Using your mind to improve your health

By Karen Abernathy – bio | email

BILOXI, MS (WLOX) - Have you ever wished you could simply will your symptoms to disappear?  With biofeedback, you may be able to do just that, by harnessing the power of your mind to help improve your health.  It's being used to treat a variety of health problems.

Keith Ballard is a licensed professional counselor who recently started offering biofeedback as part of his practice in Biloxi.

"As a therapist and clinician, the point is to help people have better lives", Ballard said. "And if we can offer methods to assist with that, that's what we want to do."

Real estate agent Sharon Chiniche hopes to get some help for chronic pain after an ankle injury.

"Anytime you can, particularly for pain, you can avoid pain without medication, thru relaxation that's wonderful," Chiniche said.

During a biofeedback session, therapists apply electrical sensors to different parts of the body.  For Sharon's first session, Ballard put a sensor on each ear lobe and one on the scalp.  The electrodes pick up brain waves and other signals that show up on the screen, and the therapist uses those patterns to develop relaxation and training methods to meet individual needs.

"We can use it to treat ADHD," Ballard said, "and also things like mood disorders, stress management, depression, anxiety, pain management, fibromyalgia, digestive disorders, and even eating disorders.  There are new studies showing it may also help treat post traumatic stress disorder."

In addition to studying brainwaves to analyze and help patients, therapists look at things like blood pressure, muscle tension, heart rate, and skin temperature. The sessions often start by trying to get a patient to relax.  Different images appear on a monitor that the patient responds to.  The feedback allows the patient to begin to associate their body's response with certain physical functions, such as muscles tensing.

As Sharon relaxes, the flower on the screen begins to open.

"This is just the beginning of the process. Depending on what you're treating, we're talking about 20 or 25 sessions, which seems like a long time, but you have to keep in mind that you are changing the way your brain is responding to certain situations."

A variety of elements are used to treat different problems. For instance children with ADHD might watch specially designed games. Ballard said research has shown that "a lot of times ability and IQ may be suppressed, and thought patterns and brain wave frequencies can be modified. And we see a rise in IQ, not because you get smarter, but because brain wave activity may have been suppressing that intelligence."

Whether it's watching a game or a flower opening, the images on the screen give patients their own feedback.

"It gives them an element of control," Ballard said. "As they watch the images and signals on the screen, they get feedback that they are headed in the right direction."

Ballard said biofeedback is not a stand alone therapy, but that it works well in conjunction with other treatments.  Research has shown that biofeedback may allow patients to reduce the amount of medications they are on, or even help a condition that hasn't responded well to medication.

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