Alternatives to and Supports for Talk Therapy
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For testimonials regarding EEG Biofeedback and EMDR, please click here.
EEG Biofeedback is a gentle, non-invasive procedure which addresses a wide variety of symptoms. Research has shown that a client’s brain function will change as they heal through talk therapy, as evidenced by doing a functional MRI before and after treatment. EEG biofeedback can also facilitate this healing of the brain in a more global and potentially faster manner. The goal of this procedure is to help the brain waves regulate and for the brain to work more efficiently when there seems to be disorganization. Experientially, this disorganization of brain waves can feel like “getting triggered,” “being stuck,” “going unconscious,” “getting distracted,” or just in general a feeling like the brain has been hijacked. This disorganization can also result in a variety of common physical and emotional symptoms, including insomnia, ADD/ADHD, headaches and migraines, nausea, addictions, depression, anxiety, obsessions and compulsions, seizure disorders, and chronic fatigue, among others. Changes in brain function are also seen to occur as a result of physical and emotional trauma, head injuries, sports-related bumps on the head, and physical and emotional abuse as children and adults. There can also be dysregulation simply as a result of family genetics.
It’s important to remember that our brains function independently of us much of the time. For example, our brains keep us breathing even when we’re not thinking about it. We react to certain stimuli without “conscious” effort. EEG Biofeedback is one of the few ways in which the brain is able to receive visual and auditory feedback to allow it to witness when it is working inefficiently. The brain “sees itself in a mirror” during this procedure, and begins to learn how to self-regulate. It learns when it is functioning effectively and when it is misfiring. It begins to find the path of least resistance. It is then reinforced to maintain these states through a visual and auditory reward system. Nothing is introduced during the training besides the brain’s own feedback, and the client is not required to practice anything related to the training after the session, unlike other forms of biofeedback.
The usual process begins with an initial assessment, which lasts around 90 minutes. This assessment includes a symptom evaluation and an identification of problem areas to be addressed, along with the client’s first EEG Biofeedback session. Subsequent sessions are 45-60 minutes in length, and include a brief re-evaluation of symptoms and an EEG Biofeedback session. Weekly sessions are recommended, although it is possible to do more often to expedite the regulation.
The actual session consists of the client sitting in a relaxed position in front of a computer screen, with three sensors connected to their earlobe or scalp.
In my experience, clients tend to see benefits and relief of symptoms between the third and eighth sessions. People typically start to see changes around duration and quality of sleep, duration and quality of focus and attention, and improvement in motivation. Other benefits occur as training continues, and the literature suggests that a client do ten sessions past the point where they feel symptom resolution, in order to consolidate those gains.
You can see more about the system I use at www.brainpaint.com. They have links to research studies and videos showing a typical session, along with other information about EEG Biofeedback. You can also read A Symphony in the Brain by Jim Robbins, if you are interested in more of the details and the science behind the procedure.
I also provide EMDR, another non-invasive technique, which helps people to process traumatic events from the recent or distant past. It has been the most researched treatments for psychological trauma in the past decade, and is recommended by the Department of Veteran Affairs for trauma treatment.
EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) is used primarily to help clients process memories and release the emotional charge relating to traumatic events. When successful, clients report a feeling of freedom from the memories, a reduction or absence of physical and visual flashbacks, and a sense of calm detachment from the disturbances. It can be very effective in cases of physical, sexual and/or emotional abuse, and also for situations involving violence, such as rape, or other experiences where physical danger or terror were involved. The process engages both hemispheres of the brain through eye movements. It is also useful for releasing negative beliefs and physical symptoms relating to stress.
I have used EMDR in my clinical practice since 1998. In my experience, clients appropriate for this therapy usually report positive changes in two to five sessions. I find this technique more suited to clients who’ve experienced specific traumas, and EEG biofeedback to be more effective to those who’ve experienced more chronic traumas. However, I believe it is possible to use both effectively depending on the client’s individual circumstances and reactions.
“I've been working with Mark Pletcher for several years. When I started seeing him, I suffered from great anxiety as well as deep ambivalence about the life I was living. I seemed to be stuck in patterns of thinking that no longer served me. Though talk therapy and EEG Biofeedback, the anxiety has abated and I'm thinking differently about various aspects of my life.
Mark is a warm and caring therapist who engages in dynamic dialogue. I am resolving issues which other therapists were not able to help me with. I'm more present in my day-to-day existence, more accepting, and more able to enjoy my life.”
“I am a 49 year old woman who experienced sexual trauma from 5 to 10 years of age & I am a victim of teen rape. These traumatic events have affected my life in more ways than I ever thought possible. It wasn't until I turned 43 years old that I seriously began to explore the possibility that I was indeed suffering with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
I started working with Mark Pletcher because he specializes in trauma recovery among other things. After establishing a trusting relationship with him I decided to try ‘Eye Movement Desensitization Reprocessing’ (EMDR) because I had a growing sense that there were life events that were impeding me from living fully. I felt stuck in fears and self-sabotaging behaviors. I knew in my gut there was some part of my past that I needed to heal and EMDR allowed me to do just that.
In each of the sessions I had with Mark, my mind recalled details of traumatic events. All of my senses were engaged in the process. I was fully feeling the experience that I had worked so hard to block and I was present with Mark who taught me how to give myself the support and attention I needed to care for myself after these sessions. The level of insight EMDR gave me into my own defenses that I built to protect myself in the world as well as revealing the conception of where my basic fears about relationship lie has been utterly transforming. My life has opened to a level of ‘being’ that I did not think was possible.
Along my journey I again became ‘stuck’ in my thinking and self-sabotaging behavior and this time I gave EEG Biofeedback a try. The protocols I use have varied as my brain has changed and new neuronal pathways have developed. What is different about EEG from EMDR is that I have remembered significant events in my life, some traumatic & some just impactful, but without the ‘emotional charge.’
For example, one of the goals in my life is to learn to scuba dive. I have spent a lot of time in the water in my life and I find water very healing for me & yet I am truly afraid of scuba diving. I have had about 60 EEG sessions and decided it was time to take diving lessons. On the eve of the open water dive, I was doing EEG Biofeedback when I had about 10 memories flood my brain all with the theme of water and feeling as if I was going to drown. Most occurred when I was a child and some of them were very traumatic while others just significant. My mind re-experienced the events, I saw what happened to me, my mind told me what I was feeling but I didn't have the visceral reaction, i.e., heart racing, crying, tight grip and yet I felt fully present in the event. It's as if my brain has the capacity to recall life events but my emotions were not fully activated. The following day I took my open water test, I had a healthy level of fear... I wasn't petrified! (italics added) I had the awareness that I wasn't bringing all the ‘other’ scary events into the water with me, I was just going to learn to scuba dive. I passed my test and had so much fun! As I continue to work with EEG Biofeedback I am remembering many events from my early life, it is as if I am rediscovering who I am and am able to integrate more of ‘me’ into my ‘present me.’
For me both EMDR & EEG Biofeedback are tools that have opened doors to the unconscious memories that I have worked so hard to keep closed. I feel as if I have transformed and now understand what having a sense of ‘well being’ truly means.”