Brain Training for Anxiety, Depression and Other Mental Conditions

Brain Training for Anxiety, Depression and Other Mental Conditions


Wall Street Journal, January 18, 2016, Andrea Petersen


Edited by Linda Brownback, M.A., Licensed Psychologist


A new treatment for psychiatric disorders like depression and anxiety uses real-time scans to show patients how their brains go awry—and how to fix the dysfunction. The treatment is called neurofeedback.


There is an urgent need for new approaches for psychiatric disorders, particularly depression. Almost 17% of Americans will suffer from major depression during their lifetime, according to a 2012 study published in the International Journal of Methods in Psychiatric Research.


Not everyone responds to current treatments like antidepressant medication and talk therapy. In one study of almost 3,000 patients, only about 1/3 of them achieved remission from their depression after up to 14 weeks on the drug citalopram (Celexa).




An fMRI scan from a participant in a study using neurofeedback for spider phobia. The study targeted activity in part of the insula, a brain region implicated in sustained anxiety. It is at the center of the white cross. Photo: Anna Zilverstand, Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai


Neurofeedback aims to be more precise than current therapies. It directly targets the brain dysfunctions and emotional and cognitive processes that are understood to underlie psychiatric disorders. Doctors hope that treatments could also be personalized to address the issues in each individual’s brain.


Besides depression, neurofeedback is being studied in phobias, obsessive-compulsive disorder, addiction, traumatic brain injury and chronic pain, among other illnesses.


With neurofeedback, “there’s no need to take medication and no need to talk about your mother to a stranger,” says Kymberly Young, a postdoctoral associate at the Laureate Institute for Brain Research in Tulsa, Okla.


In neurofeedback, patients lie in a functional magnetic resonance imaging scanner. In general, they are told to conjure memories or look at pictures while their brains are scanned. The activity of certain brain regions related to subjects’ illnesses is analyzed via computer. Patients see visual representations of their brain activity almost in real time—often presented in the form of a thermometer or colored bar.


Based on what their brains are doing, subjects are told to enhance or suppress that activity. Patients “need to train their brain like they train their muscles when they want to be fit,” says Anna Zilverstand, a postdoctoral researcher at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York and lead author of a 2015 study using neurofeedback to treat women with a phobia of spiders….


Dr. Young led a study of 23 depressed patients published in 2014 in the journal Plos One. In it, those who received one session of active neurofeedback for their illness saw their scores on a measure of happiness increase significantly more than those in a control group.


The happiness scores in the active group jumped 20%; the control group went up just 2%. Depression scores and an anxiety measure also dropped after treatment. But depression also dropped among those in the control group, and the difference in the drop between the groups wasn’t statistically significant.


In results from a more recent study, Dr. Young says that after two sessions of neurofeedback, depression scores dropped 50%. In the control group, they dropped 10%. These results are not yet published, but were presented at the Society of Biological Psychiatry annual meeting in 2015.


Neurofeedback didn’t work for everyone: About 10% of depressed participants had normal amygdala activity at the beginning of the studies. Another 10% of participants couldn’t learn how to regulate the amygdala….


Posted in Anxiety, Depression

Alternative Therapy: Honoring the Second Brain

David Perlmutter wrote in his book, Brain Maker: The neurons in the gut are so innumerable that many scientists are now calling the totality of them ‘the second brain.’ Not only is this second brain regulating muscles, immune cells, and hormones, but it’s also manufacturing something really important. Popular antidepressants like Paxil, Zoloft, and Lexapro increase the availability of the ‘feel-good’ chemical serotonin in the brain. You may be surprised to find out that an estimated 80 to 90 percent of the amount of serotonin in your body is manufactured by the nerve cells in your gut! In fact, your gut’s brain makes more serotonin—the master happiness molecule—than the brain in your head does. Many neurologists and psychiatrists are now realizing that this may be one reason why antidepressants are often less effective in treating depression than dietary changes are. In fact, recent research is revealing that our second brain may not be ‘second’ at all. It can act independently from the main brain and control many functions without the brain’s input or help.”




When we present workshops on our neurofeedback approach, we consistently explain that we believe part of our 92% success rate is due to our holistic approach. Whether a person comes to our office for counseling or for neurofeedback, we honor the power of the “second brain” by working with our clients on healthy nutrition. We also honor the second brain by encouraging clients to “listen” to their bodies, so that they become whole in body, mind and spirit.


