Supporting Addiction and Recovery: Jon Meredith with MyBrainSolutions
Host Kristin Walker had the pleasure of interviewing Jon Meredith, Director of Business Development of MyBrainSolutions. With Mental Health News Radio Network’s upcoming NCAD event, this insightful and educationally packed interview lends to a thought out evidence based approach to addiction that we truly are encouraged by. Their three step process of assess, train, and monitor helps to generate new brain patterns and aid in the recovery process. Listen as Jon shares his passion and expertise with Kristin in this intriguing interview.
What does MyBrainSolutions offer to help those suffering from addiction?
What MBS does is to help clinicians treating their addicted clients by providing them with more information on the clients they serve. Our service provides the ability to assess brain functions to show areas of strengths and limitations; brain training exercises to strengthen brain functions and improve habits; and monitor improvements in brain health through re-evaluation.
Tell me about your brain health assessment. Who developed it and how does it work?
The assessment is a ‘best-of’ compilation of current, scientifically-validated neuro-psych tests. Our non-profit: BRAINNET.net is a consortium of over 400 clinicians and scientists in 35 countries and it was this group of brilliant minds that gave their input as to what brain functions to measure to give the best ‘snap-shot’ of brain health and which tests were best to measure these functions. From there, our scientists and tech team were able to create web-based versions of these tests to provide for greater efficiency.
So which brain functions do you measure and why were these the most important ones?
Our founder, Dr. Evian Gordon, MD, PHD, developed a simple model of how the human brain works. He calls it the 1-2-4 model. 1 is for the brain’s #1 priority: Survival, 2 is for the two types of processes that the brain uses: Conscious and Non-Conscious, and 4 is for the Four key capacities of the brain: Thinking, Emotion, Feeling and Self-Regulation. We measure the 17 brain functions that allow us to subsequently measure these Four key capacities.
So, it sounds like Self-Regulation is the important capacity when it comes to addiction. Is that true?
Absolutely. But, Self-Regulation takes into account all of the other brain functions as well. It’s nice that we can separate these functions and capacities, but the brain works as a whole unit. For example, how well I can sustain my attention affects memory, inhibition, motor coordination, executive function, my relationships, my stress levels, etc. Self-Regulation has been described as our ability to alter our thoughts, feelings and actions to serve a long-term goal. Let’s say that goal is long-term sobriety. What does it take to sustain the decision to not use over the course of a life-time? That’s THE question! When we measure Self-Regulation, we are actually measuring three brain functions: Positivity-Negativity Bias, Resilience and Social Capacity. We all know that we react differently to similar stimuli when we are feeling very positive and when we are feeling very negative. Resilience is our ability bounce-back from stressful events, and when we do bounce back from these events this affects our stress threshold. Stress, of course affects how we act and react to life. Social Capacity is our ability to form and maintain supporting relationships. What stops us from forming supportive relationships? Our idea of our own self-worth and how we feel about ourselves is one important thing. When I’m feeling good about myself, I react differently then when I don’t like myself very much.
I hear you say the word “react” a lot. Are our reactions a big part of who we are?
I love this question. This is where we get to the meat of what our brain-training does to help someone suffering from addiction. I mentioned before that we have two processes that happen in our brain, the conscious and the non-conscious. It has been estimated that up to 95% of everything we do, think and feel are controlled by non-conscious processes. When someone says something to you, you can ‘Respond’ with a conscious answer, or you can ‘react’ with a non-conscious answer. We’ve all done it before, answered a question before thinking, and then stopping and re-answered the question consciously. Now, 95% may be a bit of hyperbole, or maybe it’s completely accurate (we can’t measure this), but let’s say that the non-conscious controls only 80% of everything we do, think and feel. That means that we are mostly non-conscious beings and reactive beings. This means that our non-conscious reactions are more of who we are than our conscious decisions.
