There’s a crown of cords encircling my head, and I’m staring straight into a computer monitor, where a rainbow glob dances across the screen as numbers fluctuate and multicolored bars bounce along the periphery. My job, as a pretend patient in the Goleta office of psychologist Dr. Dan Staso, is to push the rainbow wave as high as I can and keep it there, but the only tools available are my thoughts. When I concentrate intently and honestly on the goal, the swell rises and holds, but when I get distracted, utter a comment, or begin to think this little game is too easy, the tide recedes, its associated numbers and bars plunging as well.
I’m playing a mental sport of sorts, but it’s quite a physical task, too, even if I can’t “feel” it: The wave corresponds to the flow of blood into my frontal lobes, and training how to increase that inner surge might just make me smarter, quicker, and happier. And for those out there who suffer from such maladies as anxiety, alcoholism, depression, or attention deficit disorder, this kind of neurofeedback treatment may be a noninvasive, likely cheaper solution to your woes than the standard pills and procedures, according to Staso.
Staso, a psychologist who’s been interested in the idea of neurofeedback since learning about it from pioneer Margaret Ayers in 1983, figured that, by the 21st century, it would catch on quick. “I had no idea how far out there I was — that clearly has not happened,” said Staso, who believes that it can make people calmer, react less dramatically if stressful situations arise, and rebound faster when it does. “I realized it would be up to clinicians like me to start making public appearances and writing about it.” He’ll give such a talk for the first time on January 15 at the Santa Barbara Public Library’s Faulkner Gallery.
Perhaps more revolutionary is Staso’s realization that many folks experiencing “psychological” problems might actually have invisible physical injuries caused by forgotten concussions. When his patients struggle with traditional treatment, Staso asks whether they’ve ever experienced head trauma, and about 50 percent do recall long ago incidents that they’d never associated with their problems. For them, neurofeedback — which can reawaken brain pathways that have essentially fallen asleep — offers a possible remedy, directing blood flow back to damaged corners. And the treatment can be good for those just looking to get an edge, too, as anecdotally evidenced by the Italian soccer team’s neurofeedback training prior to their World Cup win in 2006. “Literally,” said Staso, “you can increase the functioning of the brain ever so slightly.”
Before I leave his office, Staso hooks me up for another ride, this one the “Happy for No Reason Protocol.” A few dabs of skin glue are required to keep the nodes affixed to my dome, but then I just sit there for a few minutes as the computer reads my brainwaves and sends back counteracting waves to balance me out. In 24 hours or so, I’m supposed to, as advertised, feel happy for no reason, but the effects set in even earlier.
Sure, I’m a relatively joyous dude by nature, and am certainly prone to placebo, but after leaving the office, I tackle a late afternoon meeting with gusto, plow through a load of work at home I had no intention of touching, and power through what should have been an exhausting, travel-laden, and late-night–filled weekend with ease. Sign me up for another crown o’ cords anytime.
Dr. Dan Staso will discuss how neurofeedback can help ADHD at the Santa Barbara Public Library’s Faulkner Gallery on January 15, 3:30-5 p.m. See neurofeedback-sb.com.