Posted in Depression

3 Ways to Happiness


Below are 3 inexpensive and effective ways to increase your well-being and reduce your symptoms of depression.  By making small changes to your daily routine, your standard way of thinking and behaving can change leaving you a happier person.


1. Visualize your Best Possible Self


Visualizing your best possible self helps to reduce depression by fostering a sense of efficacy, optimism, meaning and purpose.  You can achieve this by imagining your life in the future, a future where everything that could go well has gone well. It is a future in which you have reached the realistic goals that you have set for yourself.  Once you have imagined your best possible self, commit the idea to paper to strengthen your visualization.


The effectiveness of this activity was tested in a study by King (2001). Students were asked to write about their best possible future selves for 20 minutes over 4 consecutive days. The results showed that those who had only written about their best possible selves showed greater improvements in subjective well-being compared to those writing on a neutral topic, those writing about traumatic life events and those writing about both traumatic events and their best possible future selves.  The students experienced benefits of writing about their best possible selves five months later.


2. Help Others


Research reports that helping others really does seem to make people happier and reduce symptoms of depression. Lyubomirsky, Sheldon & Schkade (2005) found that students who performed an act of kindness daily for 5 days slightly improved their well-being and those students who performed 5 acts of kindness on one day for six weeks increased their well-being by 40%!  Ideas for acts of kindness include things like writing a thank-you note, giving blood, volunteering, or helping a friend with their work.


3. Practice Gratitude


Take a few minutes to write down a list of people, places, and things that you are grateful for.  A study conducted by Emmons and McCullough (2003) found that sitting down weekly to write about five things for which participants were grateful for increased their happiness levels by 25%. Counting your blessings really does help eliminate feelings of depression.


Posted in Depression

Count Your Blessings to Combat Depression?


Depression can dampen your entire life.  World-wide, more than 100 million people are believed to suffer from clinical levels of major and minor depression.  Of people with depression, it is estimated that 70-90% do not receive sufficient medical treatment, do not respond to therapy, or do not have access to quality care.  Simple alternative, economical, and effective strategies for treating depression are being developed that you can try at home under the guidance of a skilled therapist.


New research supports an age-old concept for lifting depression–having a positive attitude.  Positive Activity Intervention (PAI) is a fancy term for the basic act of participating in positive activities.  Positive activities can include counting one’s blessings, practicing optimism, performing acts of kindness, and using one’s unique strengths.  A trained therapist can help teach you techniques to use at home that can increase your positive cognitions, emotions and behaviors, allowing you to reduce the symptoms of depression.


It may feel that the cloud of depression is ever looming, but you can train yourself to allow more light to shine in your life by counting your blessings!


Source: The Amen Clinics Newsletter, August 9, 2011


Posted in Depression

6 Ways Exercise Decreases Depression


Studies have shown that individuals who exercise report fewer symptoms of anxiety and depression, and lower levels of stress and anger. Exercise appears to affect, like an antidepressant, particular neurotransmitter systems in the brain, and it helps people with depression re-establish positive behaviors.  When exercising your body releases chemicals called endorphins. Endorphins trigger positive feelings in the body, which can be accompanied by positive thoughts.


It appears that any form of moderate exercise can help with depression. Higher intensity exercises, like running or biking, will help release feel-good hormones, while lower intensity exercises like yoga or gardening, can help you relax and connect with your body.


Here are 6 compelling reasons why you might want to get out and start exercising:


Decrease depressive symptoms

Decrease anxiety

Increase self-esteem

Improve sleep (which can often be a problem when you’re depressed)

Provide a healthy distraction from your worries

Help you get rid of built up stress

Research indicates that exercise needs depend on your specific characteristics. For example, moderate exercise has been found to be more effective for women with a family history of mental illness, whereas a higher rate of exercise has been found to be more effective for men regardless of other characteristics.


Here are some great exercises to choose from:




Playing tennis

Golf (walking the course instead of using the cart)






In addition to keeping you stay physically fit, exercise helps keep your mind fit. It’s an effective, low cost treatment for depression.


