brain to help cope with stress
By MARTY MORRISON THE FREE LANCE-STAR
Scott Mandeville has
learned to find peace whether he's
counseling a prisoner or charging up a trail
on his mountain bike.
A therapist at the
Northeastern Regional Brig at Quantico
Marine Corps Base, Mandeville never gets
used to the disturbing revelations he hears
from violent offenders there.
But he's able to trade
anxiety for an inner peace that helps him
react calmly to any situation.
increased my quality of Iffe," said
Mandeville who lives in Stafford County
He's found this solitude
through a high-tech treatment known as
Neurofeedback is a
computerized version of biofeedback that
uses electronic sensors to measure brain
waves and enhance performance through
graphic images and musical tones.
Biofeedback dates back to
the 1960s with scientific experiments aimed
at altering body functions like heart rate
and blood pressure that normally aren't
controlled voluntarily. In the past decade,
health-care professionals have used it more
commonly to treat ailments from chronic pain
to panic disorders.
Alexander Bory, a
psychologist with Fredericksburg
Psychological Services on Caroline Street,
is among the few local professionals who use
neurofeedback. Several others use
biofeedback to help patients learn to manage
stress-related ailments or chronic pain.
But other professionals
aren't convinced that the benefit justifies
"It's an effective
relaxation technique, but I never saw
literature to show that it's any more
effective than traditional techniques,"
said Roger Pasternak, psychologist at
Chatham Square Office Park in Stafford.
Bory believes neither
biofeedback nor neurofeedback is a cure-all,
but both are important tools used with other
When a person is under
stress, his body reacts with predictable
responses-the heart beats faster, blood
pressure rises, muscles tense and sweat
electronic equipment as a sixth sense to
teach patients to recognize these symptoms
that cause tension and better control them.
Neurofeedback uses electroencephalography
equipment to detect the frequency of a
patient's brain waves.
Studies show that the
brain performs best at a relaxed but alert
frequency When a person is depressed,
anxious or in pain, his brain waves operate
above or below that frequency. Through
neurofeedback, the patient can learn to
reach that best state of mind.
"if I can show
what's happening inside and I can teach you
to become more competent within yourself,
then you can perform at an optimum
level," Bory said.
The training can get
expensive at $50 for a half-hour session and
it isn't covered by some insurance
companies. It takes about 10 sessions to
determine whether the patient is on the
right track, Bory said. It takes 20 to 40
sessions to finish the treatments.
But Mandeville, 42, said
the therapy has given him a new lease on
life. He had read about the therapy and want
to try it instead of medication for
On a recent morning,
Mandeville stopped by Bory’s office before
work for the half-hour session.
He sits in a cushioned
chair in a small room equipped with two
computer screens. Bory attached electrode
sensors to different areas of Mandeville's
head. Bory sat in the back of the room by
one computer screen that recorded
Mandeville's brain waves while Mandeville
focused on a psychedelic-looking computer
image in front of him.
The graphic images that
the patient sees look like video games.
Bory asked Mandeville to
relax. Once his brain waves got to the
target parameters, soft, musical tones and
dings signaled as both reward and
encouragement. Bory told Mandeville to
"accept" the tones.
At the same time, his
relaxed mode generated a moving image on the
Mandeville started with
weekly sessions three months ago but now
goes only twice a month. Eventually, he'll
be able to control his brain waves without
"The nice thing is
that I'm the one in charge," Mandeville
said. "I don't need a pill every
An athlete who swims and
mountain bikes, Mandeville uses the therapy
when exercising and believes he is able to
get the most out of his workouts.
"It's like being in
a highly alert but serene place,"
Mandeville said. "It's almost like an
out-of body experience."
He even found it useful
recently after suffering a nasty fall on his
mountain bike. Although he was bleeding and
in pain, he could remain calm until help
"That's what the
training is all about," Mandeville
said. "When you really need it, it's
That's similar to the
reaction Melody Norris of Spotsylvania
County had after receiving Neurofeedback
after a panic attack.
She's not sure how, but
she knows it helped her from feeling anxiety
"It was definitely
weird." Norris said. " But it
helped me feel normal again for the first
time in a month."
Segunda Acosta of S.T.R.E.S.S. Centre
Inc. at Snowden Office Park in
Fredericksburg uses biofeedback to treat
chronic pain and some psychological
disorders related to stress. She also uses
electronic equipment that measures muscle
tenseness, heart rate and skin temperature.
Once the source of the
pain is located, she teaches patients to
change their lifestyles through stretching
or relaxation exercises to help ease the
"It puts the power
back on the individuals," she said.
"They're in control."