No-med method to beat medical problems

March 18, 2009 4:56:14 AM PDT
We've all heard the saying - mind over matter. A unit at Widener University is teaching patients how to use the power of their minds to conquer a variety of health problems.

"Just take a nice smooth inhale..." says Dr. Pam Calvert-Hirt, a therapist, to Maria Sawczuk.

Maria, a resident of New Castle, Delaware, always had a fear of anything medical.

"I avoid dentists, I avoid doctors, and I avoid hospitals. I act like a 5-year-old any time I encounter medical issues - needles, and bloodwork, and diagnostics," says Maria.

Medication, such as sedatives, only made things worse, Maria says. "Because now I'm doped up, AND phobic."

But knowing that some day, she'd need medical tests, Maria asked her doctor for help controlling her fears - and found it at the Widener University biofeedback clinic.

Biofeedback teaches a person how to monitor and control their own responses to stress.

The first step is an evaluation, to determine HOW you respond.

Katie Bhogal, a biofeedback therapist and doctoral intern, says, "Things like increased heart rate, increased breathing rate, our hands often get cold."

With the data from the evaluation, therapists develop a plan to help patients become aware of their body's reactions, and gently change them.

"Within a few sessions, most people start to feel some shifts, some positive changes," says Bhogal.

Maria has been working to slow down her breathing at the sights, sounds, and smells of medicine.

"Now I can smell the alcohol and nothing happens," says Maria, proudly.

In addition to controlling fears, studies show various forms of biofeedback can also help with migraine and tension headaches, high blood pressure, chronic pain, sleep problems -

And one of the most promising avenues is with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder or ADHD in children.

"5 years out, they were still having good changes, that the changes had held," says Dr. Calvert-Hirt

The National Institute of Mental Health is currently conducting a study on the use of biofeedback to control ADHD.

Dr. Calvert-Hirt says ailments initiated by, or aggravated by stress responde best to biofeedback.

She says the treatment can be individually tailored because you can immediately see if it's working. "You see it immediately on the screen."

And biofeedback has another major appeal -

"You don't see any of the side effects that are often present with a lot of the medications," says Dr. Calvert-Hill.

For Maria, the biofeedback therapy worked.She recently needed some blood tests, and got through it without a problem.

"I feel like a different person. It's been a godsend, an absolute godsend." says Maria.

The cost of an evaluation is about 80 dollars. Each therapy session cost about 50 dollars.

Most of the time. It's not covered by standard health insurance. However, clinic officials say many people can use their flex-benefits.

For more information, or to schedule an appointment, call 610-499-4514, or visit ,a href="http://www.widener.edu/biofeedback/"Widener Biofeedback Clinic.

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