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A Look Back at my Life with Biofeedback

By Glen Martin (Part I of III)

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I started college in 1968 as a biology/geology major intending to teach in some local high school after graduation. Little did I know the twists and turns that my life would take and the changes I would see. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 had just made segregation illegal four years earlier. It took awhile, however, before the law was fully implemented. The number of ‘sundown towns’ where ‘coloured people’ within the city limits would be arrested after sundown didn’t peak until the early seventies.

Growing up in Middle America during the fifties and early sixties, our reality was that segregation was legal and the law of the land. At the bowling alleys and roller skating arcades there were times for ‘Coloured Only’ and other times for ‘Whites Only.’ I learned that the ‘white folks’ had to bring their own bowling shoes and roller skates since the ‘coloured people’ relied on the rentals. The swimming pools were off limits to the ‘coloured people,’ and they had to swim on the other side of the lake. Understand this was the more liberal North and not the more conservative South. The sixties brought vast sociological changes. What would be generally accepted today as sexism and racism was perceived as virtues in the fifties and early sixties.

Although I missed going to Woodstock because I couldn’t get the weekend off from work, by the end of 1969 I had taken my first yoga class–from a former Russian ballerina in her eighties. I also had my first martial arts class from someone who—it was rumoured—had fought death matches before coming to the States. Health food stores, gay pride, feminism, vegetarianism, yoga and martial arts were not yet part of the collective consciousness. The university book stores, however, were full of New Age books by Alan Watts, Krishnamurti, Aldous Huxley, Carlos Castaneda and others. A new stage of consciousness was emerging at the collective level. Men were growing their hair long and women were cutting their hair short. The pill helped spark the feminist movement. For the first time women had control over pregnancy. Since homosexuality until 1973 was still a recognized psychiatric diagnostic disorder, most gays were still in the closet.

The counterculture movement of the sixties was just beginning to reach Middle America and in just a few years would implode with the student shootings on the nearby campus of Kent State University. Every stage of consciousness has a dark, unhealthy, and dysfunctional side as well as a light, healthy, and functional side. In 1972 I attended a music festival that was being billed as the second Woodstock. It clearly wasn’t. At the festival, it was obvious that a part of the counterculture movement was disintegrating into indiscriminate, unprotected sex and the irresponsible use of drugs. I came back from the festival, cut my long hair short, and started attending meditation retreats instead.

Anti-sexism, anti-racism, meditation and biofeedback reflected the healthy side of this shift in consciousness. My first exposure to EEG biofeedback was in the mid-seventies with one of the early alpha-theta brainwave training instruments. Using an absolute threshold feedback instead of a variable threshold, it was apparent that this new technology was going to need a lot more development. It would be almost another twenty years before I would see this brainwave technology re-emerge at a practical level.

After majoring in the hard sciences for five years I switched to the soft science of psychology for another five years. With an interest in the hard sciences and the soft sciences I became interested in the psychophysiology of meditation, biofeedback, breathing, hypnosis, exercise, and relaxation. I wanted to understand how these interventions impacted the body and the brain and what part of the brain was being activated or deactivated and what was happening biochemically. When EEG biofeedback came along I also wanted to understand the bioelectrical model as well.

Out of college I was surprised to find that it was common for a patient to be in therapy for years and years. I remember being told by my supervisor in the late seventies that I should never give a patient any insight while doing psychotherapy. Although other types of therapies existed, a psychoanalytical Freudian orientation still prevailed at this time. Let the patient simply talk and uncover and discover his or her own insights. With the ending of the Community Mental Health Act in 1981, the increasing medicalization of psychiatry, and the emergence of managed care, all of this was going to change. In the eighties the long term use of psychiatric medications replaced long-term therapy.

In the late seventies I switched to crisis intervention and hospice to avoid listening to patients unburden themselves endlessly for years. I was interested in understanding every viable intervention from Autogenic Training to Wilderness Therapy. An interest in anthropology, biology, evolution, biochemistry, biofeedback, martial arts, meditation, psychology, psychophysiology, religions, sociology, spirituality and a host of other domains motivated a holistic approach and perspective. Years later this eclectic interest would bear fruit in an encompassing meta-theory called the Conscious Template, to which the just completed book The Universe Within is devoted.

After graduating from college I made a spiritual pilgrimage in 1979 to India. I was shocked and repelled by the hero worship of the guru that I saw in India, and this reignited my interest in the hard sciences. When I returned, I purchased peripheral biofeedback equipment and became certified in biofeedback. Scientists were using peripheral biofeedback to study the control that some yogis had over their autonomic nervous system. Biofeedback appeared to be mainstream medicine. The nearby Cleveland Clinic in Ohio and the Menninger Clinic in Kansas both had biofeedback departments and the insurance companies were paying for it.

Psychologists were increasingly being independently licensed to diagnose and treat emotional and mental disorders. Licensing was state-regulated and by 1977 all the states had enacted licensure regulation for psychologists. Ohio was one of the last states to do so. Licensure requirements and insurance reimbursement varied from state to state.

