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Dire effects of sports head injuries, concussions still a concern

October 19, 2016
Harris Health System - 

Pass, catch, kick, score! The world of contact sports is pervasive and usually involves athletes forcefully hitting or colliding with each other, inanimate objects or the ground. With these kinds of collisions, come injuries. With sports like football and soccer running year-round, head injuries are common and a growing concern parents and athletes, and especially medical experts.
According to Sports Concussion Institute, football is the most common sport with concussion risk for males (75 percent chance), while soccer puts women at more risk (50 percent chance). It's estimated that 53 percent of student athletes have sustained a concussion before participation in high school sports, and 36 percent of collegiate athletes have a history of multiple concussions, statistics that concern head injury experts at Harris Health System.
"As scary as it sounds, high-speed acceleration to sudden deceleration is what makes concussions so dangerous," says Dr. Shankar Gopinath, chief, neurosurgery, Harris Health's Ben Taub Hospital and associate professor, neurosurgery, Baylor College of Medicine.
In identifying an athlete with a concussion, Gopinath looks for the most common signs and symptoms like an athlete appearing dazed or stunned, confused about assignment or position, showing behavioral or personality changes, or not being able to recall events before or after a hit or fall.
Unfortunately, there is no cure for concussions, he warns. Careful observation and monitoring of the concussed patient must be done for a minimum of two weeks. In fact, the National Football League does not allow athletes who have suffered a concussion during play to return to practice for a period of 19 days, followed by light exercise.
"You might not find out immediately that an injury is a concussion," warns Dr. Asim Shah, chief, psychiatry, Ben Taub Hospital, and professor, Menninger Department of Psychiatry, Baylor College of Medicine. "The delay in identifying a concussion correctly causes some physicians or sports medicine specialists to misdiagnose the injury for something less severe."
According to Education Week, multiple head injuries can cause the more life-threatening condition of chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE, a progressive degenerative disease found in people who have had a severe blow or repeated blows to the head. CTE can diminish a person's ability to think critically, slow motor skills and lead to volatile, even suicidal, mood swings.
A majority of the scientific community believes CTE is directly related to repeated, or sub-concussive, hits to the head. The concern is that each time the head takes a hit, the impact shakes the brain inside the skull. The effect is a buildup of an abnormal protein called tau that can lead to severe brain damage that includes memory problems, a decrease of motor control (ability to walk or talk) and the loss of cognitive function (ability to learn), Gopinath says.
A chilling fact about CTE is that it's only diagnosed conclusively after death (via autopsy) because it's indistinguishable from many other brain conditions with current imaging methods.
Both experts advise the public to get educated on concussions and its symptoms to mitigate the potentially life-threatening injuries. In some cases, they say, it may be necessary to stop the sport that is contributing to concussions.
"Understand the dangers of concussions, be aware of the warning signs post-concussion and get appropriate medical attention immediately," Gopinath and Shah, say.
Harris Health System. "Dire effects of sports head injuries, concussions still a concern." ScienceDaily.
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Gluten Free Recipe: Banana Bread with Chocolate

December 10, 2016
By Jodi Ettenberg


  • 3 or 4 very ripe bananas
  • 1 large egg
  • 2 teaspoons of natural, pure vanilla
  • 1 & ½ cups of gluten-free flour (Bob’s Red Mill Gluten Free Baking Flour)
  • ½ cup of plain Greek yogurt, no sugar added
  • 6 tbsp of organic coconut oil (heated until it is in liquid form)
  • ½ cup of brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon of baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon of  salt
  • 2.5 – 3 oz bar of chocolate, broken into small chunks — this is approximately 1 cup of chocolate
  • ½ teaspoon of cinnamon 


  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees and spray a bread pan with non-stick spray or line it with a thin layer of vegetable oil.
  • In a medium-sized bowl, mix together the flour, salt, and baking soda.
  • In a larger bowl, mash the bananas and then add the Greek yogurt, egg, brown sugar, vanilla, and coconut oil until well-blended.
  • Mix the dry ingredients into the larger bowl of wet ingredients until combined.
  • Slowly add the chocolate chunks and fold them into the batter. Be sure to chop up the chocolate into small enough pieces that it doesn’t all sink to the bottom.
  • Pour the batter into the bread pan.
  • Bake for about 50-60 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean.


