Hope in Action
Due to technical issues, we weren’t able to bring you an April issue. Those glitches are fixed now and we look forward to sharing more Ray of Hope stories. In this issue, we’re excited to tell you the results of a study on a new treatment for young people struggling with addiction. And we’re proud to celebrate a group of our Community Centre volunteers who were recognized by the Volunteer Action Centre for their commitment to our community. To them, and to you, THANK YOU!
Retraining the brain to overcome addiction
Rick* is 15. He started using marijuana and “magic mushrooms” regularly when he was about 13; he says they help him feel calmer and more focused. Before he came to Ray of Hope’s Youth Addictions Program (YAS), he’d tried to quit many times, but the nightmares and anxiety he experienced when he wasn’t using always drove him back.
Rick is caught in the vicious circle that many young people in addictions treatment programs find themselves. Many of them have experienced neglect, mental or physical abuse or have witnessed violence.
These traumatic experiences can alter the way the brain regulates itself as it attempts to cope with stress. This can often lead to addiction, as the youth try to deal with painful feelings and situations. But when they enter treatment and stop using, their brain’s “dysregulated” stress responses kick in again. This is one of the reasons that young people struggling with substance abuse frequently drop out of treatment
But what if there was a way to soothe those stress responses enough so that youth are able to focus on treatment? A recently completed pilot project at YAS may have found an answer.
The project, which ran for four months in the autumn of 2018, used NeurOptimal neurofeedback to help calm the brains of participants so they could engage more effectively in treatment.
This pilot project hypothesizes that brain training through neurofeedback will help calm the brains of participants.
Neurofeedback trains the brain to function better. Participants’ brainwaves are monitored and the neurofeedback technology sends signals to the brain that encourage it to self-correct. The technology doesn’t alter the brain in any way; it just helps it self-recalibrate to healthier settings.
“The process is a bit like a mirror,” says Glynis Burkhalter, YAS Program Director. “When you wake up in the morning with bedhead, a look in the mirror reminds you to comb your hair. In the same way, neurofeedback ‘reminds’ the brain to regulate itself.”
In 2012, the American Academy of Pediatrics recognized neurofeedback as a treatment for ADHD and research has shown that it’s also effective in caring for people with depression, anxiety and addiction. In fact, one clinician, who provided advice to our project, reports that the use of NeurOptimal neurofeedback can help reduce length of treatment by up to a year.
A small number of youth in YAS treatment programs, as well as parents and staff, agreed to be part of the pilot. During the 30-minute sessions, participants relaxed while listening to music. Occasionally, they’d hear “skips” or “crackles” in the music, as the neurofeedback units prompted their brains to reset themselves.
This process, which seems so simple on the surface, had a positive effect. Many of the youth reported feeling more relaxed, more creative and focussed. They slept better and experienced fewer nightmares. And some, like Rick, found they experienced feelings of calm and clarity of thought that they’d previously only had while using substances.
Now YAS staff are looking at ways to fund additional work with NeurOptimal. In an exciting development, the team recently learned that the Waterloo-Wellington Local Health Integration Network (LHIN) has agreed to fund two neurofeedback machines for the program. This will allow YAS to potentially expand the implementation to multiple sites, gather more data and validate the results of the initial study.
“We’re excited by these results, “Glynis says. “This was only a small sample size but it’s still a positive indicator that neurofeedback may be a way to offer a deeper, more effective addictions treatment approach.”
“Ultimately, our goal is to help youth learn to cope without substances and to tolerate life on life’s terms.”
*Rick is not a real individual. To protect the privacy of the youth in our programs, we’ve created a composite of participants’ experiences.
ROHCC volunteers recognized
Every year, Volunteer Action Centre Waterloo Region hosts its Volunteer Impact Awards. These awards recognize individual, group and organization volunteers for outstanding contributions to the community.
We’re proud to announce that two of the 19 awards this year went to Ray of Hope volunteers!
Since 2007, volunteers from Eastwood Christian Fellowship, led by Pastor Bob Bauman, have volunteered at the Ray of Hope Community Centre (ROHCC) on the third Monday of each month. The meal team has contributed more than 5,000 volunteer hours and served more than 30,000 nutritious meals to those struggling with poverty, addictions and mental health issues.
Team members purchase groceries, cook nutritious meals, serve them and clean up. And they are known to go the extra mile: when an Eastwood Monday happens to fall on or close to a special holiday, guests can always expect additional treats, decorations, coloured food items – even costumes – to mark the occasion.
Eastwood team members are always friendly, outgoing and compassionate. They greet our program guests like old friends, and indeed, after all these years, many of them are exactly that. Nobody receives a plate of food without also receiving a friendly greeting and a smile.
Eastwood is a compelling example of a church that doesn’t stay cloistered within their walls but moves out into their community to demonstrate concern and compassion in pragmatic and concrete ways.
Johnny started volunteering at the ROHCC in July 2009 and has racked up over 1,263 hours of service to date. While many volunteers come and go before they have reached 100 hours of service, Johnny just keeps coming back.
What makes him so special? Several things stand out, but the best ones are his sense of humor, his work ethic, his commitment and his compassion.
Johnny shows respect for people who may be down on their luck at the moment, and they respect him right back. He gets to know the people we serve by name and takes time to listen to their stories. He does his utmost to help them receive whichever resources are available and most helpful. If someone is in desperate need of new, clean and dry socks, Johnny will search every nook and cranny to find a pair to give away.
Johnny is an inspiration to staff, other volunteers, and the guests we serve. He lightens the room when he is there, and makes people forget, even briefly, all their worries. He has impacted thousands of people in Kitchener over the past decade by his service, attitude and compassion.
Thanks to Volunteer Manager Ken Wideman for sharing these details.
When you give any of these items, you help to make life a little easier for struggling neighbours. Thank you!
Or provide meals for hungry people through our secure donation page.