Source: “Positive Effects of Exercise on Depression” By Dr. Amen (2012)


Posted in Depression

New Activities May Combat Depression


Many people look change their life circumstances when they begin to feel overwhelmed and depressed.  While this instinctively makes sense, research suggests that factors related to happiness are 50% genetic, 10% from our life circumstances and 40% determined by our day-to-day activities.  Knowing this suggests that we should focus more attention on changing our day-to-day activities to combat depression than to change our circumstances.


The Theory of Sustainable Happiness supports this assertion, suggesting that one way to increase and maintain happiness while reducing depression is to channel our energy into new activities rather than seeking improvement in life circumstances.  Initial studies of students found that students who had recently engaged in a new activity felt happier than those students whose life circumstances had improved. Sheldon and Lyubomirsky (2006) also demonstrated that while the effects of improved circumstances do increase happiness, the boost in happiness from a new activity is greater and more lasting.


If you are experiencing depression, think of new activities that you can incorporate into your life.  They can be as simple as going for a walk, starting a new hobby, or traveling somewhere different.  While changing your life circumstances can often seem overwhelming, engaging in new activities can offer significant reductions in depression and increased happiness with little effort and expense.


Source: Sheldon, K. M., & Lyubomirsky, S. (2006). Achieving sustainable gains in happiness: Change your actions, not your circumstances. Journal of Happiness Studies, 7, 55-86.


Posted in Depression

Parenting Tips to Help Your Child through a Difficult Time

All children experience difficulties growing up.  Problems may appear in biological, psychological, social or spiritual areas as children navigate through youth.  As a parent you can help to foster a relationship of trust and support that will allow you to be present with your child as he or she experiences challenges.  While a professional therapist may be needed for more serious issues such as anxiety, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, depression, and obsessive-compulsive disorder there are steps that you can take to comfort your child without a therapist.


4 Ways to help BEFORE a Problem


1. Expect Problems. Every child will go through some sort of crisis. It is a natural part of growing up, so don’t be surprised!  BE READY FOR THE OPPORTUNITY TO HELP.

2. KNOW your child. The best way to help is to see the crisis coming, but you won’t see a crisis coming if you don’t know your child. Crisis causes kids to change what they say, how they feel, and how they act. Know what is normal so you can recognize the change.

3. LOVE your child. Kids feel pain when they’re in crisis. They need your love, your trust. But they will not come to you in a time of storm if they don’t feel your love in times of calm. Show your kids you love them now!

4. COMMUNICATE with your child. Talk – and listen to your kids. Show interest now so they will know you care later.


6 Ways to help DURING a crisis


1. LOOK for the signs of a crisis. Look for these warning signs: increased anxiety, changes in appetite or sleeping patterns, depression, shame, guilt, anger and hostility. If you recognize these or other sudden and dramatic changes in your child’s mood or behavior, look for crisis!

2. LOCATE the cause of crisis. Ask your child how he feels, what is bothering him. Find the source of pressure so you can help relieve it.

3. UNDERSTAND your child’s reactions. Your child will try various methods to cope with pain and make the crisis go away. Tensions and emotions can run high, resulting in explosive words and actions. Recognize and understand why your child is reacting and respond in love.

4. LISTEN AND TALK. Ask your child to describe his or her feelings. Repeat back to your child what he or she has said. Feel your child’s pain. Tell your child you understand how hard it is for him or her and how painful it is for you to see him or her go through the crisis. Offer empathy, not quick advice.

5. HUG and HOLD your child. Express your love consistently in words and actions. Tell him he is loved, valued and accepted no matter what.

6. GUIDE positively. After you have listened to, understood and identified with your child’s pain, offer positive feedback and confidence. Give him some practical action or task you know he can do to build his self-worth. (It is good if the task helps someone else.) Tell your child you trust him or her and his or her ability to rise above the difficulty. Do not let yourself be overwhelmed by the crisis. Seek professional guidance with a qualified therapist if you don’t know what to do or to say.


3 Ways to help AFTER a crisis


1. PRAISE your child. Tell your child how proud you are of him or her for enduring hardship.

2. APPLY the positive lesson(s) learned. Admit any mistakes you made in handling the crisis. Affirm your love for your child. Discuss how you felt. Listen to your child’s feelings. Talk about what worked and evaluate what was accomplished. Together, agree on how to correct the problems and the best way to handle feelings and actions next time.

