A student ahead of the game

February 13, 2012

By Tim Belter ’13

Clinical mental health counseling student Jason DeFord may only be in graduate school, but he’s already a pioneer in mental health treatment. With EHS Associate Dean Dr. Lori Russell-Chapin, DeFord presented a poster at the Brain Research Foundation’s Neuroscience Research Day in Chicago. The project, “Neurofeedback: When Counseling and Medications are not Sufficient,” studied the use of neurofeedback therapy to treat children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.

“This is one step into the future of understanding how the brain works,” said DeFord.

Although the research and analysis is still ongoing, the early results show tremendous promise. The therapy involves showing patients a simple game on a computer screen involving three worms racing. The patients control the worms by using specific areas of their brains. Over time, the patients learn to focus certain areas of their brains, and they are better able to pay attention in school and handle other tasks.

“It makes the brain work more efficiently,” said Dr. Russell-Chapin. “It’s a phenomenal technique that we can use for many symptoms.”

Besides ADHD, the research could help treat addictions, post-traumatic stress disorder, depression and other conditions. The neurofeedback therapy has proven effective in cases where traditional therapy and medications did not work.

At the conference, DeFord found himself somewhat intimidated. The project was one of 50 posters presented, and DeFord was the only graduate-level student among dozens of doctoral students and established researchers.

“I was a little nervous,” he said. “This was the first major poster project I had presented.”

“I was very proud of Jason,” said Dr. Russell-Chapin. “Performing research can make a student an expert.”

DeFord became involved with the project almost as soon as Dr. Russell-Chapin began working on it. After taking a class taught by Dr. Russell-Chapin, DeFord asked her about possible research opportunities. Dr. Russell-Chapin had recently helped found the Center for Collaborative Brain Research and brought DeFord on board to assist with this research, one of the CCBR’s first projects.

He looks forward to seeing where the research goes from here. Interest in neurofeedback therapy is growing and it has seemingly boundless potential.

“It is in its beginning stages, so the more we learn, the more precisely we can use this to help our clients,” he said.