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The Continued Evolution of EEG Biofeedback

By Glen Martin (Part II of III)


When I started EEG Biofeedback in the early nineties the focus was on ADHD. In comparison to today there was little understanding of what other disorders could be impacted by neurotherapy. Nevertheless, no matter who the person is or what their condition, EEG biofeedback is simply peak performance training. The Othmers were and still are two of the major pioneers in utilizing EEG biofeedback for an increasing number of conditions. Whenever skeptics question the efficiency of EEG biofeedback I think of my son. My son was one of the first bipolar individuals to be trained. Here is the story of how that came about.

On January 12, 1993 I was at home sick and watching TV in bed when Siegfried came on the TV as a guest on ABC’s “The Home Show.” He was being interviewed regarding the use of EEG biofeedback for ADHD, and he was demonstrating the system live with a young girl undergoing the training. My teenage son had recently been diagnosed with ADHD by the school psychologist, and the school was pressing us to have him placed on Ritalin. After spending time in the eighties getting patients off various psychiatric drugs, I was reluctant to put my son on stimulants. There was a popular anti-drug campaign at the time using the catch phrase–in bold letters–that “SPEED KILLS.” Historically, the track record for stimulants wasn’t good. During the seventies stimulants had been over-prescribed, abused, and had been proven to be contra-indicated for weight loss. Prior to this it was found that stimulants could make depressed patients even more depressed.

I immediately called Siegfried and shortly afterwards began my career as an EEG biofeedback therapist. After talking with Siegfried I placed a second mortgage on my home, bought the technology, got trained and started training my son. The price of the technology today is a fraction of what it was twenty some years ago, and at today’s prices it is a steal. How much it helped my family made EEG biofeedback a bargain at any price.

When I purchased the technology, the protocol options were rather limited. Beyond the Alpha-Theta protocol there were only two sites in common use (C3 and Cz) and two frequencies, either SMR (12-15Hz) or low beta (15-18Hz). The Othmer’s operating hypothesis was that clients’ brains tended to be either over-aroused or under-aroused. If the client’s brain was over-aroused, the recommended training was Cz SMR and if under-aroused, it was C3 beta. With this premise, I began training my son’s overactive brain with Cz SMR and indeed he got better and better….and then he started getting worse. He went from sleeping six hours a night to over fifteen hours a night. I found out that he was even falling asleep in school.

I called Siegfried and he said to switch protocols to C3 beta. I did so and my son again got better better….until again he started getting much worse. This time when I called Siegfried he said there was a new protocol for cerebral instability. If a person showed a propensity toward both over-arousal and under-arousal, then the primary need was to address the underlying instability. Depending on how manic or depressed the client was, Siegfried said to shift back and forth from C3 beta to C4 SMR within the same session, as necessary in order to leave the person properly balanced. At the beginning of this regime, our son was sleeping less than four hours a night and was causing so much disruption in school that before I could initiate the new protocol I was given the ultimatum to either take him to their recommended physician for medication or be expelled from school. I chose the expulsion!

Synchronistically, the very same day my son was expelled from school I was to attend a workshop with one of the leading EEG biofeedback experts, Professor Joel Lubar. (Dr. Lubar was in fact the original researcher on neurofeedback in application to ADHD, and the early Othmer protocols were simply variations on the theme. Lubar’s protocols, in turn, were only a variation on the protocols developed for the control of seizures by the original researcher, M. Barry Sterman, working at the Sepulveda Veterans Administration Hospital in Los Angeles.)

I took my son along with me. When there was a request for a volunteer for a demonstration session, I quickly offered up my son for the purpose, and he soon found himself in front of the audience. After the workshop, Professor Lubar pulled me aside to tell me that my son’s EEG indicated that he was bipolar. By this time, that did not come as a surprise. I told Dr. Lubar that I had recently purchased the instrumentation to train my son, and he quickly dismissed the use of EEG biofeedback for Bipolar Disorder. I was told in no uncertain terms to put my son on medications. When I explained to him that Siegfried and Sue had recently come up with a protocol for Bipolar Disorder he derisively dismissed the possibility of any such treatment. He explained to me that while the Othmers meant well, they didn’t have the experience or background that he had.

Breakthroughs in a domain are often achieved by individuals coming from a another discipline with a different perspective. Both Siegfried and Sue had a background in physics, and Sue additionally had a background in neurobiology, having done EEG research at Cornell University in this very area. Jointly they were revitalizing and revolutionizing EEG biofeedback. After the workshop, I immediately began using the new protocol with my son and in spite of what I was told at the workshop, it worked! This was just further confirmation that Sue and Siegfried were establishing themselves as the main innovators with this new technology.

