Semhar Debessai, Staff Writer • July 9, 2007
IF YOU PASS a smiling stranger wearing earphones and swaying to the beat, there's a chance the person is listening to the soulful sounds of Maroon 5 or the lyrical stylings of Rihanna. Or maybe they're listening to the digitally translated audio frequency of their recorded brain waves.
The concept isn't so far-fetched. Especially not for the patients of Dr. Orli Peter, a Los Angeles-based psychologist specializing in Brain Music Therapy as a treatment for sleeplessness, anxiety and mild forms of depression.
Mikiyo Ueda, a UCLA Extension student from Japan, is a convert to the treatment developed at the Moscow Medical Academy in 1991.
In December, Dr. Peter used an electroencephalogram to record Ueda's brain waves - which are as distinctive as fingerprints - and now the student listens to a musical translation of the waves to combat a debilitating case of insomnia that had begun to affect her studies.
"I was always tired, I couldn't get anything done," says Ueda, 39.
While the music based on her relaxed brain waves helps her sleep better "right away," the music generated from her active brain waves helps her stay focused while studying and during tests, she claims.
She says the stress likely caused by moving to the U.S. from Japan, missing her family and constant worry about her future is now in check. She graduates from her interior design program later this month, sleep-filled and anxiety-free.
It's YOUR music
If you've never heard of Brain Music Therapy, chances are you're not alone. A fairly new phenomenon in America, the concept of creating soothing music from a person's own relaxed brain waves became a feasible form of neuro-treatment in Southern California only six months ago.
This is in part due to Dr. Peter, whose passion for revolutionary, natural treatments in the field of neuroscience led her to open up the Center for Accelerated Psychology in Beverly Hills.
"Our society is so much more fast moving (than it used to be)," says Dr. Peter of our collective state of angst.
The therapeutic effects of listening to music have been discussed and accepted for decades. The difference with Brain Music Therapy is in the numbers.
"In double-blind studies, 82 percent to 85 percent of participants responded to Brain Music Therapy," says Dr. Peter. "This is as good, if not better than, (using) meds ... without the side effects."
But some are still skeptical of this mind-over-matter type of natural healing. Especially for those who have treated their mental disorders with medication for most of their adult lives.
That was the case for Dorothy Rinker. Her husband was one of those skeptics.
"(He) had his doubts," recalls Rinker. "He thought it was hokey pokey."
But after seeing a segment on the "Today" show and some online research, Rinker and her husband, who live in Arizona, hopped in a car to visit Dr. Peter.
"I had no hope, no interest in anything," says Rinker, who was on medication and suffering from anxiety, panic attacks and agoraphobia. Because of her illness, she had not flown on a plane in more than 20 years.
After a brief psychological evaluation, Rinker's brain waves were recorded using the EEG equipment.
Such recordings take about 5 minutes, during which a net secured atop a patient's head reads the electrical output of the brain. (The entire time spent in the office is usually less than an hour.)
The recorded brain waves are then sent to New York and converted into musical sounds that, according to Dr. Peter, are comparable to "funky classical music."
The musical sounds are presented in the form of two musical selections on a CD: one relaxing and one activating. The selections, when played, reflect the brain patterns generated in your body during relaxation and activation, and promote those states in your body.
Rinker listened to her CD every night. Within weeks, she felt a difference.
"I started to get a feeling of well-being," says Rinker. While she couldn't stay in a crowded area more than 2 minutes in the past, she was now going places on her own and making plans to visit people she hadn't seen in years, she says.
But the real proof was during her last trip to Dr. Peter's office to record a new CD. (The brain tends to shift after three months and can become unresponsive to the old brain-wave recordings.) Instead of driving, she decided to fly to California.
As for the cocktail of medication that sustained her for years: "I'm cutting down every two weeks," she says. "I plan to be off the medication altogether."
Dr. Peter relishes these results. It's the reason why she got into this profession. "My father was a Holocaust survivor, which is why I originally got (into this field)," she explains. "I was eventually able to help him."
She's also optimistic of the positive affects of brain music for people of all ages and mental states. In fact, her three kids all have had their brain waves recorded.
"From the ages of 13 to 21 ... there is a tremendous migration where neuro-impact occurs," says Dr. Peter. "If you're depressed as a child, there is an 80 percent chance you will be depressed as an adult."
Changing minds Calm in a CD
How much does it cost?
The push now is for funding for this type of "natural healing," which drug companies, having a lot of influence on research, tend not to support financially.
Insurance companies are also hesitant to cover new types of treatment, though Dr. Peter insists the treatment is more cost effective ($550 for the whole package, which includes the consultation, CD and follow-up meetings) than medication-centered treatment.
"For some, medication could be necessary," says Dr. Peter. "(But) lots and lots of people don't need it." Her point: They deserve the choice.
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