Safe Harbour Therapy Podcast – Episode 3: Attending to Brain Fitness with Joanne Couture
written by Joanne Couture (Counsellor, Beyond Neurofeedback Technology Coach) on 05/10/19
I recently came across an excerpt I had noted in Norman Doidge’s book, The Brain’s Way of Healing[i] that has me reflecting on what I do as a Brainwave Optimization technologist. Through his work, Doidge has observed different stages in neuroplastic healing that I see as extremely pertinent to the innovative technology I offer in my office as a counsellor.
The first stage is that of the general health of the neurons which are the basic working units of the brain. The different types of neurons cannot communicate with each other when compromised by an external source (such as an infection, a heavy metal toxin, a pesticide, a drug, or food sensitivity) or by an undersupply of resources, i.e. certain minerals. I’ve read works by other practitioners who seem to be of the same thought. Experts like Kelly Brogan[ii] or Izabella Wentz[iii] or David Perlmutter[iv] can share many a healing story of lifestyle interventions that included attention to the gut-brain connection with better nutrition and the elimination of toxins and certain foods, such as sugar and grains. This general cellular repair stage is relevant to everyone, and even more so when struggling with mental health and brain function issues like anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, common psychiatric disorders, attention deficit disorder, autism, learning disorders, and dementia.
Once cellular function has been re-established, Doidge points to the importance of then stimulating the neurons so that connection is encouraged between neurons. This creates the circuitry and networks that can overcome learned nonuse in existing circuits compromised by injury or lack of nutrients. In his book, Doidge shares examples of different interventions he has seen being used. Light, sound, electricity, vibration, movement and thought, all provide neurostimulation. Some stimulation begins from an external source while other forms are internal. Thought, for example, is an incredibly stimulating act which originates in our own brain. As a counselor, I use different approaches (cognitive behavioral, EMDR, EFT, IFS, etc.) to help clients become more aware of their thought processes so they can better integrate their experience and be less driven by fear or anxiety thoughts. When someone considers the Brainwave Optimization technology, exterior sound is used to stimulate the neurons and circuitry however this sound is actually created by the brain’s own activity regardless of one’s thought processes. Brainwave Optimization[v] is often promoted as an inside out approach to neurostimulation.
The next step needed after stimulation is modulation. Any stimulation must be regulated somehow. From birth, our relationships help us learn how to be social beings. Normally, these relationships help our brain acquire a natural internal capacity to self-regulate. One of the ways it does that is through the autonomic nervous system with its two branches: the sympathetic fight-or-flight reaction, which mobilizes a person for action and the parasympathetic system, which turns off the sympathetic system and puts a person into a calm state in which he or she can think and reflect. Research has shown that these response tendencies are associated with different sides of the brain, with the right side being the primary manager for “fight or flight” responses, and the left side for “rest, digest and freeze” responses. When these managers are out of balance, people might find that they can’t regulate sensation properly because of their brain capacity has them being too sensitive to outside stimulation or, alternatively, insensitive to it. Quite often a good therapeutic relationship with a counselor can be instrumental in helping a client develop toward balanced right and left brain processes. Case studies at Wake Forest School of Medicine[vi] are showing that Brainwave Optimization supports the brain to balance its left and right sides, resetting the brain’s overall level of arousal and improving its capacity for modulation or self-regulation.
