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Raleigh, NC 27612
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Finding Balance Through Self-Regulation

“In mental health,” says Dr. Dan Chartier, “the ultimate goal—the gold standard—is balance through adjustment. At some point, all of us will get bumped out of balance; the ability to adjust quickly and regain that balance—physically, mentally, and emotionally—is an essential life skill.

Dr. Chartier demonstrates one of many new biofeedback tools—the Muse Brain Sensing device—that can be accessed with a cell phone app. The tool assists meditation by measuring how distracted or calm your brain activity is using nature sounds.

Dr. Chartier, a psychophysiologic psychotherapist, and his wife Dr. Lucy Chartier are the principal clinicians at Life Quality Resources, in Raleigh. For over 30 years, the two have used tools such as biofeedback and neurofeedback to help their clients to adjust to life’s imbalances.  

Understanding Balance

“Life is all about balance,” observes Dr. Chartier, “finding it, losing it, regaining it. And imbalances manifest in many ways—mentally, emotionally, and physiologically. It’s interesting how critical balance can be to life and death. If the pH levels in the body change more than one or 1.5 points, for example, it can be fatal. Physiologically, we all operate within this margin of alkalinity and acidity that doesn’t give us a lot of wiggle room.”

Vertigo, notes Dr. Chartier, is another example of a physiological imbalance with serious impact. “When someone has a stroke or perhaps a tumor, either the inner ear or the cerebellum is affected. And, since they govern a lot of our motion, it leads to an extreme distortion that creates imbalance. Even a brief bout of vertigo can give us an idea of what it would be to persistently deal with the world not being stable and imbalanced.
“Further, these physiological imbalances produce mental and emotional disruptions. How much serotonin you have—whether too much or too little—affects the smooth transmission of neuro-signals in our brain.

“Remember the old bell curve?” he asks. “The further we get from that center balance point, the more challenged our brain will be. This leads to conditions such as anxiety, fear, phobias. You get a mind that is overthinking or under-functioning—that won’t shut off or is so spaced out it can’t pay attention for more than a few seconds.

“The ability to know where one is in space—physically and mentally—is a good description of balance. And helping people to find that central, neutral position on the bell curve is an important part of what we do with bio- and neurofeedback.

“For example, if a muscle is neutral, then it’s not shortening its muscle fibers; it’s not moving. We can put a set of sensors on the skin over a muscle bundle and listen to whether that muscle is in a balanced state of relaxation. And with biofeedback, the patient can learn to recognize and easily find that central, relaxed position.”

The same can be said of brain activity, he explains. “I mentioned over- and under-activity, and mid-range. When brain frequencies are in mid-range (8-12 Hz), we’re at ease, alert, present, capable of responding—we’re not over-activated or spaced out.”

Neuro- and Biofeedback

“I like to think of the work we do with people who have imbalances, is to provide them—using bio- and neurofeedback technologies—with a sort-of GPS guidance system,” explains Dr. Chartier.

“I like data,” he admits. “They provide objective measures that let me and my patients know we’re moving in the direction of greater balance, thus greater well-being. On the road to healing there are mile markers that can be measured—that I call GPS guidance points. And I use that expression to make the point that biofeedback isn’t some magic that zaps people and changes them. Rather, it gives them a directional beacon to move toward well-being and balance. I often say to first-time patients: ‘how can I help you help yourself?’ Because that’s really what it’s about. It’s empowering, coaching, educating, and training them in ways that they can be more self-reliant in restoring their balance.”

Dr. Chartier uses these techniques to address a wide variety of imbalances. “I’ve used neurofeedback with stroke patients who have all sorts of balance challenges, both physically and emotionally. I also use psychophysiology biofeedback with my patients,” he says.

“And I often work with people who have sustained a head injury—as in an auto or industrial accident,” he says. “For example, I’m currently working with a patient who had an 800-pound pallet fall from an overhead rack onto him. It didn’t crush him directly, but gave him a glancing blow that left him with multiple shattered bones, head trauma, and personality changes. Slowly, but steadily, we’re offering him the road back to better balance.

“A lot of our work,” he adds, “is with patients who have Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD), helping them to acquire the ability to balance between inattention and attention. We work with both children and adults, because ADD doesn’t just disappear as we mature into adulthood, people just find other ways to use it or abuse it. The essence of what we do to treat ADD is to help the patient find a sweet spot of relaxed attention—where, once they develop a feel for it—they’re less likely to wander away from.”

A Range of Biofeedback App Devices

Technological advances, notes Dr. Chartier, “have had a tremendous impact on our work at Life Quality Resources—providing us with increasingly sensitive tools for assessing brain activity, and guiding patients’ feedback work.  

“What’s equally exciting is the development of biofeedback tools for personal use—on a home computer, and on tablets and smartphones. Helping people strengthen their self-regulation skills has always been our ultimate goal, so I consider these new tools a wonderful development.”

One such tool—the Muse Brain Sensing device—says Dr. Chartier, “is an EEG headband, that works with a smartphone as a meditation assistant, allowing me to easily extend my work outside a clinical setting. While you meditate, it measures how distracted or calm your brain activity is by using nature sounds. The busier and more distracted the brain is, the louder the sound gets.

“All feedback devices” explains Dr. Chartier, “have the capability of measuring biological information—in this case brain activity coming from the frontal lobes—and then representing that brain activity with some kind of sound or visual display.”

HeartMath is another device Dr. Chartier has found helpful in improving emotional well-being, providing heart rate variability feedback, and a coherence ratio in heart rhythm. “As we get higher coherence ratios, we’re in a more relaxed state,” he explains. “Also, HeartMath has a number of different protocols that can be used for attention and relaxation training, as well as athletic performance enhancement.

Upright Go, which you wear on your clothing,” he says, “is a biofeedback device to improve your posture by vibrating every time you slouch, informing you that you’re out of balance. If you straighten, the vibrating stops and you’re back in balance. This is a useful tool for preventing ‘tech neck’—the poor posture resulting from constantly looking down at a cell phone.”