The Stigma of Stuttering – Can Direct Neurofeedback Improve Speech Fluency?

If you know – or have ever known – someone that struggles or struggled with stuttering, then you most likely are aware of how physically and mentally exhausting it can be for them to communicate as they attempt to control the disruptions in their speech caused by this neurodevelopmental condition.  And when we realize that this condition typically begins before the age of 6 and impacts about 5% of preschool children, then I’m sure that most of us can imagine how children might develop additional mental and emotional challenges, such as anxiety, embarrassment, shame and low self-esteem, that most likely will have a significant impact on how they experience life as they grow up.

The good news is that many children outgrow this condition as their brains continue to develop.  With the help of speech therapy, many others will be able to learn how to slow down their speech enough to manage the disruptions.  However, some (approximately 1%) will continue to stutter for a lifetime.  Research focused on these adults is beginning to show changes in the actual structures of the brain when compared to adults without this neurodevelopmental condition.  This is great news as it allows for exploration of treatments known to impact those brain structures.

Once such treatment, direct neurostimulation is beginning to gain some traction in the realm of research on stuttering.  There may be variations in the neurostimulation technique; however, the treatment is non-invasive and includes the delivery of direct, low-intensity electrical currents to the scalp.  If the intensity of the electrical current is higher, it will work to change the neurons (stimulating or reducing neural firing), while lower intensity currents will work with the brainwaves, specifically disrupting dysfunctional brainwaves patterns and supporting the brain’s innate ability to organize and regulate itself.  Either way, these treatments that gently work to stimulate the brain directly are bringing hope to those who continue to be challenged by this condition into adulthood.

So, if you, a loved one or someone else you know is part of the 1% of the adult population still dealing with this neurodevelopmental condition, consider reading the recent research by clicking on the link below:

Might direct neurofeedback be worth a try?

I’m a big believer in our innate ability to heal ourselves, the power of the human body and mind to continually work together towards homeostasis and health.  I also have personally experienced the chaos created in both by trauma, challenging my body and mind to maintain that state of equilibrium and well-being.  Through my own healing journey, I have discovered tools along the way that have worked to reinforce that innate ability to heal and feel sense of encouragement when the research supports personal experience.  Direct neurofeedback is one of those tools.

Trauma comes in all shapes and sizes, whether you experienced abuse or neglect as a child, grew up on a home with one or both parents suffering from a mental illness or addiction, or were a witness to domestic violence while living with adults or going through a contentious divorce.  The enduring nature of the trauma from such interpersonally violent upbringings stems from the impact on the developing brain and nervous system.  When we embrace this fact, then we can also embrace the fact that sometimes the mind cannot talk itself out of such experiences when not involving the body in the process.

The brain, along with the spinal cord, forms the body’s main control center of our central nervous system.  This control center is where incoming stimulus is evaluated and decisions about what action to take are made.  It is the neurons in the brain that support the mind’s awareness of sensations, emotions, thoughts and ultimately behaviors when they communicate with each other.  When our neurons communicate, they produce electrical pulses referred to as brain waves.  These brain waves can be compared to the radio waves and the various stations that we tune into to listen to the radio.  AM stations work on a lower bandwidth, while FM stations have a higher bandwidth.  Our brain waves change according to what we are “tuned into”, with our slower brain waves being the AM stations and our faster ones being the FM stations.  Therefore, the brain is the main body part that is driving our beliefs, perceptions and reactions.

Understanding this very complex organ has taken some time as we waited for science to catch up with the personal experience of many.  With the advent of the electroencephalogram (EEG for short), we are able to see the various brain wave activity and now research has been able to identify the brain wave patterns associated with various neurological and emotional conditions, including ADHD, anxiety and depression.  This information created the opportunity to identify and work with tools to change or modify those brain waves, supporting the brains natural tendency towards balance and health.

Therefore, we are now better able to understand that when our brain waves are out of balance we will experience dis-ease in our minds and bodies, creating an unnatural, unhealthy environment that jeopardizes our overall well-being and health.  This understanding allows a more specific focus on tools that change or balance our brain waves to return the brain to its natural healthy state and thus creating an atmosphere for peace of mind and strength of body.  It helps us to appreciate the past experience with psychotherapy (or “talk” therapy), where it has been shown that changing our perceptions changes our experience of the world.  It also better explains the use of drugs (prescription or otherwise) to alter the brain’s ability to function and alleviate symptoms of dis-ease in the mind and body.

A newer approach to what ails many in the Western world is the use of more traditional Eastern practices such as yoga, meditation and deep breathing, which research is now able to show that these practices support the brain’s natural balance by modifying the brain wave patterns that create the imbalance.  In addition to these techniques, which work best when implemented as daily practices over the long haul, direct neurofeedback is showing success in altering brain waves more quickly that underlie the symptoms of a wide range of conditions, offering more immediate relief.

If you would like to read more about the research to determine for yourself if this tool might be worth a try, click on the button below:

Neurofeedback – Promising non-pharmaceutical intervention strategies for anxiety and depression!

Many people that I connect with express a desire to try other approaches to address symptoms of anxiety and depression before turning to medications, especially when it is their children that are suffering from such symptoms, as all prescription medications come with undesired side-effects.  As a psychotherapist and yoga teacher, I share the research with them that shows the effectiveness of integrating these two (yoga and talk therapy) healing arts to support the shift in focus toward health promotion for those who prefer to take a more natural, holistic approach to healing. Now I am excited to share recent research that demonstrates combining neurofeedback with heart rate variability training (e.g., deep slow abdominal yogic breathing) provides another viable non-pharmaceutical approach to address the symptoms of anxiety and depression.  And the research showed a reduction in symptoms for both children and adults!

Neurofeedback is not new and is a form of biofeedback, where instruments are attached to the body to provide information to the individual on the functioning of their body.  Biofeedback, including neurofeedback, as a field of study has been growing since the 1960s.  Neurofeedback (or EEG biofeedback) is the form of biofeedback that enables people to change the brain’s electrical activity.  An EEG (electroencephalography) is the device that captures the real-time brain wave activity so it can be displayed and assessed for any unhealthy patterns that might be contributing to symptoms, such as anxiety and depression.  Being able to offer a way to change unhealthy brain wave patterns through neurofeedback is of special interest to those of us working with clients to relieve such distressing symptoms because the brain is a central contributor to the emotions, physical symptoms, thoughts and behaviors that define many problems for which people reach out for support.

Yoga and it’s slow, controlled deep abdominal breathing is also not new.  What is new is the research that is showing how this yogic breathing impacts heart rate variability (HRV).  HRV has been shown to be linked with an increase in cardiovascular disease, specifically when the variability is low.  (Please refer to last month’s Reflection to learn more about HRV.)  Stress and anxiety increases the activity of the sympathetic nervous system, the system responsible for the flight-fight response in the body, leading to increases in heart rate and a lowering of heart rate variability. On the other hand, activation of the parasympathetic nervous system, the system responsible for the rest-digest response in the body, has been shown to decrease heart rate and increase heart rate variability, specifically through the stimulation of the vagus (Cranial X) nerve that controls the heart, lung and digestion.  It is the controlled breathing found in a regular yoga practice that stimulates the vagus nerve, bringing balance to the activity of the sympathetic nervous system activity.

Even more recent research has brought these two healing modalities together to assess the impact of stimulating both the brain with neurofeedback and the vagus nerve with deep abdominal breathing on symptoms of anxiety and depressing in both children and adults.  The results showed evidence that such training may provide an effective, non-pharmaceutical approach to reducing such symptoms, with some additional benefits such as improving blood pressure!

To read the full research article, click on the link below: