Toward ecologically valid studies of innovative therapies

23 Mar

A key concern in the development and deployment of innovative therapeutic technologies is the availability of validation studies that support clinical practice. Specifically, the fields of biofeedback and neuromodulation have undergone significant evolution in the past 20 years, with emerging methods including advanced analysis of signals from the heart and brain, and increasingly elaborate feedback schema. These are often based on clinical experience, professional judgment, intuition, and repeated experimentation and variations in techniques.

Controlled studies have been put forth as a “gold standard” in the evaluation of emerging therapeutic methods. It has been put forth that a randomized, blind, sham controlled, crossover design is “the only way to go.” History, however, has shown a very different picture. The rigid RCT approach suffers from a number of critical problems that have, overall, served more to confound and obfuscate the benefits of these methods. Among the flaws in using RCT’s are a lack of ecological validity, problems with subject expectations and the experimental environment, unfamiliarity with the workings of practical therapeutic work, and at times, sheer incompetence on the part of the practitioners.

Controlled studies typically cost 100’s of thousands, even millions of dollars, and require significant planning and resources. They may lack ecological validity, and are often conducted by non-practitioners, and may be conducted in other than an active clinic. If methods are to innovate, the control group should be the existing practice standard, including medications. Studies that have taken this approach have been successful (Meisel, Duric). Hammer (2012), for example, demonstrated similar results for an emerging method, compared to a “traditional” neurofeedback treatment, for insomnia.

Another problem with RCT’s is the cost of absorbing all the treatment costs for all participants, for ethical and scientific reasons. This is then confounded with the fact that all participants are getting free treatment, which affects the level of investment and expectation, putting it outside normal clinical parameters. Studies that fit into routine clinical work can be much more flexible, in that the “control” group, which would be treatment as normal, could be conducted and paid for as usual, and compared with an experimental treatment. This would improve the ecological validity, in that clients receiving actual treatments have the same expectations and costs as encountered in actual clinical work.

The Information paradigm and brain/mind health

10 Feb

As science and clinical practice evolve, we move through a series of paradigm shifts.  Things that were once thought of as abstract entities such as ego, motivation, and mood, become successively reduced to different levels of science.  We have a chemical brain, we are told.  We have an electrical brain, we are told.  We are all comprised of vibrations, that we share and use to control and communicate.  Einstein stated that matter itself is merely a reduced vibration of energy.  Students of electrochemistry, quantum physics, and such understand the composition of subatomic particles, how they interact, and how they produce the illusion that we call reality.

Current neurobiology talks about synapses, neurotransmitters, proteins, and networks.  The more we learn, the more we think about the roles of dc potentials, glial activity, subsynaptic organization, and metagenetics.  Microtubules and quantum uncertainty are brought in as possible underpinnings of free will, or even “free won’t.”  More recent work has verified something that many have speculated on for decades, that simple electrotonic conduction of slow fields in the neural tissue can have effects across neurons.  This further provides support for the use of low-power pulsed electromagnetic fields pEMF as a viable form of neuronal modulation.

What is the common underpinning that will incorporate all of these dimensions and considerations, and provide a theoretical basis for neuromodulation and mental health?  It is, quite simply, that of information itself.  The organization of any entity into an information-carrying medium is quite automatic and implicit.   Any system in which a path or decision can be mediated, communicated, or put into action, is basically manipulating information.  What are the scientific principles that we use for this investigation?  Information theory, chaos theory, dynamical systems, nash equilibria, and strange attractors are more fundamental than neurons, ions, synapses, or pharmaceuticals.  The foundational work in mental health for the next century will focus on goal-seeking systems, self-organization, graph theory, and dynamic stability, much more than continuing to pry into details and mechanisms.  By studying the system, how it responds, how it determines and seeks goals, and how it recognizes and makes decisions based upon patterns, will take the forefront as a truly new science of brain and mind emerges.

Who are the names and concepts that we will look upon in the future in this regard?  Names like Norbert Weiner, Bertrand Russell, Claude Shannon, Benoit Mandelbrot, and John Nash.  Concepts such as cybernetic control, self-referencing systems, information content, fractals, strange attractors, and dynamic equilibria are at the center stage of pure information and control theory.  In neurofeedback in particular, the goal is one of providing the salient information to the system, and allowing it to learn.  The form that that information takes and how it is presented are the keys to the evolution of brain modulation technology and the self-modifying systems approach to mental health.


Music and the Brain

21 Jan

We recently had the opportunity to study the effect of music on the brain, in an unusual performance and imaging project.  Our friend Samuel Salisbury, who is a master of the Indian sarangi, created a 20-minute immersive soundscape, while we monitored the EEG of a listener.  The sarangi is a stringed instrument that is bowed, and has a complement of “drone” strings, so that the instrument produces a uniquely aesthetic and beautiful sound.  We used a new imaging technique in the BrainMaster BrainAvatar software, to create an individualized 3-D brain activation map that showed the brain activity changes that occurred as the listener became immersed in the music.   We used a new wireless, dry-sensor EEG technology, the BrainMaster Freedom 24, to record EEG without gel, paste, or wires.  This provided a very relaxing and compatible setup, for the performance.

