Counseling harnesses neurofeedback technology to create a roadmap of a high-performing brain
Article by Michelle Hines
It’s BrainMaster’s latest model, the Discovery 24E. And UNCG researchers are using it to put together a map of sorts — a roadmap, if you will, of a high-performing brain.
The small, black box looks like something you might plug your home video components into. But it’s valued at about $6,000, and it reads brain waves not TV signals.
Only about two practitioners in the Greensboro area can provide similar services, and the cost of analysis and treatment sessions may prove prohibitive for many potential clients, says Dr. Scott Young, head of UNCG’s Department of Counseling and Educational Development (CED) within the School of Education.
Dr. Jane Myers and Young got the machine, software and training at no cost, in exchange for creating a normative database of “peak performers’” brain function. Peak performers are characterized by sustained effort, clear interpretation, empathy, insight and stable control.
“We were really excited because, as a field, counseling needs to move toward a biological measure of what we do,” Young says. Measuring brain function provides hard data for brain changes that are otherwise difficult to quantity.
Feedback from the Discovery unit can be harnessed to help clients retrain their brains for a variety of purposes, whether they want to overcome anxiety or drug addiction, improve their ability to focus or simply get a good night’s sleep.
The process is called neurofeedback. Neurofeedback machines like the Discovery read brain waves in a painless, harmless and noninvasive way. Subjects simply put on a cap similar to a swimmer’s cap. Wires are connected to 19 terminals on the cap, and then hooked into the Discovery module. Readings are made as the subject sits briefly with eyes open and eyes closed.
EEG, or electroencephalography, sensors read brainwave patterns to track levels of brain activity, eventually generating a color-coded “map” of activity. Scientists note four levels of brain wave activity in the brain: Beta, awake and normally alert, working; Alpha, alert but mentally relaxed; Theta, deep relaxation/meditation with reduced consciousness; and Delta, asleep or unconscious.
Therapists can use that information to help clients redirect their brains. For example, Young says, if a boy is struggling with ADD in school, he can play a specially-designed “video game” that monitors his brain activity and rewards him when he is wholly focused.
Treatment depends on the condition and make take as few as 20 or as many as 100 or more sessions, usually in the range of 20-40 sessions. However, the benefit “tends to hold” as positive changes are imprinted on the brain, Young says. He considers it an effective alternative to medications. Clinical applications for neurofeedback are broad, he says, extending to sports medicine, food addictions and even hearing problems like tinnitus.
Neurofeedback equipment is pricey. UNCG’s equipment, valued at about $20,000, includes two Discovery units, computers and assorted supplies.
Brain maps in the private market can cost $750 to $1,000. CED wants to integrate neurofeedback into therapeutic services in its Vacc Clinic, giving students and outside clients access to an otherwise unaffordable treatment, Young says.
Myers, who has neurofeedback certification, is supervising the brain-mapping project for CED. The goal is to provide BrainMaster with maps of at least 200 peak-performing brains. So far about 86 UNCG graduate students and faculty members have volunteered.
“We’re chipping away,” Young says.
Neurofeedback brain-mapping sessions are done in a small office in the Curry Building. Sessions are free but do require some paperwork and background information. For details, contact Wendy Mathes at firstname.lastname@example.org.