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A Brain Changer for ADHDers? Neurofeedback’s Effect on Brain Waves

A double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled study showed solid evidence that neurofeedback leads to measurable changes in the brain, which may be good news for those diagnosed with ADHD.
October 28, 2016
Neurofeedback has long been touted as a non-medical, non-invasive treatment for ADHD, but many experts remain skeptical. Unlike medication, neurofeedback hasn’t been tested in many well-designed, double-blind studies, which makes it hard to tell if positive results are based on the treatment itself or on other confounding factors like the placebo effect.
Now, however, a new study with a randomized, placebo-controlled design showed that neurofeedback may change brain activity in healthy adults, strengthening its case as an alternative treatment for ADHD, anxiety, and related disorders.
The study, presented at the 63rd Annual Meeting of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (AACAP), recruited 21 healthy male subjects between the ages of 19 and 30 — all medical students from the Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich in Germany, where the study was conducted. The subjects underwent fMRI scans and EEGs to measure their base level of brain activity — specifically their alpha, beta, theta, and delta waves, which are often abnormal in people with ADHD, anxiety, or other brain-based conditions. Afterward, the subjects were randomly assigned to 30 minutes of either neurofeedback or a placebo “sham” activity.
After completing the session, brain activity was measured again. The group who underwent neurofeedback experienced significant increases in beta and alpha waves — the types of waves associated with alertness, concentration, and deep relaxation — and decreases in delta and theta waves, the waves most associated with drowsiness and deep sleep. Subjects who underwent the sham condition showed significantly less improvement — particularly in their delta waves, which are often overactive in the brains of people with ADHD. The comparative lack of results from the sham activity seemed to rule out the placebo effect, the researchers said.
“These are healthy subjects, so it’s basic research on feasibility,” said the lead author of the study, Daniel Keeser, Ph.D., of the Institute for Clinical Radiology, at Ludwig Maximilian University. “The question is: Can we modulate brain activity using neurofeedback?” In this study, the answer appeared to be yes, he said — but he acknowledged that much more research was needed to come to a definite conclusion.
“There’s a strong lack of clinical studies [on neurofeedback],” he said. “We need more proof of the mechanisms of action.”
“We need to reproduce these results,” he added. “There’s a reproduction crisis in neuroscience.”
The discussant on Keeser’s presentation, Jean Frazier, M.D., director of the Division of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, said she was impressed with his results. Frazier saw a larger implication for using neurofeedback as a treatment for ADHD.
“Training the brain makes a lot of sense to me,” she said. “Neurofeedback may be better than stimulants, and there are cases where medications could be decreased or eliminated” and replaced with neurofeedback.
“Such research is sorely needed,” she added, praising Keeser’s work. “You’re taking a very rigorous approach, and that’s exactly what’s needed.”

How complaining rewires your brain for negativity

By Travis Bradberry
November 24, 2016
Research shows that most people complain once a minute during a typical conversation. Complaining is tempting because it feels good, but like many other things that are enjoyable -- such as smoking or eating a pound of bacon for breakfast -- complaining isn’t good for you.
Your brain loves efficiency and doesn’t like to work any harder than it has to. When you repeat a behavior, such as complaining, your neurons branch out to each other to ease the flow of information. This makes it much easier to repeat that behavior in the future -- so easy, in fact, that you might not even realize you’re doing it.
You can’t blame your brain. Who’d want to build a temporary bridge every time you need to cross a river? It makes a lot more sense to construct a permanent bridge. So, your neurons grow closer together, and the connections between them become more permanent. Scientists like to describe this process as, “Neurons that fire together, wire together.”
Repeated complaining rewires your brain to make future complaining more likely. Over time, you find it’s easier to be negative than to be positive, regardless of what’s happening around you. Complaining becomes your default behavior, which changes how people perceive you.
And here’s the kicker: complaining damages other areas of your brain as well. Research from Stanford University has shown that complaining shrinks the hippocampus -- an area of the brain that’s critical to problem solving and intelligent thought. Damage to the hippocampus is scary, especially when you consider that it’s one of the primary brain areas destroyed by Alzheimer’s.
Complaining is also bad for your health
While it’s not an exaggeration to say that complaining leads to brain damage, it doesn’t stop there. When you complain, your body releases the stress hormone cortisol. Cortisol shifts you into fight-or-flight mode, directing oxygen, blood and energy away from everything but the systems that are essential to immediate survival. One effect of cortisol, for example, is to raise your blood pressure and blood sugar so that you’ll be prepared to either escape or defend yourself.
All the extra cortisol released by frequent complaining impairs your immune system and makes you more susceptible to high cholesterol, diabetes, heart disease and obesity. It even makes the brain more vulnerable to strokes.
It’s not just you...
Since human beings are inherently social, our brains naturally and unconsciously mimic the moods of those around us, particularly people we spend a great deal of time with. This process is called neuronal mirroring, and it’s the basis for our ability to feel empathy. The flip side, however, is that it makes complaining a lot like smoking -- you don’t have to do it yourself to suffer the ill effects. You need to be cautious about spending time with people who complain about everything. Complainers want people to join their pity party so that they can feel better about themselves. Think of it this way: If a person were smoking, would you sit there all afternoon inhaling the second-hand smoke? You’d distance yourself, and you should do the same with complainers.
The solution to complaining
There are two things you can do when you feel the need to complain. One is to cultivate an attitude of gratitude. That is, when you feel like complaining, shift your attention to something that you’re grateful for. Taking time to contemplate what you’re grateful for isn’t merely the right thing to do; it reduces the stress hormone cortisol by 23%. Research conducted at the University of California, Davis, found that people who worked daily to cultivate an attitude of gratitude experienced improved mood and energy and substantially less anxiety due to lower cortisol levels. Any time you experience negative or pessimistic thoughts, use this as a cue to shift gears and to think about something positive. In time, a positive attitude will become a way of life.
The second thing you can do -- and only when you have something that is truly worth complaining about -- is to engage in solution-oriented complaining. Think of it as complaining with a purpose. Solution-oriented complaining should do the following:
  1. Have a clear purpose. Before complaining, know what outcome you’re looking for. If you can’t identify a purpose, there’s a good chance you just want to complain for its own sake, and that’s the kind of complaining you should nip in the bud.
  2. Start with something positive. It may seem counterintuitive to start a complaint with a compliment, but starting with a positive helps keep the other person from getting defensive. For example, before launching into a complaint about poor customer service, you could say something like, “I’ve been a customer for a very long time and have always been thrilled with your service...”
  3. Be specific. When you’re complaining it’s not a good time to dredge up every minor annoyance from the past 20 years. Just address the current situation and be as specific as possible. Instead of saying, “Your employee was rude to me,” describe specifically what the employee did that seemed rude.
  4. End on a positive. If you end your complaint with, “I’m never shopping here again,” the person who’s listening has no motivation to act on your complaint. In that case, you’re just venting, or complaining with no purpose other than to complain. Instead, restate your purpose, as well as your hope that the desired result can be achieved, for example, “I’d like to work this out so that we can keep our business relationship intact.”
Bringing It All Together
Just like smoking, drinking too much, and lying on the couch watching TV all day, complaining is bad for you. Put my advice to use, and you'll reap the physical, mental and performance benefits that come with a positive frame of mind.

