sessions within the half hour period. Usually we can do about six of those one minute blocks within the half hour period with a hook-up, and, in between blocks, talking with the person and answering any questions, and so forth. We can look at the average across sessions so that we can see when the person is improving or if he or she is not, and then respond appropriately to that feedback as well.
This raises another point, which is about the skill base of the people who are currently providing neurotherapy. Are there any certification programs in place to insure that people aren’t just going out and buying devices and then calling themselves neurotherapy therapists?
There are, but in my experience, they don’t help very much because they unfortunately can be certified without any kind of practical examination. This is not unusual in the practice of medical treatment, as you may know. There has been a great deal of hullabaloo about certification processes. Usually people are placed in front of study materials and so forth, but when it comes to actually determining if they can practically do the things that they are learning about, that part of the testing is often missed. There has been some challenge of certification tests, and I think somewhat rightly so. Unfortunately right now, certification is often given without adequate checking to see what the people have really learned, rather than whether they can regurgitate material out of a book.
Then what would be the criteria that someone such as myself or the lay reader should look for in order to determine whether or not they are working with someone who truly knows what he is doing?
I think there are two basic things to look for. It’s very appropriate to ask the person who says he can teach you how swim, if he knows how to swim. Similarly, I think it would be appropriate to ask people who call themselves neurotherapists if they have actually been on the machine? Do they know how to do it? Can they control their own brain waves? That’s one very important element, and unfortunately there are a fair number of trainers who think it’s for somebody else, and not something that they need to do for themselves. In addition, if you are electing to receiving the training for a specific issue, such as addiction or ADD, ask to see proof that the trainer has expertise in that area.
The second thing, since so many of the applications depend upon relaxation. is to find somebody who you experience as someone you can relax around. Are they the kind of person you can feel comfortable with? Because if they are not, that can often interfere with the training itself. A lot of behavior in society is fear-based. It’s judgement-oriented, and evaluative, and so forth, and if you’re constantly feeling that the person who is doing this training with you is not really with you but is evaluating you or testing you, or whatever, that’s not going to result in effective training.
I would also recommend that you work with someone who has some level of psychological expertise since, especially during theta training, there can be times where painful memories can come up and sometimes it is helpful to have someone who is trained to deal with such abreactions.
Are there certification organizations out there for neurotherapy that you would recommend?
I don’t believe that there are effective certification organizations at this time. Not ones that you could depend on and say, okay, this person is certified and therefore I can go to him.
Buyer beware, in other words.
To some extent, at this time, yes.
Let’s finish up be returning to what you foresee as the long-term ramifications of neurotherapy in terms of its potential use.
I think we’ve really only scratched the surface of neurotherapy’s potential. Just as an example, all of these applications that we’ve been talking about have had to do with training brain wave frequencies. The frequencies are the wave forms that are being produced. We talked a little bit about amplitude, and that is certainly important, and it’s vital if you’re thinking about things like increasing synchrony. There are many different aspect of the way these wave forms could be addressed in particular areas of the brain. One thing that has recently emerged is that it’s now possible to get three-dimensional scans of the brain using what’s called a Loreta Procedure. With those three-dimensional scans you can literally see whether a particular area of the brain is doing its job or not. Is it really producing the wave forms that we would look for. For instance, is there adequate theta activity in the hippocampus? It becomes much more of a three dimensional chess game at that point rather than just working on the surface board.
Is this what is also referred to sometimes as brain mapping?
Yes, it is brain mapping, but it’s brain mapping with the application of feedback from the map itself so that you’re using the map to generate a feedback process.
Based on that, I’d speculate that eventually it will be possible to go into a clinic that offered this in order find out exactly where the weak links are in the brain and its activity, almost like we can now go into a high-tech garage and have them hook your car up to a computer to do a diagnostic.
Very much so, and the patterns might be identified that have to do with optimizing brain functioning for a particular purpose. Some Japanese research, for example, has indicated that alpha in the frontal areas of the brain is related to peak performance. As we continue to map the brain via these scanning methods and continue to correlate specific brain wave activity with specific purposes, we will increasingly be able to optimize our abilities for achieving that purpose, whatever it might be, by using neurotherapy to train ourselves be able to regulate those brain wave patterns.
In other words, the applications are pretty open-ended.
Very much so. At this point, we literally have only begun to research what the implications are for this technology.
But to further answer your question, I think that alpha/theta training will eventually be used in the field of psychotherapy, and that it has applications for depression and anxiety, and a variety of other psychological problems. As we are seeing with people who have addiction problems, it is also very useful for helping people heal and move away from experience of the past that are holding them in bondage, thereby freeing them up to pursue new levels of growth.
I also think that we will begin exploring the potential neurotherapy has for group problem solving — particularly alpha/theta training. Many times, if you train a group at the same time, several people within the group may have an image that is shared between them, and such images can be particularly potent when it comes to solving the problems the group may be facing.
Overall, as a concluding statement, I would say that you can really change a lot of things for the better using this technology. I see it everyday.
Exercises to Increase Theta Waves and Sensory Motor Rhythms and Awareness.
The following exercises are not intended as substitutes for neurotherapy, which initially requires the assistance of a trained therapist and appropriate equipment. However, using brain wave equipment, Dr. Fahrion has verified that regular practice the exercises can increase beta activity and enhance sensory motor rhythm and sensory awareness.
“The first exercise, which is for the left brain, is one that we use frequently in our trainings because it increases theta and sensory motor rhythm,” Dr. Fahrion says. Increasing sensory motor rhythm is especially important for those individuals who have very low amplitude brain waves across the board. Increasing the sensory motor rhythm helps increase all the other frequencies in such people.” Perform the exercise by reading one sentence in a book. Now close your eyes, and restate the sentence in your own words. Don’t try to repeat it verbatim. Instead, using your own words, express its meaning. Now open your eyes and read the next sentence, then again close your eyes and repeat the process. Work up to the point that you can do this with an entire paragraph at a time, without rushing from sentence to sentence.”
“This is a good exercise to practice for two or three minutes everyday,” Dr. Fahrion says. “We’ve monitored people when they do this, using EEG devices, and can see that it increases beta activity and sensory motor rhythm.”
The second exercise can help stimulate your right brain and enhance sensory awareness and involves looking at patterns. It can be performed anywhere at any time, whether you are looking out the window, taking a walk, in the car, etc. Take a look around you and see in detail everything that you can see. Now close your eyes and recall in detail what you saw. Open your eyes and see what you missed. “Initially, most likely you will find that there were a number of things that you didn’t notice,” Dr. Fahrion says, but if you practice this every day for a few minutes at a time, after a while you will notice that it definitely increases your ability to observe and detect the events that are in your visual field, while also opening up your sensory awareness.”
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Books about Brain Wave Therapy
A Symphony in the Brain: The Evolution of the New Brain Wave Biofeedback by Jim Robbins (Atlantic Monthly Press), 2000.
Beyond Biofeedback, 2nd Edition. by Elmer and Alyce Green (Knoll Publishing), 1989.
Subtle Energies and Energy Medicine, Vol. 10. Steven L. Fahrion and Patricia Norris, Editors (ISSSEEM, Arvada, Colorado), 1999.
The High Performance Mind: Mastering for Insight, Healing, and Creativity by Anna Wise (Tarcher/Putnam), 1997.