Neurofeedback, a process of healing the brain through using its own signals, is gaining traction in the treatment of mental illness.
Treatment using the cutting-edge technology is being expanded at CooperRiis Healing Community under neuroscientist Dr. Carl Anderson, who joined the CooperRiis staff as its new research director on June 1.
“I think it's fascinating technology,” said Anderson. “You're immersed in the interaction, and that's very powerful for healing.”
Neurofeedback has been around for a while — as biofeedback and Alpha training — yet the technology has improved to such an extent that over a thousand peer-reviewed papers confirm its efficacy, especially in healing trauma-induced mental illness, according to Anderson.
CooperRiis, a relationship-centered healing community with campuses in Asheville and Mill Spring, links modalities of healing for individualized recovery in adults with mental illness challenges.
Here's how it works: A sensor in the neurofeedback device picks up brain activity that a computer analyzes, picking out a particular characteristic in the brain frequencies.
A training algorithm in the computer then gives a signal based on the EEG that is transformed (to give two examples) into audio as music or visually, as a video game. The participant then literally interacts with what they're experiencing — the activity of the brain is reflected for the brain to perceive.
“Just through that feedback loop, (you) can do incredible things,” Anderson said.
Based on what frequencies are being worked on, the computer will make the game faster or slower, for example, and certain brain activities can cause the music to pause, make the video game “sputter” or cause it to resume.
This activity helps the brain to self-heal, akin to how you'd reflectively straighten your posture after looking in a mirror.
Neurofeedback technology is one of the healing tools that recognize that the brain is elastic in nature, not static, said Anderson. There are no side effects to the treatment.
“It's almost as if the brain is ready to change, ready to seek health, seek wellness, but it just needs a little information, and with this…it changes very rapidly,” Anderson said.
A neurofeedback system called BrainPaint will be brought to the CooperRiis campus in Mill Spring — which gives feedback in fractal patterns.
About two years ago, CooperRiis launched a neuro-enhancement program at its Asheville campus under the direction of Stephen Barnard; 45 residents have since benefited from the program.
“It's yet another tool, and we're finding it an amazing tool that helps a person's brain go from a place of disconnection … to a place of harmony and re-connection,” said Virgil Stucker, executive director of CooperRiis Healing Community. “It's very accessible.”
With Anderson on board, the program will also be available on the Mill Spring Healing Farm campus. As donor funds allow, more neurofeedback devices will be purchased, said Stucker.
“The way I see Carl's work is he is respecting of the human experience ... from an electromagnetic point of view,” Stucker said.
Anderson, who most recently worked at McLean Hospital, the psychiatric teaching hospital for Harvard Medical School, will work on both CooperRiis campuses.
Stucker believes the blending of relationship-centered care that CooperRiis provides combined with this cutting-edge science will be revolutionary for mental health treatment.
He said research on trauma shows that childhood maltreatment and household dysfunction account for about half the cases of major depression and two-thirds of substance abuse cases. Experiencing trauma before 16 years of age triples the likelihood that psychosis will develop.
Neurofeedback offers a safe, non-invasive way to treat issues that's easy to individualize.
“It actually is kind of a doctor in a box ... an artificial intelligence that figures out the best protocols based on your psychiatric history,” Anderson said of BrainPaint. “Your hear sounds that are related to the fractal patterns — both the sounds and images reflect your brain activity.”
“Any information that gets to the brain will help it to reorganize,” he added. “With PTSD, people have trouble with nightmares, and just a few sessions of this will have some impact on sleep problems.”
“Part of the problem (in the past) was our false belief that the brain is difficult to change,” added Anderson. “It's actually more like a muscle.”