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TUCoPS :: Wetware Hacking :: Others :: alpha.txt

Alpha-Theta training: its use in chemical dependency


Bert Anderson, Ph.D.

My name is Bert Anderson and I reside and practice biofeedback and
neurofeedback in Redlands, California (USA).  I first read the
papers "alpha-theta Brainwave Training and beta-Endorphin Levels in
Alcoholics" and "Alcoholic Personality and Alpha-Theta Brainwave
Training," by Eugene G. Peniston and Paul J. Kulkosky in early
1991.  Mostly because of convincing data related to mood, not
believing that it would effect my liking for alcoholic beverages,
I began training myself in what I believed at the time was the
protocol used by Peniston.

This training was with a Biocomp 2001 instrument with leads
modified to record beta, alpha and theta bands on 3 separate
channels.  The positions of the electrodes was O1 to O2 (ground to
Fp2) and because I did not completely understand Peniston's
protocol I began only with alpha training.  Further, I did not use
the alcohol rejection imagery (which is considered an important
part of the protocol) as I did not believe myself to be an
alcoholic.  I trained for 30 minute sessions 1 to 3 times per week
as time allowed.

By Session 10 I experienced a significant elevation of mood, to the
extent that I signed up for actual training in the method at the
Menninger Clinic in May 1991.  By the mid-July I had lost all
interest in drinking alcohol in any form and it actually seemed
offensive to me.  Unlike the use of disulfiram, I experienced no
craving whatever, and small quantities of alcohol in food or via
experimental sips did not make me sick.

I consider the alpha-theta training engaged in at that time to have
been very positive.  By the end of the 30 sessions my mood
elevation had increased, I experienced no normal bodily pains
(although I was over 60 years of age), I did not need glasses to
read, and there was an outpouring of creative energy expressed in
the production of written material and computer graphics as much as
the software I was using would allow.  

A final effect seems to have been on my immune system.  Although I
would have sinus infections 3 to 4 times per years prior to
treatment, I have had no infections or discomfort for more than a
few hours since treatment.  I have, however, experienced some colds
and flu.

Based on the Peniston-Kulkosky research, the Menninger training and
my own experience, I believe I had every right to expect similar
results with alcohol and drug addicted individuals and established
my out-patient practice around this treatment in 1992.

Some notable successes and notable failures led me to draw some
conclusions which I shared at an Advanced Brainwave Training
Institute in the February 1994 in Topeka, Kansas.  What follows is
taken from my presentation notes:

The private practitioner in the one to one situation with the
alcohol or drug abusing client cannot assume the application of
Gene Peniston's protocol in isolation from other treatment will
replicate Peniston's research results.

Peniston's population was very homogenous.  All males, middle aged,
20 year histories of alcohol abuse, repeated failures in treatment. 
My population, on the other hand, was very diverse and "one of
everything" whether measuring demographics, alcohol and/or drug use
patterns or brainwaves.

Alcohol and drug abuse is only the "icing on the cake."  It is the
last problem in a whole series or constellation of problems.  (And
of course, it may not be the "last problem" as abuse causes
problems of its own.)

I was assuming that because of the changes in depression and other
personality factors which Peniston showed in his research, that I
could take a 'wait and see' approach to psychological problems
which my patients were presenting.  This proved to be a wrong

The population I worked with is typically AA resistant, middle and
upper middle class.  They have limited their treatment options by
rejecting hospital inpatient programs that will take them out of
circulation for two weeks or a month.  Ideally, they want a program
that will solve their problem with a limited time commitment, no
groups, with as a little loss of dignity as possible.

As I believe anyone familiar with recovery concepts can see in the
above statement, the alpha-theta treatment in these circumstances
becomes part of the denial system.

It is my observation that all clients who engaged in alpha-theta
training in my private practice environment received substantial
benefit from the training.  The training eased withdrawal symptoms
and there were very few incidences of relapse during treatment. 
Only two, both alcoholics, exhibited resistance to training.  Both
people relapsed shortly after treatment.  Best results to treatment
appear to have been with those suffering from methamphetamine

My conclusions from this two year experiment was that the Peniston-
Kulkosky protocol provides many benefits to the recovering
individual, including inducing an actual aversion in some
individuals and elevation of mood, but is inappropriate as a
singular treatment modality.

I would recommend to any in- or outpatient organization
contemplating the alpha-theta protocol that it be used in
conjunction with broad based recovery program such as 12 Step.

Evaluation of the patient should include a general life history
including family history of alcoholism, depression, Tourettes,
eating disorders and hyperactivity; family abuse, accidents and
injuries, particularly head injuries, psychological trauma, anxiety
or panic disorder, and seizures.  This, of course, will be in
addition to substance abuse history.

Evaluation should include testing for psychological and personality
factors.  I found the Alcohol Use Inventory quite helpful in
treatment recommendations.

A psychophysical (biofeedback) evaluation will be looking for
patterns of chronic arousal which should be addressed prior to
brain wave training.  Use of an assessment form, temperature, skin
conductance, muscle tension, heart rate and breathing pattern and
rate should be used.

Finally, a neuro-electrical (EEG) profile evaluation to determine
baseline characteristics, electrode placement, training protocol
and feedback training thresholds needs to be made.

From this evaluation the clinical psychophysiologist can make a
four-fold diagnostic assessment, each with treatment implications.

It is the clinical psychophysiologist's job to present a treatment
plan which defines the role of neurofeedback therapy as part of an
overall recovery plan.  My own belief is that a recovery plan
should include active 12 Step participation for at least one year
following neurofeedback treatment and psychotherapy.  Our job is to
help undermine the denial system ("All I need is this brainwave
training and all my problems will disappear") and direct the patient
into an overall recovery program.  

The reader will note that I have said nothing about treatment
procedure, but it is evident to me that alpha-theta training may
>>not<< be appropriate for all patients, especially for attention
deficit, Tourettes and head injured patients.   It must be avoided
altogether for patients with a history of seizures.  It may be
appropriate only for "Peniston type" patients and other EEG
protocols considered on a case by case basis for others.

Neurofeedback training is very much in its infancy as a discipline. 
At this point in time it is evident that this is a much more
complex undertaking than I and many others believed it to be four
years ago.  The Peniston-Kulkosky studies should be considered as
a beginning point, as indeed it was, not a final, or even
acceptable, solution to alcohol and drug abuse treatment in and of

Bert Anderson, Ph.D.
Bert Anderson

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