November 14, 2008

Audio-Visual Entrainment: Seeing Recovery in a Different Light

Mirasol has always been an innovator in the treatment of eating disorders. We were the first residential treatment center to use neurofeedback, and we paved the way with EMDR, polarity and acupuncture that are now part of the standard menu of services offered by many small alternative treatment centers.

audio-visual entrainmentHowever, when the topic of audio-visual entrainment surfaced two years ago, all of us were more than a little skeptical. Using glasses with flashing lights to treat depression and anxiety? It was a stretch even for Mirasol!

Overcome by curiosity, EEG Director Bill Eck purchased an audio-visual entrainment (AVE) unit, and was startled by a sudden improvement in his sleep and overall mood. After additional training from the International Society for Neurofeedback and Research, Bill began using audio-visual entrainment glasses in his practice.

So What the Heck is "Audio-Visual Entrainment"?

An Audio-Visual Entrainment (AVE) unit consists of a pair of goggles and a set of earphones that can be programmed to emit flashing white lights, coupled with intermittent pulsing tones that graduate in intensity. Similar to neurofeedback, AVE "trains" the brain to achieve specific, pre-determined brainwave patterns.

"The brain tends to match the frequency of whatever stimulus it receives," says Bill. "If it's exposed a light or a tone oscillating at a certain frequency, it will try to match it, and you can use that to push the brain in whatever direction it needs to go."

Catching a Few Waves

There are four types of brain waves:

Beta (+14Hz)- Beta is the alert, working, concentrating state where we spend most of our waking hours. time. In normal day-to-day awake state we operate at about 16-30 Hz frequency. Under stress, beta wave amplitude may increase, reducing concentration and diminishing performance.

Alpha (8 to 13.9Hz)- In Alpha state, the brain slows down, the cycles and become very relaxed, and the brain releases Endorphin (a natural pain control hormone) and Serotonin (a natural anti-depressant).

Theta (4 to 7.9Hz)- In Theta, the brain suppresses the production of Cortisol, which is an important factor for aging, and instead produces catecholamines, which are vital for learning and memory.

Delta (0.1 to 3.9Hz)- Delta is the dreamless sleep state. In deep Delta state, the brain produces Human Growth Hormone, which builds bone, muscle, tissue, hair, gives us energy and slows down the aging process.

What Does This Have to Do With Eating Disorders?

We often say that there's no such thing as a client with JUST an an eating disorder. Nearly all of Mirasol's clients present with a host of issues that may include anorexia, bulimia and compulsive eating, but also attention deficit disorder, anxiety, depression, trauma and sleep disorders. Those who suffer from ADD and ADHD spend most of their waking hours in Alpha and Theta state. Nudging theirs brains into the Beta state improves their ability to concentrate and to organize their thoughts. On the other hand, the Alpha state is the object of meditation, releasing stress, promoting healing and providing a drug-free antidote to depression. Theta is for uncovering repressed memories and improving sleeping patterns, while a deep Delta state can flood the body with endorphins and provide relief from pain.

Pyrrhic Victory for Parity

In the last edition of the Sunflower, we reported that both houses of Congress had approved mental health parity legislation, which would require health insurance plans to provide equivalent coverage for mental and physical illnesses. A compromise bill was rolled into the financial rescue plan which passed the Senate on October 1 and the House on October 3, 2008. The bill bars insurance companies from arbitrarily limiting the number of hospital days or outpatient treatment sessions, or assigning higher copayments and deductibles for mental health services. It applies only to companies with 50 or more employees with group health plans that cover medical and surgical benefits as well as mental health or substance abuse. Unfortunately, the final version of the Act includes a huge loophole that exempts companies from compliance if the new rules would result in a cost increase 1 percent (2 percent in the first year). The new parity law takes effect on January 1, 2010.

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