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'I feel more like myself:' Neurofeedback uses brain waves to help improve one's health

Although society has advanced tremendously since prehistoric times, certain areas of our brains have not strayed from their purpose – to keep us alive.

"It keeps us from being harmed, making a foolish decision, being cheated, manipulated, but that's all that it knows. And that perception is three times stronger than a perception that something is pleasant or neutral," said Thomas Portney, a psychotherapist who runs A Sound Mind, LLC, with his wife and licensed professional counselor Martha Portney. "We use up a lot of brain power, protecting ourselves from monsters that aren't there. When you quiet the brain and focus it, we just deal with what is (there) so it is much more economical."

One of Thomas's areas of expertise is neurofeedback, a type of biofeedback where a person is trained to improve his or her brain's function. Not only is Portney certified to practice neurofeedback, but he has also experienced it. 

"We are literally creating new brain connections," he said. "We want those to be dominant so the things that used to make you frighten don't (anymore). Literally you don't pay attention to them."

Who it helps

"I get people who, a lot of times, were at the end of their rope. They've been through a lot of traditional treatment, and most practitioners have just said lovingly, 'This is as good as you're going to get,' which is pretty defeating for people. They believed they are sort of doomed," Portney said.

Neurofeedback has been known to remedy these situations and many more. It has been reported to help people with certain conditions such as cerebral palsy and dementia, people who have experienced trauma and people who want to improve their athletic skills or daily lives.

"For traumatized people, people who are really struggling with limitations that they want to change, this is a gift," he said.

Research has also shown that the technique can be effective for people with ADHD or with epilepsy, according to an International Society for Neurofeedback & Research brochure. 

"Specifically, studies show that NFB improves attentiveness and impulse control, decreases hyperactivity, raises intelligence scores and improves academic performance. Promising outgoing research shows the effectiveness of NFB for disorders such as autism, insomnia, anxiety, depression, substance abuse, traumatic brain injury and chronic pain," the society said in its brochure.

The technique also can help improve one's sleep, concentration and control over his or her emotions.

"It's natural. We are just bringing the brain back into balance," Portney said. 

What to expect

The Aiken specialist has seen patients as young as 4 to as old as 83, although he has heard of infants being treated.

Typically, his patients see him for about 10 sessions. The process, which takes about 35 minutes, is passive and non-invasive. The patient sits in a zero-gravity chair and wears noise-cancelling headphones and small sensors around his or her head. 

"You are listening, in real time, to the sounds of your brain changing in directions that you choose and away from directions that are not serving you," Portney said. "It can be pretty amazing. It's very peaceful."

The "secret," as he put it, is that neurofeedback uses algorithms.

"These are some of the most complex algorithms in the world," he explained. "It knows you've already storied what you want to do and where you want to shape your brain, so it knows what tones to give you."

The effects should last for a long time, depending on how many sessions the person does.

There have been a few published reports of negative side effects, but, generally, clients say they benefit from and enjoy the process, according to the International Society for Neurofeedback & Research. 

"What people say to me (is) 'I feel more like myself,'" Portney said. "Our brain is changing in real time all the time. ... We are not making somebody into something they are not."

A Sound Mind is one of the offices at Houndslake Wellness Associates, 920 Houndslake Drive. Portney will demonstrate neurofeedback during Houndslake Wellness Associates' open house on Nov. 29 from 5 to 9 p.m. For more information, visit www.houndslakewellness.com.

For more information on neurofeedback, visit www.isnr.org.

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