Addiction is a non-conscious process. Like everything new that we do, using drugs is a conscious decision, but over the course of time, the repeated use becomes non-conscious. Just like learning to tie your shoes. It was a conscious effort to learn to tie your shoes, but through the magic of repetition over time, the activity is now something that can be done without much conscious thought at all. It’s the repetition of the use that makes this become non-conscious, and more than that, it’s the repetition of the change in brain chemistry caused by the abused substances that makes lasting physical changes to the brain that affects our ability to consciously self-regulate. We can say ” I will Never Use again” and mean it, but that night or the next morning, the brain is not just calling out for using again, but it is actively affecting your billions (trillions) of biases in your brain that create your feelings and drive your behavior and you find yourself using again.
So, how does the brain training help an addict?
Our brains are trained our whole lives, we are constant learners. How we react non-consciously has so much to do with how our early life influencers reacted and what emotions they displayed in certain circumstances. How we react are learned habits, but these reactions change based on our capacity for self-regulation, and of course, are willingness to change.
Human beings are naturally negatively-focused – this is because of evolution and survival. We evolved faster brain circuits to detect threats then the circuits that detect rewards. Survival is our #1 priority and for a lot of us, just 10-30-100 generations ago, our ancestors were living in completely different circumstances where this bias towards negativity served them well. Today, life is so different and this negativity bias causes more problems then it helps. Our negativity bias affects our stress, anxiety, depression, resilience and our social capacity. It affects how we read other people’s non-conscious emotions and can interpret these emotions wrong. Positivity brain training can strengthen the positive circuits and change our natural habits of negativity. Positivity brings in more positivity into a person’s life. When a person changes from naturally negatively focused to someone who is non-consciously positively focused, then that person’s life is now moved to a much better trajectory.
Let’s keep going through training Self-Regulation. The next brain function is Resilience. How we handle adverse events and how we bounce back. When a stressful event happens, and it is handled poorly – lots of anxiety, lack of sleep, negative reactions that affect your relationships, this lowers your stress threshold and next time something stressful happens, you react to it quicker and with the habits that you used before. If you can learn to recognize when stress levels are getting close to your threshold during an adverse event, and control your stress levels and control your reactions to this event, you will raise your stress threshold, because you know you can handle stress, and you will react to the next adverse event with the same positive habits. Resilience training is Mindfulness, and training better breathing habits. Deep, slow rhythmic breathing at about 6 breaths per minute, will activate your parasympathetic nervous system and naturally calm you down
Lastly training the habit of how you feel about yourself, is so key to any kind of lasting positive change. Positive Affirmations and Gratitude training can change your view of yourself, which can help stress levels, negative thoughts and allow a person to feel confident in making new friends.
Our brains are constantly learning, no matter what. We are sponges and are influenced constantly by other people, even if they are on tv or in the movies. It’s so important to become aware of our constant learning and to make conscious decisions about what we learn and how we are influenced. Brain training is a decision to allow the influence of the training to positively affect our lives.
If a patient shows brain function deficits in memory or attention or other things besides self-regulation, does training these functions help someone who is suffering from addiction?
Absolutely. In our society, we need to make a living, or succeed in school, so we can make a living. Impairments in memory, attention, etc, make it tough to do these things. This causes stress, anxiety and exacerbates a lowered stress threshold. This lowers our self-esteem, so you can see all of these things are inter-connected with Self-Regulation.
You mentioned Assess, Train and Monitor. What is the Monitor part of MyBrainSolutions?
Monitor is a re-assessment that can provide objective data showing brain health improvements by comparing a baseline score with follow up assessment scores. As you know, in our industry, outcomes data is very important.
Jon Meredith received his Bachelors of Science from Montclair State University in 1991. A lifelong learner and observer of life, Jon has a knack for taking complex information and communicating it in easy to understand terms. He is currently the Director of Behavioral Health Account Services for North America for MyBrainSolutions, a brain research company based in Sydney, Australia. Part of his role for MyBrainSolutions is to give educational presentations for clinicians and clients at Behavioral health facilities at seminars and conferences. Jon is an integrator of knowledge about the brain, neuroscience, anthropology and human behavior.