Then Doidge speaks of neurorelaxation. Once a brain can self-regulate, a person can start to relax and with that comes the reparative sleep we all need for our overall well-being. Many people with brain problems are exhausted and poor sleepers. Stress has a way of keeping us in fight-or-flight mode. It is only when this is turned off does the brain get a chance to rest, digest and store the energy needed for the efforts of recovery when we are overly taxed. Most clients who take advantage of the Brainwave Optimization technology find themselves sleeping not only during the process but also thankfully when they go to bed at night. The first randomized clinical trials done at the Department of Neurology at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Centre demonstrating the effectiveness of Brainwave Optimization were actually done with clients who were struggling with insomnia.[vii] In June 2017, there was a press release by Brain State Technologies regarding a successful clinical trial that showed a reduction of insomnia symptoms for 107 adults enrolled in a three year study conducted also at Wake Forest School of Medicine.[viii]
In the final phase, Doidge speaks to a person’s capacity for neurodifferentiation and learning. When the brain is rested and self-regulating, a person is able to pay attention and is ready for learning. When brain function is at its best, it can make fine distinctions, or “differentiate,” and, from there, all is possible when it comes to learning. Brain State Technologies has published a peer-reviewed article showing how learning is enhanced with Brainwave Optimization.[ix]
With its non-invasive approach, I see Brainwave Optimization as key in any healing process because it offers neurostimulation, neuromodulation and neurorelaxation. The interconnectedness of these stages has Brainwave Optimization clients using this non-invasive neurotechnology to enhance their capacity to attend to the diet and detox needed to get their neurons functioning at their best. This in turn enables them to reach new levels of brain function taking them to competency in their endeavours and a gradual deepening in wellness. Each Intensive stimulates neurons and encourages new levels of self-regulation and relaxation. Once this has been integrated, clients may see the need to repeat the process in order to re-stimulate to yet another level of the self-regulation and relaxation for which they aspire. In the same way that people know the benefits of on-going exercise for their body, Brainwave Optimization becomes the brain exercise that clients come back to for maintenance in their well-being.
i) Doidge, Norman (2015) The Brain’s Way of Healing – Remarkable Discoveries and Recoveries from the Frontiers of Neuroplasticity (Viking; New York, NY; p. 108-112)
ii) Brogan, Kelly (2016) A Mind of Your Own – The Truth About Depression and How Women Can Heal Their Bodies to Reclaim Their Lives (HarperCollins; New York, NY)
iii) Wentz, Izabella (2017) Hashimoto’s Protocol – A 90-Day Plan for Reversing Thyroid Symptoms and Getting your Life Back (HarperCollins; New York, NY)
iv) Perlmutter, David (2015) Brain Maker – The Power of Gut Microbes to Heal and Protect Your Brain – for Life (Little, Brown and Company; New York, NY)
v) Gerdes, Lee; Gerdes, Peter; Lee, Sung W.; & Tegeler, Charles H. (2013) HIRREM: a noninvasive, allostatic methology for relaxation and auto-calibration of neural oscillations (Brain and Behavior – http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/brb3.116/abstract)
vi) Tegeler, Charles H.; Shaltout, Hossam A.; Tegeler, Catherine L.; Gerdes, Lee; & Lee, Sung W. (2015) Rightward dominance in temporal high-frequency electrical asymmetry corresponds to higher resting heart rate and lower baroreflex sensitivity in a heterogeneous population (Brain and Behavior, 2015; http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/brb3.343/references)
Tegeler, Charles H.; Lee, Sung W.; Tegeler, Catherine; & Shaltout, Hossam (March 2013) Correlation between Temporal Lobe EEG Asymmetry and Heart Rate Variability (Neurology – http://www.neurology.org/content/80/7_Supplement/P03.031.short)
vii) Tegeler,Charles H.; Kumar, Sandhya R.; Conklin, Dave; Lee, Sung W. (October, 2012) Open label, randomized, crossover pilot trial of high-resolution, relational, resonance-based, electroencephalic mirroring to relieve insomnia (Brain and Behavior, http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/brb3.101/abstract)
viii) Public Release: 6-Jun-2017 Brain State Technologies: Successful clinical trial shows reduction of insomnia symptoms https://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2017-06/bstl-bst060617.php
ix) Gerdes, Lee; Tegeler, Charles H.; & Lee, Sung W. (August 17, 2015) A Groundwork for allostatic neuro-education (Frontiers in Psychology –https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fpsyg.2015.01224/full)