From, Jan 4, 2008

In a few weeks, Mai Tran will make a habit of slipping on her headphones before she goes to bed, and again when she wakes. But she won’t be listening to her favorite blues or pop. Instead, she’ll fall asleep and wake up to the music of her own brain.

Tran, who has long experienced depression, is hoping a treatment called Brain Music Therapy will help her better control her emotions.

The music, which sounds like a simple piano melody, is a complex interpretation of each patient’s brain waves, intended to prompt the body to relax or become more alert. Listening to it several times a day, advocates say, can benefit patients with sleep disorders, anxiety, depression and other ailments.

“Your brain is actually listening to the best of itself,” said William Wade, a psychotherapist who offers Brain Music Therapy at his practice, the Institute for Family Psychology, in West University Place. “It models itself after the brain music.”

Developed overseas in the early 1990s, the therapy made its way to Houston only about a year ago. Since then, Wade and his partner, Carol Kershaw, who believe they are the only psychologists offering the procedure locally, have used it for nearly 100 patients. It has worked for most, they say.

But there’s still doubt in the medical community about the therapy’s legitimacy.

“When I put on my science hat, I’m skeptical,” said Max Hirshkowitz, director of the sleep center at the Michael E. DeBakey VA Medical Center. “When I put on my clinical hat, I’ll do anything that works.”

Hirshkowitz, who also is a professor of medicine at the Baylor College of Medicine, said he’s not convinced, partly because it’s unclear exactly how the brain waves are made into music. That information is proprietary.

A relatively small study conducted in 2002 showed that patients who listened to their own brain music suffered fewer symptoms of insomnia and anxiety than those who listened to someone else’s brain music.

Hattie Thurlow-McKinley, a League City resident who tried Brain Music Therapy in April after having trouble sleeping for years, is among those who believe in it. Before trying the technique, she says, she could fall asleep in the evening, but woke up several times during the night, worrying about the following day.

“Now I sleep more soundly. I’ve started dreaming again,” said Thurlow-McKinley, who works as a family therapist.

Like all Brain Music Therapy patients, Thurlow-McKinley has two music files: a nine-minute “relaxation” tune she listens to at bedtime and a three-minute “activation” song for when she rises. Some patients who suffer from anxiety or depression are encouraged to listen to the relaxation and activation tunes back-to-back when they feel stressed.

The technique isn’t cheap, and it’s not covered by insurance. The first recording costs about $550 and is effective for about three months for most patients because the brain adapts to the music. Patients then, for the same price, are encouraged to get a second recording, which usually lasts about four years, Kershaw says.

That’s what Tran plans to do. She already has taken the first step: allowing Kershaw to record her brain activity using an electroencephalogram, or EEG, a procedure that took about five minutes.

Kershaw will send the recording to a laboratory in New York City, where it will be translated into music.

Tran, a 45-year-old manicurist, wondered about the type of music her brain would create.

“Not rap music, I hope,” she said, smiling.