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Neurofeedback Offered As Medicine-Free Option For Mental Health Conditions

Western Connecticut Center for Neurofeedback and Counseling opened at 30 Church Hill Road this past August. Owned by Jeff Schutz, a licensed a marriage and family therapist and ordained Christian and Missionary Alliance minister, and since spring of 2013, a Biofeedback Certification International Alliance certified neurofeedback clinician, Mr Schutz said he is happy to be in Newtown.

“My wife and I have wanted to be in Newtown for years. We almost bought a home here 17 years ago,” said Mr Schutz, “and I almost did a church plant here, eight years ago. December 14 of last year was a major indicator that it was time to move to Newtown, though.”

Believing that his practice would be beneficial to the community, he moved his office from Westport to Newtown this past summer. The move also makes his commute from Sherman, where he lives with his wife, Laurie, and four children, an enjoyable drive, he said.

In addition to marriage and family therapy, Mr Schutz offers the most advanced form of neurofeedback currently available. “I’m one of only two in the state who offers ‘Z-Score’ training,” he said, a three-dimensional image of the brain in real time, showing over- and underfunctioning areas of the brain.

Neurofeedback is “a way to retrain the brain to allocate its resources effectively,” said Mr Schutz. It is used to treat anxiety, depression, obsessive compulsive disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, sleep disorders, bipolar disorder, and substance addictions, and is completely noninvasive.

“Neurofeedback has direct application for mental health treatment,” he said, emphasizing that neurofeedback is a science, not an alternative science.

“We know about neuroanatomy, that different parts of the brain are for different function. We know about electricity of the brain. Different frequencies are associated with different conscious states,” said Mr Schutz. For example, sleepiness, calm, and focus are all different conscious states. “We know that the brain looks for patterns and rewards,” he said, and neurofeedback is a means of teaching the brain new and permanent ways to receive rewards by reallocating resources.

Z-Score training neurofeedback allows Mr Schutz to train any part of the brain, at any time. “It’s incredibly powerful. I regularly see results by 20 to 30 sessions, and what I see is that the whole brain is becoming more adaptive. That’s important to me,” he said.

The equipment used for neurofeedback is simple, nor is there any sensation or discomfort associated with it. The patient dons a 19-channel “beanie” cap from which 19 multicolored wires extend. The wires are plugged into an amplifier, which is plugged into a computer.

Getting The Picture

The computer, monitored by Mr Schutz during each one-hour session, breaks down the 19 signals into frequency bands. Those frequency bands are compared against a normative database, he explained.

The patient’s job is to simply watch whatever he or she likes on a large television screen.

“When the brain is behaving in normal balances, the picture on the screen is clear. If it gets outside the balance, the screen darkens. Because the brain wants to see clearly, it quickly figures out the pattern: “If I produce the right waves, I can see this.” The brain then subconsciously adjusts the brain pattern, Mr Schutz said. Over multiple sessions, the new pattern becomes the normal pattern.

By observing the electroencephalogram (EEG) as the patient watches television, Mr Schutz is able to compare brainwaves in different parts of the brain. For example, he said, an excess of sleep waves in the frontal lobe of the brain means that portion of the brain is sleeping; there is a deficit of Beta waves, which are the “fast thinking waves. So, a child like that is not allocating electrical resources,” he said. By identifying the problem and using feedback, the brain learns to use more Beta waves.

“The quantitative EEG can help me determine if the problem has to do with neural functioning or if it’s behavioral, in response, for example, to a conflict in the home or other environment,” Mr Schutz said. He has seen instances when a person is diagnosed as ADHD, only to find the brain is functioning normally. The acting out is a behavioral response, and may respond to family talk therapy, with no need for neurofeedback.

Neurofeedback also is complementary to talk therapy he said, “Talk therapy will not go away. But neurofeedback is a powerful tool that can help shift patients in a way that talk therapy cannot,” Mr Schutz said.

Mr Schutz admitted that when he first heard about neurofeedback, he was very skeptical. A fellow therapist in Westport, Anthony Silva, was working with neurofeedback, and when he saw the successes Mr Silva was having, he began to research it. “It took me four months to decide to do the training,” he said, “but when you see the benefits in someone [who has been treated with neurofeedback], who has been nonresponsive to other forms of treatment, it’s amazing.” Research shows a 60 to 80 percent success rate in treating abuse problems, a statistic that is unheard of with conventional talk or medications, he said. Neurofeedback has also been designated a Level One “Best Support” Intervention by the American Academy of Pediatrics for ADHD, Mr Schutz added.

It has taken years to get technology to the point where it is accessible to more people, and for research to develop data on what is normative in brain function, he said, so it is only recently that neurofeedback has begun to slip into the mainstream of tools for treating mental distresses.

Treatment Cost: $3,000 To $4,000

Additionally, clients have been stymied by the fact that neurofeedback is usually not approved by insurance companies to cover the $3,000 to $4,000 cost of neurofeedback treatment. Typically, four months of training, two to three times a week in hourly sessions, has positive impact. “And,” said Mr Schutz, “when we’re done, we’re done. The effects are usually enduring. Studies indicate that repetition generates new neural pathways.” For those clients sincerely seeking improvement, the cost does not stand in the way of treatment, Mr Schutz has found. Medications prescribed to treat depression, anxiety, ADHD, and other diagnoses can easily cost as much over the course of two or three years, he pointed out.

Mr Schutz is confident that the general population — and eventually, the insurance industry — will recognize the value of neurofeedback in treating mental conditions. He has been selected as a speaker at the spring 2014 annual conference for the Connecticut Association for Marriage and Family Therapists, he said, and currently offers classes on neurofeedback to other therapists.

He will welcome Diana Mille into his practice in January, a specialist in eye movement desensitization and reprocessing, whose work will greatly complement his own, said Mr Schutz.

“Fifteen years from now,” Mr Schutz predicted, “if you’re a mental health provider not offering a form of neurofeedback, it will be the equivalent of not having a business website today.

“My practice is about hope, healing, and wholeness. That’s what drives me. It’s about helping people to live well.”

Western Connecticut Center for Neurofeedback and Counseling is on the second floor, Suite C, at 30 Church Hill Road. A free one-hour evaluation is offered. To contact Mr Schutz, call 203-482-5464. More information can be found at www.neurofeedback-ct.com. 

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