DisPatches, June 1999
Neurofeedback comes to campus
Carol Cokinos, who first worked for DSPS as an instructional aide while a college of Marin student 15 years ago, has returned as a counselor and part-time instructor.
Electrodes, computers, mind games, weird science... What's going on in TB1, room 127? Is it the twilight zone?
No, a new service is being added to the Disabled Students Program. Under the guidance of Carol Cokinos, neurofeedback will be available to help disabled students monitor their brain waves, enabling them to see and utilize feedback about their bodies' conditions.
Neurofeedback seems to work by intervening in the realm of frequency. Frequency is the rate at which electrical charges move through the brain cells. The brain is measured by four basic frequency ranges. From the slower moving delta, or sleep state, signals are moving through clusters of neurons very slowly; next, theta, a deeply relaxed state; to alpha, a slightly less relaxed state; to our most rapid brain waves, beta, which reflect normal waking consciousness. Researchers believe that problems crop up when the operating speed of someone's brain is either too low (underarousal) or too high (overarousal).
Neurofeedback works with brain wave frequencies in dealing with conditions of overarousal: anxiety, hypervigilance, heightened stress susceptibility, seizures, and more. Physiological arousal is under management of the brain stem, which also regulates the wake-sleep cycle and modulates the pain response. The thalamus mediates brain wave frequencies; thus, the client can be trained to regulate sleep cycles, have improved cognitive function, modulation of attention, and increased stability of mood. The overaroused person may be prone to anxiety attacks and obsessive behavior.
If the brain is underaroused, the clients can feel tired and may seek stimulation through coffee, drugs, or stimulating behavior. They might suffer from depression, attention deficit disorder, mild dissociative disorder, chronic fatigue syndrome, sleep disorders and cognitive deficits, as well as other imbalances.
Students can normalize brain wave patterns through the use of neurofeedback, thus helping the condition caused by underactivity or overactivity. The goal of neurotherapy is to stabilize the brain, and to render it more robust, so that it does not tip easily into overarousal or underarousal.
The sessions are fun and simple; they're like playing computer games where every move is made by the mind. Brain waves must be mapped and analyzed for deviations from the norm. If there is, for instance, too much theta (which often occurs in brain trauma, or in depression) and not enough beta, then the practioner will set parameters for a healthier brain wave map. A session of neurofeedback may consist of playing some kind of computer game in which a smiling Pacman gobbles up enemy blobs or a balloon tries to float up to the sky, while the client's brain waves are continuously monitored. Each time the brain waves find their way into the optimal state set by the practitioner, the client is rewarded with positive feedback as Pacman eats his enemy or a pleasant tone sounds. After anywhere from five to thirty sessions, the brain seems to find the optimal state on its own.
One of the ingenious aspects of neurofeedback is that it is perfectly tailored to each student. Training is always challenging and exciting but not too difficult, so that clients can move slowly and steadily into their optimal brain states. This process uses technology to provide you with more information about what your body is doing than your ordinary senses provide. This "feedback" helps you learn to use your mind to develop greater control over your body and your brain.
We are finding out more and more about the relationship between the left and right brain; neurotherapy allows a more fluid interaction between the two. So, we can look forward to some interesting adventures as we explore the workings of our brains!