Looking back on this adventure, the timing of our son’s expulsion was fortuitous. It was towards the end of the school year and summer vacation was soon to begin. The summer vacation gave me the time I needed to learn how to balance the training of the two frequencies for optimal results. I trained him every day and by the time the summer ended my son was stabilized and was doing remarkably well. I have no doubt that stimulants would have spun him out completely.

Later I came to read Danielle Steele’s book about her bipolar child (“His bright Light: The story of Nick Traina”). He was placed on psychiatric meds and over time he became suicidal. Danielle procured a full-time companion for her son, but he ended up committing suicide anyway at the age of 13. Reading about her child, and noting the numerous remarkable similarities between my child and hers, made me realize how fortunate I was to have been sick one morning, turning on the TV to hear Siegfried talking about EEG biofeedback. In school my son’s grades dramatically improved, along with his behavior. He was voted the most improved child in the school. During this time I also trained my wife and my daughter on the instrument; my wife’s hypoglycemia resolved, and my daughter’s grades also improved markedly. Her grades went to almost straight A’s. (This was before everybody got A’s as a matter of course.)

Later I would also train my father with results so dramatic that his physician refused to talk to me about EEG biofeedback. Over a several-year timeframe my father was becoming increasingly senile. It had reached the point where he no longer recognized the house he had lived in for over twenty years and he even asked me who the old lady was that he was living with. He still recognized me, but he no longer recognized his wife. After taking the car out one day and unable to find his way home, he was quickly hospitalized. There he was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s.

I told his physician I wanted him discharged so I could treat him with EEG biofeedback, and the doctor refused. I was told in no uncertain terms that there was no chance whatsoever that my father would get better, and he needed to be transferred to a nursing home at once (because there was no treatment available that would justify continued hospital stay). “Your father can only get progressively worse,” was his curt response. “You will never see him outside of an institution again.” This well-known, respected physician knew my father well, and had treated him with various medications during his gradual decline over the prior several years.

With that proclamation from the doctor, I asked my three brothers if they would take turns bringing their father to my office every day. Knowing I needed a backup plan, I scheduled my father for an appointment with the doctor a month hence, and I signed my father out against medical advice (acronym, AMA). I had no idea how EEG biofeedback would impact Alzheimer’s, but after seeing what it did with my son I was going to give it a try. For thirty days I saw my father every day for EEG biofeedback, and I also started him on some high-quality Omega-three supplements. At the start of training he was living some twenty years in the past. The results were dramatic. He slowly returned to the present and once again became properly oriented. He again recognized his wife and told me he was glad to be home again.

After the thirty days I took my father to his doctor’s appointment myself, and the doctor was shocked and startled by the change. Even I was surprised at the new state of affairs. My father’s orientation to time, person and place had return to normal. His physician asked me what happened to him and when I started explaining to him that I had done EEG biofeedback with him every day for a month, he cut me off immediately. His physician mind was clearly upset and confused about the dramatic improvements. He quickly dismissed the possibility that EEG biofeedback could have been even remotely responsible for this dramatic transformation.

When I asked him if he had any other possible explanations, he quickly ended the appointment, refusing to talk with me any further. We later took him to another physician who reduced his medications. The good news is that my father was able to live the rest of his life at home. Several years later, he died of a massive stroke at the age of 83. I realize that my father’s response was exceptional, and since he had a series of mini-strokes before dying of a major stroke, there was likely a vascular component to his senility. There may also have been an inflammatory component, with the Omega-three fatty acids possibly aiding the integrity of the blood-brain barrier and cell membranes in general, while the neurofeedback calmed down the immune response.

The amazing results with my son and my father inspired me to train a little boy with autism. I will briefly give an overview of Adam but additional information can be found about this little boy in an earlier newsletter by Siegfried. Adam was severely autistic and would only respond by echoing whatever was said to him. He couldn’t even tell you his name. He would spend hours watching the same video tapes over and over again. I told the mother I had no idea if EEG biofeedback would help, but after telling her how neurotherapy had helped my family she agreed to give it a try. TOVA testing showed some improvement after twenty sessions, so she agreed to another twenty sessions. The next twenty sessions showed even more improvements on the testing, at home and at school. The next twenty sessions were even more dramatic and the school reported improvements in testing that could only be described as miraculous.

Knowing this child was going to need more EEG biofeedback I contacted Siegfried and explained the situation and asked him if his mother could purchase the technology and do home training under my supervision, and Siegfried agreed. A year later his mother brought her son in to see me. His mother told me how she had tears of joy mixed with alarm the first time he fought with his sister like a normal little boy. Here the negative was really a positive. Before the neurofeedback he was unable to interact with his sister at all. The home training continued. In second grade, Adam was chosen by his classmates to be the soloist in the class play…

–To Be Continued–

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