A new approach for inmates
This column was written by students in a psychology class at Community High School of Vermont at the Marble Valley Regional Correctional Facility. Bobbi Shutts is the instructor.
Community High School of Vermont has been providing opportunities for inmates across Vermont to earn high school diplomas and credits for completing course requirements. The mission of CHSVT is to provide an accredited, coordinated and personalized education that assists students in their academic, social and vocational success. Instructor Bobbi Shutts has been teaching Introduction to Psychology since January,
with students interested in understanding how the brain works and the relationship to their behavior.
As part of the psychology class, students were introduced to neurofeedback. Neurofeedback began in the late 1950s through the work of Dr. Joe Kamiya at the University of Chicago. According to www.centerforbrain.com/ neurofeedback, “Neurofeedback is biofeedback for the brain. Training with neurofeedback improves cognitive function, attention, mood, anxiety, sleep and behavior. It helps stabilize the mind and increases one’s level of functioning.”
Students were anxious to learn more, so Bobbi Shutts sought Dr. Sharrie Hanley from Neurological Alternatives in Rutland to provide information from an expert.
Students at CHSVT posed questions to Dr. Hanley about neurofeedback, focusing on addiction, depression, anxiety, ADHD and learning disabilities. These are topics of great relevance to many who attend CHSVT. Hanley presented research, statistics and case studies that led students to begin to think about new ways to approach making changes in their thinking and behavior.
What interested students most? Why are we just hearing about neurotherapy, if it has been around for 40 years? Students questioned length of training, success rates of neurofeedback and the cost of training. CHSVT students have participated in many programs, sometimes several times, hoping to make changes to avoid returning to incarceration.
Students know about medications because the drug industry spends millions of dollars to ensure that people do. Because neurofeedback is not backed by large drug companies and is not a billion-dollar industry, it is not advertised. Students wondered why neurofeedback has not been part of Gov. Peter Shumlin’s war on drugs. Enthusiastically, students referred to a Rutland Herald article published March 17, 2014, “National media hypes city’s drug war”: “It’s a touchy subject for Baker (Chief James W. Baker, Rutland City Police) and other city officials such as Mayor Christopher Louras, who, for the last two years have been implementing a community and data-driven approach to fighting drugs and crime in the city.”
Hanley said she has worked with addicts with great success, as do many neurotherapists. Working with a client having multiple diagnoses, the longest training was 60 sessions; this is not the average length of training. Research studies revealed that adding neurofeedback alone to the 12-step program increased success rates to 77 percent over a one-year study. The state provides many programs with low success rates compared to neurofeedback. Students wondered why neurofeedback has never been offered as a program, recognizing that the cost is far less per person than other programs.
Neurofeedback is solution-focused and is not dependent upon repeat clientele like other industries. After learning has occurred, the goal is for the subject not to need more sessions. Today, neurofeedback is used for peak performance by professional sports teams, Olympic athletes and business people. It is commonly used as a nondrug solution for ADHD, post-traumatic stress and emotional conditions of all sorts.
Neurofeedback makes sense. If your brainwave pattern is that of an addict and through the neurofeedback training, a client can change that pattern, then success is only trainings away.
So the question remains: Could the answer to our addiction problem in Vermont be right in our backyard? The students of CHSVT at Marble Valley wish to thank Hanley for her time and, most importantly, for providing a new idea for students to consider when addressing their behaviors and thinking that have led to multiple arrests, court appearances and broken families.