Psychiatrists Must Face Possibility That Medications Hurt More Than They Help

Mental health has declined as prescriptions for antidepressants and other drugs keep surging
Two new posts on this website have me contemplating, once again, the terrible possibility that psychiatry is hurting more people than it helps.
Reporter Sarah G. Miller notes in “1 in 6 Americans Takes a Psychiatric Drugthat prescriptions for mental illness keep surging. As of 2013, almost 17 percent of Americans were taking at least one psychiatric drug, up from 10 percent in 2011, according to a new study. Miller elaborates:
“Antidepressants were the most common type of psychiatric drug in the survey, with 12 percent of adults reporting that they filled prescriptions for these drugs… In addition, 8.3 percent of adults were prescribed drugs from a group that included sedatives, hypnotics and anti-anxiety drugs, and 1.6 percent of adults were given antipsychotics.”
This increase in medications must be boosting our mental health, right? Wrong. In “Is Mental Health Declining in the U.S.?,” Edmund S. Higgins, professor of psychiatry at the Medical University of South Carolina, acknowledges the “inconvenient truth” that Americans’ mental health has, according to some measures, deteriorated.
A 2013 study, Higgins writes, found that “the toll of mental disorders had grown in the past two decades, even as other serious conditions became more manageable.” He adds: “Suicide rates per 100,000 people have increased to a 30-year high. Substance abuse, particularly of opiates, has become epidemic. Disability awards for mental disorders have dramatically increased since 1980, and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs is struggling to keep up with the surge in post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).”
Higgins contends that “a lack of precision and objectivity in diagnosing and treating mental illness has stalled our progress. We must embrace new strategies in research and prevention to move forward.” He ends on an upbeat note. “None of this is to say that mental health workers and their patients should stop what they are doing,” he writes. “We all have success stories to tell.”
Like most psychiatrists, Higgins does not consider the possibility that medications might be contributing to the decline of mental health. That is, drugs for mental illness—although they undeniably help some people in the short term, leading to “success stories”--might produce net harmful effects for large populations over the long-term.
That is the disturbing thesis of Anatomy of an Epidemic: Magic Bullets, Psychiatric Drugs, and the Astonishing Rise of Mental Illness in America, by journalist Robert Whitaker.  After reading Whitaker’s book and listening to him speak at Stevens Institute of Technology in 2012, I wrote on this blog that “American psychiatry, in collusion with the pharmaceutical industry, may be perpetrating the biggest case of iatrogenesis—harmful medical treatment--in history.”
Far from seeing a persuasive rebuttal of Whitaker’s thesis, I keep seeing findings consistent with it, including the data cited by Higgins. It is time for mental-health practitioners in the U.S. and elsewhere to come to grips with the possibility that medications are doing more harm than good.
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