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LIFE QUALITY RESOURCES

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For further information about neurofeedback, biofeedback, and psychotherapeutic services offered by Drs. Dan and Lucy Chartier and their associates, contact:


LIFE QUALITY RESOURCES

5613 Duraleigh Road, #101
Raleigh, NC 27612
Telephone: (919) 782-4597
www.LifeQualityResources.org

Psychophysiological Therapy:
Understanding the Connections
Between Mental and Physical Health

In a long career easing life’s burdens for literally thousands of clients, Dr. Dan Chartier of Life Quality Resources has earned a broad following as a compassionate and skillful psychophysiologic psychotherapist. “That title,” he explains with a smile, “is simply a way of acknowledging the inextricable link between mental, emotional, and physical health.

Using a variety of computer-based tools and programs, Dr. Chartier is able to measure psychophysiological stress indicators.

“How we heal is an amazing process that is actually quite difficult to define,” he observes. “We are so much more than what we can see of ourselves, or even feel. And one paramount lesson I’ve learned over the course of my career is just how fluid and blurry the lines are between our physical selves and the less tangible psycho-emotional aspects of our being.

“We are beings who exist in a fundamental wholeness that we then—for purposes of scientific study and medical inquiry—divide up into the mind or body or organ systems or neurological processes. But, in reality, all those parts are operating out of the same energetic, quantum field. That’s the place where I meet people in the work that I do. So, in essence, I work as a quantum mechanic.”

Health&Healing: How did you come to this mind-body focus of psychophysiology?

Dr. Chartier: While earning my PhD in psychology, I learned that it was very helpful to understand the client’s problem from a psychological point of view. I learned methods for diagnosing the problem using pencil and paper questionnaires, tests, and other observational strategies. But I found it frustrating that, while psychology could produce an accurate diagnosis, we didn’t have much more than talk therapy to offer for treatment.

But then I learned about biofeedback through some experiments that a fellow grad student was conducting. I became really enamored with the idea that we could go beyond talk processes and actually understand and measure psychological distress by measuring biomarkers—the physiological symptoms of that distress. Those biomarkers are things such as microvolts of excess muscle tension, blood pressure changes, peripheral temperature resulting from blood flow to the extremities, and changes in brainwave activity.

Those methodologies opened up a whole new window for me as a psychologist about how to—so to speak—“lift the hood” and see what’s going on at the deeper parts of the “engine.”

When I started my practice, I initially thought I would do psychotherapy with some people who needed it to help reduce depression or anxiety; and I would do biofeedback with people who had more physically focused issues, such as chronic pain or high blood pressure. But my patients very quickly taught me that I could not find a clear demarcation from where the mind stopped and the body began, or vice versa.

Sometimes they had headache pain that was really disrupting their lives. But as we worked on it using biofeedback, they often began to report insights about how the headaches were associated with other things such as family stress or past trauma.

And so, I stopped trying to separate the two and became dedicated to this field of psychophysiology.

H&H: What are biofeedback and neurofeedback and how do they help?

Dr. Chartier: Biofeedback is the use of an instrument or device that measures something biological, and it makes that information available to the person in real time—in the instant that it is occurring.

I use a range of devices that allow me and my clients to gain an understanding of how what they are thinking or feeling is affecting their physiology. This may be something as simple as the variation in temperature at the end of a fingertip. Or there may be changes in brain waves we are monitoring from EEG readouts or muscle tension measured via sensor attached to the skin over a tense muscle. Often what we see as abnormality in those physiological measures is someone who is not making an effective adjustment to some change in life.

People with headaches often have an intense amount of muscle contraction around the head or in the neck and shoulder area. We can literally read how much contraction is going on and provide that information to the person. They can then use that information to begin changing what’s going on inside their skin.

The biofeedback/neurofeedback process is a perfect illustration of the mind-body connection. For example, by cueing via an audible tone, and/or a change in a computer display we can help the client know that, at that moment, he or she has elevated slower, calmer brain activity. Through repetitive experiences of that feedback process, they’re able to adjust in a way that alters the physiological response. They may find that slowing their breathing, relaxing muscles, etc., produces the healthier response they’re seeking. And mind and body will remember how to continue to produce that response.

H&H: Speaking of stress, we’ve had a year and a half plus of unremitting stress, and the uncertainty continues. How are you seeing that reflected in your clients?

Dr. Chartier: Many people feel powerless and trapped. Physiologically, they are showing the same kinds of patterns we see with any person struggling at some emotional level. Their anxiety markers, such as fast frequency brain activity, elevated muscle tension, and cold fingertips, all indicate their inability to reach a calm state.

Altering those anxiety biomarkers through feedback training can help treat those mental or emotional issues, as well as the physical ones. Because everything we do in waking hours involves the sensory motor network: all of the ways that we smell, see, hear, or feel and how we respond to that. The more we can strengthen healthy sensory-motor brain activity, the better the brain and mind can function.

Dr. Chartier demonstrating the smart-phone driven Muse Sensing Device.

H&H: What’s on the horizon for psychophysiology?

Dr. Chartier: Clearly one of the most important developments—and the most exciting—is the movement towards low-cost biofeedback tools for personal use—on home computers, tablets, and smart-phones.

All feedback devices have the capability of measuring biological information, and then representing that brain activity with some kind of sound or visual display. And today, for much of that work, my patients need just a simple at-home device that hooks up to their smart-phone.

The Muse Brain Sensing device is one of the new tools we have found to be extremely useful. It is an EEG headband that works with a smart-phone as a meditation assistant to measure and provide neurofeedback on distracted or calm brain activity. HeartMath is another personal feedback tool we use to help improve emotional well-being by providing heart rate variability feedback. And I recently received a device, the URGOnight, developed in France that accurately measures brain activity along the sensory motor cortex. After just a few sessions, I’m seeing results that are beneficial in terms of improved sleep quality.

So, like many developments in our smart-phone world we can also say, regarding biofeedback and neurofeedback, “there is an app for that…