FREDERICKSBURG 
PSYCHOLOGICAL SERVICES

1119 Caroline Street Fredericksburg, VA 22401
Phone: (540) 371-2251   FAX (540) 371-2930
Email: alexanderbory@gmail.com
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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.

"It's'really 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.

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 the cost.

"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 therapies.

When a person is under stress, his body reacts with predictable responses-the heart beats faster, blood pressure rises, muscles tense and sweat breaks out.

Biofeedback uses 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 depression.

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 computer screen.

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 any sessions.

"The nice thing is that I'm the one in charge," Mandeville said. "I don't need a pill every morning."

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 arrived.

"That's what the training is all about," Mandeville said. "When you really need it, it's there."

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."

Local psychologist 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 pain.

"It puts the power back on the individuals," she said. "They're in control."

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