We have posted a video of this perfomance at


We will be doing more of these performances, and including dance and other art forms, as our continuing interest in art, music, aesthetics, and the brain.


San Diego Chargers neurofeedback

17 Nov

The San Diego Chargers are being hit, literally, as are all football teams, with head blows and impact, some resulting in injury.  Neurofeedback is one intervention that is being used to help athletes to recover from head injuries, including concussion.  Neurofeedback is a scientifically-based, nonpharmaceutical intervention that lets the brain learn its own path to recovery, used in conjunction with other interventions.  Read about Corey Liugeta and others who are benefitting from BrainMaster neurofeedback at:

Chargers Concussion neurofeedback

BrainAvatar Muse Mood EEG for mental health counseling and psychotherapy

19 Dec

We are proud to announce a special partnership between BrainMaster Technologies Inc. and InteraXon, creators of Muse: the brain-sensing headband. As many of you know, we announced the new “BrainAvatar Muse“ software platform at ISNR on October 16, 2014. Pairing the rich experience of BrainAvatar’s advanced proprietary technology with Muse’s clinical-grade, 7-sensor, 4-channel EEG platform, packaged in a simple, approachable design, creates a powerful, cost-effective neuromonitoring and neurofeedback solution.  The initial title in this series, “BrainAvatar Muse Mood,” provides an evidence-based, real-time indicator of frontal activation patterns related to emotional decision-making processes.  The science behind this application has been published in Journal of Neurotherapy, Neuroconnections, Counseling Today, and Advances in Mind/Body Medicine.  This is a revealing and useful new tool for practitioners including counselors, therapists, coaches, and business professionals.  BrainAvatar Muse Mood for PC and Mac is currently available in beta release, and further titles (both nonclinical and clinical) will become available as they are developed and deployed.  BrainMaster is the exclusive developer and provider of clinical applications for Muse, and will be releasing a series of apps in 2015 for iOS (iPhone, iPad, iPod) and Android (Google, Samsung, etc).

For information and examples of data and publications related to the BrainAvatar Muse, and our first title, “BrainMaster Muse Mood,” use the following link:

The BrainAvatar Muse series is available for PC and Mac.  The Muse EEG headband can be purchased from a variety of retail and online outlets, and is rapidly becoming a standard.  As a direct outcome of our partnership, Brainmaster and InteraXon would like to extend to the BrainMaster community an invitation to join the Muse Professionals Program. This program features support from the teams at InteraXon and BrainMaster, and preferred pricing on Muse headbands and add-on software.  At the core of this program is the Muse Professional Starter Pack. This starter pack includes 1 Muse headband for demonstration and 5 Muse headbands for resale at the MSRP of $299 each, or for use in your practice. The Starter Pack price is $1199, and further Professional Packs of 6 Muse headbands can be purchased at preferred pricing of $1380 ($230 per headband).

To take advantage of this opportunity to buy Muses from Interaxon at the professional pricing, click here:

The BrainAvatar Muse Mood software which you add to your Muses, is available from BrainMaster for $495 per Muse, and 6-pack pricing is also available.  You will purchase the software from BrainMaster, and you can also purchase Muses with software from BrainMaster if you prefer.  If you already have Muses, or get your Muses from Interaxon, it does not cost you any penalty to get the software from us.  A Muse with BrainAvatar Muse Mood software, from BrainMaster, has a price of $795, a new price point for a clinical-quality 4-channel EEG with the unique functions of BrainMaster Muse Mood.

You can download the software and evaluate it in a simple demo mode for no cost, and you can then purchase the full package from BrainMaster whenever you want.

To download the BrainAvatar Muse Mood software for your Muses, click here:

While we are adding the Muse device and software to our store, we can process orders at


Tom, Terri, Bill and the team

Corey Liuget NFL Defensive Player of the Week

24 Sep

Our neurofeedback client Corey Liuget is on a fantastic season (and career) start, with playing that attracts notice of everyone in the field (literally!). We are happy to be allowed to work with him, and to add neurofeedback to his set of tools. He is definitely setting a good example, as a strong player, and also one who knows how to keep his cool under pressure. We look forward to an exciting season, and wish him the best!

Pro Football and Neurofeedback with the Chargers

25 Aug

We are happy to be working with Corey Liuget, first-string draft defensive lineman with the San Diego Chargers. He has started adding neurofeedback to his training regimen, and talks about focus, “not thinking,”, and being in the zone. He is off to an excellent season start, having done a great job in 1 quarter against Los Angeles.

 link to article