It is more important than ever that we come together as “Partners for Peace”. With that in mind, we continue our interview series with OMazing pioneers in the Mindfulness Education space. We invite you to read about The Brain Lady, Ms. Debra Burdick, learn, talk to your kids, try the techniques, & ask us any questions. Read my interview with her below to learn why mindfulness is so important for the future of the next generation.

          Please tell us a little about yourself, what drew you to mindful education, your books and webinars, why people call you the brain lady, and your personal mission. 

I’m delighted to say that I am a best-selling, award winning author of 4 books on Mindfulness and ADHD with a 5th book being released this October. I first became interested in Mindfulness in the early 1980’s when I was dealing with a chronic illness that was eventually diagnosed as Fibromyaliga. At that time the medical profession had no treatment for it and I was in constant pain all over my body. I discovered that by listening to a 12-15 minute guided imagery or progressive relaxation meditation I could turn down my pain!

This started me on a thirty year (plus) healing journey. I went back to school and changed my career from being a computer software engineer writing programs that went on the Apollo spacecraft and the Trident submarines to being a psychotherapist. I incorporated mindfulness in my treatment plans and taught mindfulness skills to clients of all ages in my private practice as well as in an Intensive Outpatient Program. My clients taught me a lot about what works and what doesn’t when using Mindfulness skills as a treatment option for mental health.

In 2012 I started teaching workshops based on my personal mindfulness journey and my professional clinical experience teaching mindfulness and helping clients (and my daughter) with ADHD. These workshops for mental health professionals, educators and parents were on the topics of mindfulness skills for improving mental health as well as non-medication treatments and skills for ADHD.

Then I wrote five books based on these workshops and my clinical experience: Mindfulness Skills Workbook, Mindfulness Skills for Kids and Teens, ADHD: Non-medication Treatments and Skills for Children and Teens (won the Benjamin Franklin GOLD award in Psychology), Mindfulness for Teens with ADHD and Mindfulness for Kids with ADHD (October 2018). I also created Mindfulness Skills for Kids Card Deck and Card Games and Mindfulness Toolkit CD/mp3, Mindfulness Toolkit for Kids mp3, Meditations for Concentration CD/mp3, Meditation for Sleep and online trainings in Mindfulness and Transforming Stress.

Besides being a licensed clinical social worker I am a board certified Neurofeedback practitioner. Neurofeedback helps the brain regulate itself better.

When my clients started saying they were going to see “The Brain Lady” for Neurofeedback training I adopted that name for my website

My personal mission throughout my career has been to help other people feel better and perform at their peak. At this point in my career I have retired from my private practice and have been teaching workshops and writing books to help others, and to help others to help others.

I now realize that my mission or personal purpose is to experience contentment and joy and I hope that my books, audio meditations, and trainings will help others do the same.

          A lot of kids or even parents reading this may not really know what neurofeedback is. Can you explain how it helps with ADHD, depression and anxiety and anger, and why it is important to try instead of medications?

Neurofeedback is a form of biofeedback on brainwaves. Information is given to the client about their brainwaves via a video game or movie. After a clinical assessment is done of symptoms and brain function, a Neurofeedback training protocol is designed to gently move brainwave patterns into healthier, more normal patterns.

Neurofeedback is done by placing sensors/electrodes on the head in specific locations depending on the assessment. The brain wave data detected by the sensors is sent to a computer. The client plays a video game (or controls a movie) without using their hands. They learn to control the game by making positive changes to their brainwaves. Through a process called Operant Conditioning they get rewarded with beeps, points, game movement, or the movie playing when they are changing their brainwaves in healthy ways. It can be thought of as exercise for the brain, or a learning strategy that teaches the brain to regulate itself better.

It takes repetition for the brainwaves to become and stay better regulated. Research has shown Neurofeedback to be effective for ADHD, depression, anxiety, anger, learning disabilities, sleep, memory, migraines, pain, traumatic brain injury and more. Unlike medications which only work when they are taken, with enough sessions, studies show that the improvements gained using Neurofeedback persist after treatment is discontinued.

          How can we get all the companies with similar missions to understand that we will make more positive change in this world for the next generation if we work together? What ideas do you have to scale up to get these programs in all schools in the country? 

