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Telephone: (919) 782-4597

Nature and Nurture Intertwined

When it comes to mental health, are certain conditions biologically pre-destined? Not according to Dr. Dan Chartier, PhD, of Life Quality Resources in Raleigh. “From my perspective,” he says, “when it comes to mental health, ‘nature’ and ‘nurture’ are inextricably intertwined.

Using a variety of computer-based tools
and programs, Dr. Chartier is able to
capture information about how a patient’s
brain functions. This process allows him to
see how normally—or abnormally—a brain
is functioning, and which areas of the brain
need targeted attention.

“Family history and gene-tics certainly can create the potential for mental health problems, but stress, poor diet, and problematic rela-tionships—even the lack of healthy relationships—can lead to the expression of an otherwise-dormant issue.”

At Life Quality Resources, Dr. Chartier and his wife, Dr. Lucy Chartier, take a compre-hensive approach to well-being, considering not just the mental health of their patients, but their physical condition and environmental triggers. This is particularly important in their work with those dealing with autism, ADHD, or other mental health challenges with a genetic component.

When trying to understand the difficulties that a patient faces, explains Dr. Chartier, “testing is critically important. We use a quantitative EEG process to capture information about how the patient’s brain functions while that patient performs various tasks. Then we assess the data using a measuring system called neurometrics, which provides insight into how the brain’s electrical activity is organized.

“This process,” he explains, “allows us to quickly see how normally—or abnormally—a brain is functioning, and which areas of the brain need targeted attention.”

Health&Healing: With so many different variables, how do you discern what’s driving what, or figure out where to begin?

DR. CHARTIER: It can be difficult to sort out what variables are most significant—whether biological or environmental, since “environmental” factors include the patient’s life situation, relationships, nutritional issues, and the many choices he or she is making. So I often find myself in initial conversations with a new client talking about this broad interactive process of self and life and circumstances. The stress and strain that we often generate for ourselves comes from worry or poor health habits; and then we wonder why a genetic abnormality has expressed itself when we’ve been inviting it for decades.

Maybe our grandparents had autism, or one of them had some other mental illness. That doesn’t mean that’s automatically going to express itself unless there are certain environmental factors. Maybe the probability is greater, but not an absolute certainty. And that’s where the work I do comes into play.

H&H: How do you use this information to determine the best course of treatment?

DR. CHARTIER: From my perspective, it’s all about management. We frequently cannot change the environment we’re in, but we do have the possibility of altering our response to that environment. That’s the real magic of the tools that we use.

In its normal, day-to-day functioning, the brain moves up and down within an optimum electrical frequency range. When the brain gets outside those ranges, then it’s associated with an identifiable problem. Anxiety is the result of way too much fast-frequency activity and not enough slow. In contrast, problems of attention can be attributed to too much slow-frequency activity and not enough fast.

Energy management is a way to describe it. Much like physical exercise to get better flexibility or more strength or more endurance, we’re applying that same logic to brain function—that by exercising certain frequency patterns or inhibiting others, the general behavior improves.

H&H: And how might energy management help when dealing with ADHD or autism?

DR. CHARTIER: ADHD is really a broad category describing behaviors of inattentiveness or impulsivity. Inattentiveness is an abnormality at one end of the scale, with anxiety on the other end, and they can intersect, as well. It is very hard to be attentive if one is extremely anxious. We see it often in children.

In classic ADHD cases, the dominant frequency of the brain tends to move into a slower frequency pattern. When the brain starts to go into that pattern, it would be typical for any of us heading into a nap. But when that’s a chronic background energy pattern, then the brain is fighting against that to stay focused and attentive.

There is certainly a family connection. When a mother brings her child to me, it’s pretty common to hear her say she struggled with exactly the same issues when she was a child. But environment is also important. We also invite slower frequency brain patterns by staring at a computer screen or watching TV endlessly. Even hyperactivity is really an expression of a slower frequency brain.

Often, we see an excess of faster frequency activity in the autistic patient. Helping them slow that down to get into a normal frequency range is helpful. I’m not going to say it “cures” autism, but managing the elements of it can be helpful. Getting the brain to balance itself a little better helps the individual then minimize inappropriate behaviors. More importantly, we help the individual do what’s within their capacity to bring about change.

H&H: What kind of results can you achieve in helping an individual manage these frequencies?

DR. CHARTIER: The whole point is to help the patient “self-regulate.” The information provided through biofeedback and neurofeedback allows them to alter behavior—and these changes can become new “habits of mind.” The result can be very powerful.

One example that comes to mind is a pre-teen I worked with who had such significant autism that his parents had to do lots of reminders and encouragement to help him manage his behavior. We had been working with him for several months to help normalize his EEG pattern. One day his mom came in beaming, and sharing this story:

Toward the end of the previous week, there had been a conversation about her sister’s family coming to visit. Later that day, she found her autistic son in the hall bathroom, cleaning it.

She was blown away by the fact that here he was, cleaning. When she asked him, “What are you doing?” He said, “Didn’t you say Aunt and Uncle are coming? And I know they always use this bathroom and that it would need to be cleaned.” And she knew then that something was different about her child