3. PREPARE for the next crisis. Agree that going through crisis is better together than alone. Discuss the other potential crisis that might happen based upon what you learned.




Posted in Depression, Parenting

Improve Your Mood by Being Grateful


Improve your mood by implementing small cognitive and behavioral changes into your daily life.  Research shows that improved mood and positive emotions are associated with greater creativity, increased problem-solving ability, and greater overall success in life.


One way to improve your mood with lasting results includes practicing your gratitude.  Research indicates that practicing gratitude as little as once a week makes a difference.  People who take the time to write down 5 things they are grateful for each week, for 10 weeks, are 25% happier than a people who merely list 5 life events from the week (Emmons and McCullough, 2003).


With as little as 2 MINUTES per week you can use CBT techniques to improve your outlook on life.  The exercise is simple!


Make a list (or think) of three things that you are grateful for: people, places, and things that benefit you and without which your life would be less satisfying.

Next, if you have time, you can think about what is responsible for the things that you are grateful for.

Those with a busy schedule will be happy to know that doing this exercise once a week was found to be more effective than doing it once per week (Lyubomirsky et al., 2005).


Sometimes it may be difficult to find things that you are grateful for.  On those days it is necessary to help our thoughts be more positive.  General ideas of gratitude may include:


I am thankful for the sunshine.

I am thankful I have my family.

I am thankful that I had a safe drive to work.

I am thankful that I had a good night’s rest.

As you become comfortable with this exercise you can notice how it may feel different depending on the day of the week, the weather, and your schedule.  Part of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is to identify how these different factors impact our thinking and behavior.  Through this simple gratitude exercise you can be empowered to improve your mood!


Posted in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Depression

3 Steps to Creating Positive Affirmations

By changing the way you think, reprogramming your mind and removing the old negative beliefs that have been sabotaging you again and again throughout your life, positive affirmations are a cornerstone of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. When created and used correctly, positive affirmations can enable you to achieve the life you’ve always wanted for yourself!


Creating your own affirmations is the perfect way to get the right affirmations for you.  Cognitive Behavioral Therapy outlines 3 steps to create your own positive affirmations.


Take some time to think about areas in your life you would like to improve and how you might want your life to be.

Write down a list of the most important improvements you would like.

Look at each item on the list and write out a few positive statements for each. The statements must be positive and in the present tense.  Make sure to focus on what you do want and not on what you don’t want.

For example if my list of things that were important to me included,  “A fulfilling job,” my affirmation  might state, “I have a wonderful job that fulfills me on many levels.”

There are many types of affirmations.  In the early stages of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, some of the affirmations you will receive will be “releasing” in nature.  These are designed to assist you in overcoming any initial resistance to the process.  Other affirmations may focus on health, love, weight loss, peace and happiness.  Below is a list of positive affirmations that are often used in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy.


Releasing Affirmations


I am ready and willing to release the past, now.


Affirmations for Health


Every Cell in my body vibrates with energy and health.


Loving myself heals my life. I nourish my mind, body and soul.


My body heals quickly and easily.


Affirmations for Abundance


I prosper wherever I turn and I know that I deserve prosperity of all kinds.


The more grateful I am, the more reasons I find to be grateful.


I pay my bills with love as I know abundance flows freely through me.


Affirmations for Love


I know that I deserve Love and accept it now.


I give out Love and it is returned to me multiplied.


I rejoice in the Love I encounter every day.


Affirmations for Romance


I have a wonderful partner and we are both happy and at peace.


I release any desperation and allow love to find me.


I attract only healthy relationships.


Affirmations for Weight Loss


I am the perfect weight for me.


I choose to make positive healthy choices for myself.


I choose to exercise regularly.


Affirmations for Self Esteem


When I believe in myself, so do others.


I express my needs and feelings.


I am my own unique self – special, creative and wonderful.


Affirmations for Peace and Harmony


All my relationships are loving and harmonious.


I am at peace.


I trust in the process of life.


Affirmations for Joy and Happiness


Life is a joy filled with delightful surprises.


My life is a joy filled with love, fun and friendship all I need do is stop all criticism, forgive, relax and be open.


I choose love, joy and freedom, open my heart and allow wonderful things to flow into my life.


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