I long ago discovered that it was more effective to collaborate with other providers rather than to compete with them. Collaboration builds everyone’s business and helps more people. An example is fast food restaurants. Have your ever noticed that if there is a Wendy’s on the corner, there is probably a McDonald’s or Taco Bell or other fast food restaurant on the same corner or nearby? They all reap more business and more customers are served when they are in close proximity to each other. Likewise, the more mindfulness programs there are, the more people become aware of them and use them. And we all benefit when companies work together to get mindfulness research and programs designed and funded.

There are many excellent mindfulness programs available, and several designed for use in schools. Although many of them differ in significant ways they all aim to teach mindfulness skills that we can all benefit from.

Mindfulness can be adopted at any age, but a great time to start learning mindfulness skills is in childhood, even as early as 2 or 3. Kids love practicing the skills and are very open to trying them. Thus they gain a lifelong skill that will be beneficial to them throughout their whole life.

Many schools have adopted the use of mindfulness in the classroom. Typically this occurs when a teacher or administrator has started using mindfulness themselves and they see the benefit and are comfortable teaching it. The use of mindfulness in schools has spread organically due to the benefits seen.

In order to get mindfulness into all the schools in the country legislators need to be educated about the benefits of mindfulness so they support funding for school-based programs. At the same time, schools need to request funding and justify the expense based on the benefits to students and staff alike. Studies of the effectiveness of school-based mindfulness programs need to be referenced and more done to show funding sources why mindfulness is so important.

           If you had to pick one mental exercise for parents of kids with ADHD and kids with ADHD in early learning, middle school, and high school to learn, what would it be and why? 

There are so many wonderful mindfulness skills to choose from. I have hundreds of them in my books and CDs/mp3s. One of my favorites is one I call “Changing the Channel.” This mindfulness skill provides a great way to be mindful of your emotions and thoughts and to shift them to be more helpful or positive when you need to.

1. Be mindful and notice what “channel” you are currently watching in your mind. Are you watching your “worry channel”, your “distracted channel”, your “happy channel”, your “grumpy channel” or perhaps your “stress channel”?

2. If it doesn’t feel good to watch the channel you are watching, think about what channel would feel better to watch.

3. For example, when you are worried it’s almost as if you are watching your worry channel in your mind.

4. What three channel(s) would you rather watch instead of your worry channel? (Examples: Calm, Relaxed, Hopeful, Happy, Focused)

5. List 3 things you would put on each of your channels. (Examples: Calm channel with a picture of pretty flowers, a calm lake or getting a massage. Happy channel with a puppy on it, with your child’s or friend’s smiling face, or with you singing or dancing.)

6. Spend a few minutes every day paying attention to what channel you are watching and noticing how you feel when you watch it.

7. When you need to, you can easily change the channel.

8. Pretend to reach into your pocket and pull out your imaginary remote control.

9. Change the channel to watch one of the channels you chose above and imagine watching it for a few minutes.

10. Notice how you feel when you watch the new, more helpful channel.

          What advice do you have for teachers, administrators, healthcare practitioners, and especially parents as it relates to mindful learning?

Research continues to prove the consistent and compelling benefits of practicing mindfulness for all ages. Studies show that children and teens improve concentration, self-regulation, self-esteem, calmness, anger, anxiety, depression, working memory, planning, organization and the list goes on. Practicing mindfulness actually changes the brain in numerous positive ways. It’s seems like a “no-brainer” that we should all be practicing mindfulness and teaching it to our children.

As a parent, teacher, administrator or helping professional, start by practicing mindfulness yourself before your start teaching it to children and teens. Listen to a guided meditation daily to start your own mindfulness practice. Learn how to incorporate mindfulness into your everyday life whether at home, in school or at work. Take an online course that teaches you the basics such as this one Mindfulness: The Basics and Beyond. Use the many resources available that provide guidance and worksheets and meditations to help you teach your children, students, clients or patients. You can find books, audio meditations, a mindfulness card deck and online training that can be used for yourself, your students, or your clients on my website.

Thank you Ms. Debra Burdick for speaking with me today. Everyone check out the Brain Lady’s books and workshops at the links above because the future of the world may depend on it.

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