“Heaven is a Traffic Jam on the 405”

by Siegfried Othmer | September 11th, 2018

This little gem of a documentary is worming its way into the hearts of people in Hollywood with the impetus of an Academy Award nomination in the category of short documentaries. It has superb competition, but that’s all to the good. Some hard-hitting stories are being told this year.

Retired Director Frank Stiefel had a chance to meet Mindy Alper, the artist, some four years ago and was drawn ever further into her orbit. After years of a blossoming friendship during the filming, this documentary took final form in a long editing process. What to tell, and what to leave out? Mindy’s story is not easily told. It is one of recovery from a difficult early childhood, among other things. Mindy lived for ten years without speaking, and much of her adult life was spent in a relatively solitary existence. Her face to the world was made visible through her art, but for a long time her art remained invisible also.

Mindy’s is also the story of neurofeedback, which is the reason for this newsletter. Mindy has been coming for neurofeedback sessions at our office for years now—since 2010, in fact, and on many of these sessions in the later years she was accompanied by Frank Stiefel with his camera. Today, at a training session in anticipation of tomorrow’s attendance at the Academy Awards, I asked if I could write a newsletter about her. She agreed without reservation—write anything you like! In fact, Mindy herself talks about her neurofeedback on all occasions where she speaks publicly about the documentary. But as I left the room she yelled after me, “Just don’t write anything about me.” Here was her well-known sense of humor.

Neurofeedback is not mentioned in the documentary, and that is for good reason. Had it been, then that would have become the story rather than what it needed to be—namely the personal journey in the face of obstacles that were largely internal. It is a fitful journey of gradual mastery over a disordered self, one filled with highs and lows. It was accomplished with the support of important people in her circle over many years. But everyone involved realizes that neurofeedback has been critical in getting Mindy from being unable to tolerate public venues to the point where she is now at relative ease in front of large crowds, and can even banter with Hollywood directors. It was only through neurofeedback that she became willing to collaborate in the public showing of her art in the first place.

It was the neurofeedback training that ultimately made medication management successful. With every medication change, the protocol would need to be adjusted. And with successful neurofeedback, the medication regime had to be modified. Jointly, a substantial reduction in the medication schedule has been achieved. Mindy was relying on one psychiatrist for her psychotherapy, and on another for her meds. On one occasion, a medication change induced a substantial hand tremor. That subsided within a single neurofeedback session—and it was all captured on video.

The story continues. The documentary is now a couple of years old, but Mindy’s recovery is continuing. There is no finishing point, and we don’t expect there to be. That’s yet another aspect of neurofeedback. A nervous system that remains under the challenge of its own disregulation should have the benefit of continued training. Sessions are less frequent now, but progress is still noted—particularly with every step in the continuing evolution of the protocols and of the software.

No one could have predicted what was possible in this instance. It was the process of brain training itself that revealed the potential going forward. In the process of training, the brain creates its own opportunities for further advances. The attitude of the clinician has to be opportunistic in order to exploit them. Over all the years, yet another key emotional bond has developed in the life of Mindy Alper, this time with Sue Othmer.

And by now we know that this little gem of a documentary was recognized by the Academy with an Oscar for its director. Mindy was in the audience.

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