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Issue date: July 14, 2000


Psychologist James V. Hardt has patented neurofeedback technology that he says helps patients to change their thought patterns and improve their physical and emotional well-being.

Hardt takes brain wave readings from patients sitting in soothing blue-draped chambers.

@vcredit:Matthew Walker

Mountain View psychologist uses neurofeedback technology to improve patients' well-being Mountain View psychologist uses neurofeedback technology to improve patients' well-being (July 14, 2000)

By Leslie K. Martin

Is it possible to learn to control your mind and thoughts? To change your thought patterns?

What idea could be more seductive? What search more elusive? Zen Masters spend their lives on this quest.

For Mountain View psychologist James V. Hardt, the search is over. Hardt has spent 30 years developing the patented technology he uses to coach people in identifying and altering their brain wave patterns.

Hardt founded The Biocybernaut Institute in 1983 in order to provide a permanent research and development base. He has documented his success with neurofeedback in improving his clients' "creativity, mental clarity, physical and emotional well-being, athletic performance, and work productivity, as well as alcohol and chemical dependency, attention deficit disorder, personality therapy, and relieving stress and anxiety."

Hardt offers intensive two- and seven-day workshops in neurofeedback, a biofeedback technique that monitors brain waves.

The 270-member Biofeedback Society of California defines biofeedback as "a therapeutic technique using sensitive instruments to measure, amplify and provide feedback on physiological responses."

According to the Biofeedback Society Web site, biofeedback is used to deal with "stress-related illnesses, rehabilitation, neurological processing disorders" and "the development of athletic and performance skills," as well as migraines, seizures, high blood pressure, incontinence and insomnia.

One of the most basic forms of biofeedback is a device sold at high-tech gadget stores. Place your finger on a sensor and a tone sounds. Breathe shallow and fast, and the tone slides to a higher register; relax with deep and long breaths, and the tone descends.

The neurofeedback chambers at Hardt's institute are at the other end of the biofeedback spectrum. The chambers are four cozy, soundproofed boxes, each one large enough to accommodate a small table with two computer monitors, a keypad, a chair, and adjustable hanging speakers. The chambers are draped and carpeted from ceiling to floor in blue and purple because blue is the color most associated with alpha waves and is a calming influence, according to Hardt.

Hardt and an attendant place electrodes on the heads of workshop attendees who then enter their chambers. Hardt plugs the electrodes into a million-dollar-plus computer network. As a client meditates or keys in computer responses to mood tests, the electrodes measure the tiny electrical signals produced by the brain's neurons and reflects back the client's brain waves through synthesized tones and in numbered scores on the computer monitor.

At the end of a chamber session, Hardt analyzes the computer-generated printouts and holds discussions that coach, support, and guide the client ever closer to the goal of sustaining longer periods of alpha and theta brain waves. The printouts help identify and target existing brain patterns the client might want to change. Hardt suggests specific exercises to help, but because each person generates unique thought patterns, changing them is the responsibility of the trial-and-error effort by the client.

The existence of oscillating electrical brain waves was discovered in 1908 by Austrian psychiatrist Hans Berger. Because the Greek word alpha means "first" or "the beginning," Berger named them alpha waves. Discoveries of beta, delta and theta waves followed. Theta waves are associated with meditative states.

Hardt's first experience with brain waves was in 1968 as a subject in Dr. Joe Kamiya's feedback lab. During a three-hour biofeedback session, Hardt experienced a meditative state that "changed my life. That event turned the course of my life's study."

According to Hardt, Kamiya was the first scientist to report, in 1962, that people could learn voluntary control of their own brain waves.

Hardt studied electroencephalograms (EEG), "the natural reactivity of brain waves to various sensory stimulations, an area known as psychophysics," from 1971-73 at Carnegie-Mellon University in Pittsburgh, Pa. There he constructed and tested EEG feedback equipment, designed research trials, and conducted a series of studies.

A pre-doctoral fellowship enabled him to move to the Langley Porter laboratory in San Francisco, where he studied with Kamiya.

After a series of studies on the effects of brain-wave feedback on anxiety and drug use, Hardt landed the first of several post-doctoral grants and in 1983 began work at Agnews State Hospital treating addictive behaviors. His work was so successful, he says, that a local judge gave alcohol offenders the option of going to jail or attending Hardt's alpha training program.

Hardt's studies showed his neurofeedback training "increases calmness, creativity, intelligence, and performance in many trainees," he said. "But I think that the reduction in drug and alcohol abuse patterns, the boosts in IQ and boost in creativity are now actually just by-products of expanded awareness."

Since opening his institute, Hardt has presented his workshops to CEOs, members of the San Francisco '49ers, and even a 12-man unit of the Green Berets.

Expanded awareness and the million-dollar technology comes with a staggering price tag. The two-day workshop is $2,799; the seven-day workshop costs $9,000--the price of 180 visits to a mental health counselor at a rate of $50 per visit.

Hardt argues that his techniques are incomparably efficient.

"You can walk to New York, but you can get there a lot faster if you take a plane," Hardt said, "This program is like flying. It speeds up the process."

And Americans do seem to be searching for alternatives to traditional medicine. Alternative medical therapy usage has increased as hospitals fight sinking profits and headlines report a growing perception of dissatisfaction with HMOs.

A study by physicians, posted on the American Medical Association Web site, showed 42 percent of 2,055 adults surveyed in 1997 said they had used at least one alternative medical therapy during the previous year. The study concluded that Americans spent $21.2 billion on alternative therapies in 1997, a 45-percent increase from $14.6 billion in 1990.

For more information, call The Biocybernaut Institute at (650) 965-7878 or visit the Web site at: http://www.biocybernaut.com/.

Leslie Martin is a writer who covers Silicon Valley business. She can be reached at: LMARTIN@AOL.COM. 


 

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