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Catch the (Brain) Wave: Can EEG Therapy Help Us Focus?
Carrie Steckl, Ph.D.: Fri, Oct 12th 2012
Imagine spending a couple of sessions watching a psychedelic light show with bursts of unusual sounds and ending up calm, even-tempered, and focused.
Does this sound too good to be true? It may be. But over 150 mental health professionals and clinics around the country are banking on hopes that this kind of treatment offers true benefits.
The intervention is EEG therapy, and it's not really a new idea - it's simply an advancement of the biofeedback methods I remember learning about during my internship at the Buffalo VA Medical Center many years ago. But upon reading in the Chicago Tribune about the recent rise in interest in EEG therapy, I must admit that my interest (and brain waves) are piqued.
Here's the scoop: EEG stands for electroencephalography, or the measurement of electrical activity in the brain. This is accomplished by attaching sensors (also called electrodes) to the scalp and connecting them with wires to a computer. When brain activity is recorded, it's displayed on a monitor in the form of wavy lines.
Historically, EEG has been used to diagnose conditions such as sleep or seizure disorders or to monitor a person's response to anesthesia. But mental health professionals have adapted EEG into a form of biofeedback that allows people to see their brain activity on a monitor in the form of a color spectrum of waves paired with short, persistent bursts of sound.
Clients are quieted into a meditative state and then asked to keep their focus on the monitor - if their attention strays, a pop-up message redirects them back to the pretty picture (I thought pop-ups were so out of style…).
Sessions last about half an hour. Clients who have experienced EEG therapy have reported an improved ability to focus, better decision making, a "cleared" brain, calmness, and a heightened awareness of thoughts and feelings.
Unfortunately, this kind of anecdotal evidence is all we have. According to Bill Scott, a neurotherapist (They have those?) and researcher at UCLA who came out with his own EEG machine, explains that while EEG therapy shows promise for improving human performance, it cannot quantitatively measure a person's progress via changes in brain function.
Huh? This concerns me. Admittedly, I am not a "neurotherapist" or an expert on neurological testing, but I find it really odd that a machine that can measure and project brain activity on a computer monitor cannot quantitatively compare brain activity patterns over time in such a way that can tell us whether or not the therapy is working.
If you decide to try EEG therapy, please let me know how it goes. A word of caution regarding cost: EEG therapy may or may not be covered by health insurance, as coverage varies widely depending on geographic region and individual policies. If cost is a factor for you, be sure to check on your coverage before engaging in the treatment.
I am anxious to see how EEG therapy evolves over time. I do hope that its benefits are real. For now, the gorgeous color spectrum of fall leaves outside my window and the sound of the antique clock ticking above the fireplace are all I need to feel calm and focused.