Until the independent licensure of psychologists was established, psychiatrists hired psychologists to do the psychological testing required to diagnose their patients. The insurance companies paid the psychiatrists for the services, and the psychiatrists paid the psychologists. With the psychologists becoming independently licensed across the country, these relationships gradually altered. In 1980 with the increasing medicalization of psychiatry the psychological diagnosis of a patient switched from psychological testing in the DSM-2 model to symptom appraisal in the DSM-3 schema. With the DSM-3 the psychological testing was no longer needed to diagnose the patients.

The number and use of psychiatric medications exploded. Increasingly psychologists were being paid not to do psychotherapy but to monitor the patient’s medications. If a problem arose with the medication an appointment was scheduled with the psychiatrist. Hour appointments were being reduced to half hour appointments and half hour appointments were being reduced to fifteen minutes. Reimbursement from the insurance companies shifted from psychotherapy to medications and to medication management.

Psychotherapy was still being done with children, but even this was going to change drastically in the nineties with the use of stimulants to treat ADHD. With the increased use of stimulants soon it was going to be the norm to prescribe various psychiatric medications to ever younger children.

In the early nineties, with the increased proliferation and use of psychiatric drugs, I ended up specializing in working with children on multiple psychiatric meds using EEG biofeedback. The typical child I saw had first been put on stimulants for ADHD and had then become depressed while on the stimulants, and thus was put on antidepressants. While on stimulants and antidepressants the child started having mood swings and was then placed on mood stabilizers as well.

With each additional medication, the child became worse rather than better. Some of the children I was seeing towards the end were on antipsychotic medications as well. Seeing young children increasingly placed on multiple psychiatric meds made me want to do more for them collectively rather than individually. This is what motivated me to eventually shut down my practice to write what I hoped would be the definitive parenting book.

The first attempt was called “Parenting by Law or Grace.” Over the years it had become increasingly clear to me that some children needed more discipline and the liberal parenting model associated with the counterculture movement simply wasn’t working with these children. Virtually all of the children I saw in my practiced were dysfunctional not because of trauma from conservative parenting but because of being spoiled by liberal parenting. Without proper boundaries and appropriate discipline millions of children were spinning out of control and then being prescribed psychiatric medications.

With the realization that the Parenting by Law or Grace book wasn’t the definitive parenting book that I wanted, I moved to India to try again. This led to the meta-theory Conscious Template that is explained in the book the Conscious Template Manual and the related parenting book Conscious Parenting by Conscious Template and the upcoming book The Universe Within. Instead of the two or three years that I had anticipated for this project, it ended up taking me over ten years of intensive research and travel to complete these three books. Triangulating a dozen paradigms to write the parenting book is what led to the creation of the all encompassing meta-theory, the Conscious Template.

Although I did not get to see the children who improved with the meds in my practice, according to some researchers up to a third of the children will have complications and negative side effects from stimulant medications. Even though EEG biofeedback is very effective in minimizing and even eliminating these side effects, I took a different approach. I hired a physician who tapered and eliminated the meds while a nutritionist monitored the supplements and I did the neurofeedback and parenting/stress classes.

Using this holistic approach about 99% of the children seen were successfully taken off all of their medications. This did not make me popular with the medical community. Some of my professional colleagues took a more conservative approach and focused on eliminating the side effects while keeping them on the medications, and they got more referrals.

One of the first children I saw for EEG biofeedback was a preteen boy on stimulants. Despite being on maximum dosages of stimulants he was still hyperactive and unable to focus. He was also extremely thin and small for his age. While I was talking to his mother during the initial intake, the child sneaked out of the building, climbed onto the roof of the building and had to be talked down. His response to the training, however, was nothing short of amazing. Over the next six months he calmed down, learned to focus, was tapered off of his meds, gained weight and started growing taller. In little over a year he grew almost six inches. The dramatic changes in my son and the other children I saw convinced me that EEG biofeedback would be mainstreamed within a few years. But in spite of seeing similar changes in hundreds of children over the next twelve years the medical community still rejected this technology.

I had severely underestimated the power and control of the pharmaceutical companies and the medical community. One of the pharmaceutical companies even created and sponsored ADHD support groups across the country to promote the use of medications and denounce any alternative approaches like EEG biofeedback. All of this is what eventually led me to shut down my practice. I wanted to help as many children as I could and promoting EEG biofeedback by writing the definitive parenting book I believe would accomplish this goal.

Returning to the 1980’s, attendance at the biofeedback conferences dwindled down to a fraction of what it had been in the seventies. In the early eighties I was working for a psychiatrist who had prescribed minor tranquilizers to almost all of his patients regardless of their disorder, and he was worried about being investigated. I used peripheral biofeedback and relaxation techniques to get his patients off the minor tranquilizers and in less than a year his practice was cut in half. He told me he couldn’t afford to get his patients well and he needed to lay me off and put them back on the meds. I took this opportunity in the early eighties to be a full-time Mr Mom for three years with my new-born daughter and three-year-old son.

Also in the early eighties, a psychologist friend quit the Cleveland Clinic along with some of the other psychologists to open up their own biofeedback clinic. This meant that the insurance payments no longer would go to the psychiatrist to be dispersed to the psychologists. The reaction of the medical community to the changes that were occurring was swift. Biofeedback quickly became a non-covered procedure in Ohio. With the biofeedback no longer under the domain of medicine, it quickly became disowned by the medical community and the proverbial baby was thrown out with the bath water.

–To Be Continued–

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