20 YEARS, PSYCHOLOGIST SARA HUNT HARPER has taught clients biofeedback
techniques to alter blood pressure, temperature and other involuntary
was skeptical about brain wave biofeedback, which uses an electroencephalogram,
or EEG, to teach clients control of brain activity. Harper, past
president of the Biofeedback Society of Texas, did not believe this
biofeedback, known as neurotherapy, could be used in psychology.
it locally, statewide and nationally,” she says.
however, one of her patients went to the Neurotherapy Lab in UNT’s
Department of Rehabilitation, Social Work and Addictions for treatment.
After seeing positive results in the patient, Harper tried neurotherapy
in 1997 to treat her own depression. She felt better after a few
since learned EEG biofeedback from UNT for her practice. She is
one of the Neurotherapy Lab’s biggest cheerleaders.
“It is a
gift for the students it trains, the clients it serves and professionals
wishing to learn EEG biofeedback,” she says.
Lab is the only university laboratory of its type in the United
States, according to Eugenia Bodenhamer-Davis, lab director and
associate professor of rehabilitation, social work and addictions.
says the brain’s neurochemical activity generates electrical charges
from billions of cells. These charges are classified into alpha,
theta, beta and delta brain waves. Alpha waves are produced during
alert relaxation, while theta waves are associated with deep meditative
states. Beta waves are produced during task concentration and problem
solving. Delta waves are present during sleep.
has shown that people with mental and physical disorders often exhibit
high or low levels of certain brain waves, Bodenhamer-Davis says.
with serious closed-head injuries usually have too many theta waves,
causing concentration and memory problems. They need training to
wake up the brain,” she says.
many people who abuse alcohol have too many beta waves, she says.
self-medicating with a depressant — alcohol — to slow down their
brains and central nervous systems,” she says.
session in UNT’s Neurotherapy Lab, a doctoral student uses a quantitative
EEG to map a client’s alpha, theta, beta and delta levels. The student
determines thresholds or goals for increasing or decreasing levels
of certain waves.
At the beginning
of the 50-minute session, the client sits in a reclining chair.
Sensors attached to the fingers measure body temperature and sweat
gland activity, which change with relaxation. Sensors attached to
the scalp measure electrical activity.
client is relaxed, the therapist reads aloud a visualization script.
goal of neurotherapy is to decrease anxiety, the script may say,
‘I will not feel anxious about everything I need to do,’” says Paul
Nelson, UNT doctoral student in health psychology and behavioral
views the brain activity on a computer screen during the session.
A tone or visual image indicates a goal has been achieved.
computer programs that give points or have balls that change color
each time you reach the threshold,” Nelson says. “We also have a
spaceship program like a video game, which we use with children.”
session, the person determines what he or she did physically to
reach a threshold. Some clients do breathing exercises, while others
visualize images, Bodenhamer-Davis says.
an aerobic exercise for the brain,” she says. “Clients depend on
the external feedback until they recognize how they feel physically
when they have too much or too little of a certain brain wave. Then
they recall what they did during therapy to lower or increase the
new partner in treatment
Lab opened in 1992 after Bodenhamer-Davis received a $109,912 grant
from the Texas Commission on Alcohol and Drug Abuse.
chose three Texas sites to replicate neurotherapy treatment for
alcoholics that was conducted during the late 1980s at the Veterans
Administration Medical Center in Fort Lynn, Colo. UNT was the only
individuals who abused alcohol or other substances were selected
for UNT’s study. Each completed at least 30 sessions to increase
alpha and theta levels. They also learned to visualize rejection
of alcohol or drugs.
contacted 16 of these individuals after they had been out of treatment
for at least one year. Seventy-seven percent had abstained from
using alcohol or drugs or had significantly changed their drinking
habits so that they were no longer dysfunctional.
first study, the Neurotherapy Lab has treated 300 to 400 people
not only for alcohol abuse, but also for other conditions.
study involved 12 people with closed-head injuries who suffered
from depression, low energy, and memory and concentration disturbances.
the clients completed 26 to 40 sessions to learn how to increase
their beta brain-wave levels. All reported improvements in memory,
concentration and mood. In some cases, results were dramatic.
a doctoral student in health psychology and behavioral medicine,
recalls a client who had suffered two closed-head injuries. She
cried frequently, could not do simple household chores and could
not read for more than a few minutes before developing a severe
headache, he says.
sessions, she said she read a (William) Faulkner novel over the
weekend,” he says. “That was wonderful to hear.”
Lab also treats adults and children with attention-deficit hyperactivity
disorder, teaching them to increase beta waves for better concentration.
teacher had told his family to put him on medication,” Lawson says.
“After a few weeks of sessions, the kid calmed down so much that
the teacher thanked the family, thinking they had put him on medication.”
says neurotherapy has proven to have about an 80 percent success
rate in treating ADHD, closed-head injuries, alcohol and drug abuse,
and depression. But it is not a cure for every disorder, she says.
never replace counseling,” she says.
EEG biofeedback increasingly will be combined with other biofeedback
methods and counseling, Harper says.
it will change the face of mental illness treatment,” she says.