It has long been known that many clients with Eating Disorders are very anxious, and at times obsessive, compulsive, perfectionistic, and highly self-critical. This tendency to be perfectionistic is often driven by the combination of anxiety and a temperamental predisposition to be hyper-conscientious – conscientious to a fault. Brain mapping obtained from clients at Avalon Hills has shown a very frequently occurring pattern of dyrsregulated brain activity primarily involving the frontal lobes which contributes to feeling stuck and as though the frontal lobe is in a “tug of war” with itself. Such a pattern can result in a person feeling something is wrong, which drives her anxiety up and causes a persistence of self-defeating behaviors ineffectively aimed at reducing the anxiety. Once this pattern of brain activity is shown and explained to the person producing it, it is easier for her to see how learning to change the pattern of dysregulation can be freeing and produce an increased sense of calm and well-being. The experience of learning to volitionally change the activity of the brain is extremely empowering for an individual.
Applied neuroscience is the name of the emerging field aimed at translating the latest findings from brain science into interventions to help improve human functioning. Neurofeedback (also called EEG biofeedback) is one of the best developed approaches for applied neuroscience in clinical use today. Working with Dr. Ed Hamlin, one of the leading figures in neurofeedback, Avalon Hills has pioneered the application of this technique to help their clients with Eating Disorders. Neurofeedback is completely non-invasive, and involves tailoring brain exercises to help people learn to regulate their emotions and gain control over their attention and focus in ways that can lead to improved functioning, a more positive emotional state, and enhanced peace of mind.
An additional applied neuroscience technique employed extensively at Avalon Hills is the Quantitative Electroencephalogram (qEEG). The EEG is a measure of the electrical activity generated by the combined firing of neurons, specialized brain cells. Long used as a valuable medical tool in neurology, the EEG is now being used in behavioral and mental health fields. Quantitative EEG permits the analysis of the electrical activity being generated in 19 different areas of the brain by comparing them to a normative database to determine if there is too much or too little activation. The activation patterns are displayed on “brain maps” which can be used to help clients to see how their brains are operating and how they can change this to work better. Avalon Hills employs the use of qEEG with every admission to their program, has accumulated the largest library of these scans for patients with Eating Disorders, and uses them to monitor for response to treatment. A great deal is being learned from the use of these qEEGs to help develop more effective interventions.
One of the most exciting and revolutionary findings in neuroscience has been the discovery of neuroplasticity. It was long thought that the brain was not plastic and existing patterns of activity could not be substantially changed. However, groundbreaking studies in the mid-1980s demonstrated that the structure and functioning of the brain could be altered by experience. The application of applied neuroscience techniques is aimed at helping change the underlying patterns of activity in the brain to reduce the struggle an individual faces in incorporating is learned through other treatment modalities. Changes in baseline EEG activities in the brain can help a person change how she perceives and responds to her inner and outer world. Neuroplasticity offers the promise of transformation and not merely symptom management. Consistent practice with neurofeedback combined with a comprehensive treatment program is a very promising method for achieving this transformation.
To learn more about how neurosplasticity concepts and applied neuroscience interventions are integrated into the Avalon Hills program, please visit our Neuroplasticity Pioneers section of this website.