Brain Balance Centers: An insider’s perspective

balanced-brain-576x328I’ve written before about Brain Balance Centers; an ever-expanding network of franchise operations in the USA that offer treatment programs for a variety of developmental disorders based on an utterly made-up theory of brain function, and founded by a chiropractor with dodgy credentials. My opinion about Brain Balance has always been that it’s pretty much an outright scam, but I’ve never been able to dig up any real details about their treatment program; the information on the website is very vague.

However, that’s recently changed. A reader of this site who briefly worked for Brain Balance got in touch with me, and kindly gave me some detailed impressions of the practices, staff, and treatment sessions at one of their franchise locations.

So, parents reportedly pay around $6000 for 36 sessions; that’s around $167 per session. The first session lasts for 2-4 hours and the kid is assessed to see which side of their brain is ‘weaker’. Although they advertise a customised service, apparently the treatment programs are fairly standard and originate with the central Brain Balance organisation (the BB Centers are franchise operations). At the beginning of each appointment, shoes and one sock is removed, in order to ‘stimulate one side of the brain’, and a session in the ‘sensorimotor room’ follows. This might be some simple motor (walking on a balance beam, jumping on a trampoline) or cognitive (clapping to a regular beat, doing simple games on a computer) exercises. Sometimes these are done with an eye-patch over one eye, again to ‘stimulate one half of the brain’. The second half of each session is in the ‘cognitive room’ where remedial maths or English work is done; spelling, grammar, arithmetic; whatever the particular child is weakest on.

None of this was very surprising; I always strongly doubted that Brain Balance had found some revolutionary instructional method, and this all sounds very, very standard and boring. What did surprise me was what this reader said about the staff. Apparently, most are very young (21/22 on average), with no real relevant qualifications, and there’s a high turnover; most don’t stay longer than a few months. That could be partly because of the awful wages; $10 an hour. That’s particularly ridiculous when you consider that a typical session includes one coach and two kids. Brain Balance rakes in over $300 per session, but only pays their coaches $10. This reader also mentioned that parents frequently complained about the lack of any nutritional guidance as part of the program; Brain Balance make a big deal out of this in their promotional information, but apparently it never materialised.

They did mention one positive aspect; that there are so few specialist programs for kids with special needs in their local area that parents need something that will at least give them some hope. This jibes with my opinion of these things – individualised attention for an hour a week is probably a good thing for a lot of kids, and may well have some positive effects for many of them. My problem with it is the bullshit pseudo-science and outrageous claims for effectiveness in their marketing.

Now, clearly this is the experience of just one coach, at one particular Brain Balance location, so I have no idea how much it generalises to any of the others. The reader mentioned that some high pressure sales-techniques were often used to get parents to sign on the dotted line, but that might be peculiar to this particular BB Center. Overall, it doesn’t paint a pretty picture though; unqualified, poorly-trained staff on minimum-wage, leading kids through pointless exercises and standard spelling tests. A far cry indeed from the hysterically positive promotional material that promises cures for ADHD, Asperger’s, and other serious developmental disorders. The reader’s general verdict? The Brain Balance program is “fraud”.

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14 responses to “Brain Balance Centers: An insider’s perspective

  1. There you go again. Taking the almighty authoritative approach, dismissing anything that is not yours. Beware readers.

  2. First, who are you and what are your credentials? I could not find your name anywhere when searching “neurobullocks”. If you had any true knowledge of brain function you would realize that the theory behind Brain Balance is rooted in sound neuroscience. Functional dis-connectivity, brain under connectivity, desynchonization, lack of central coherence, connectopathy are all different ways of saying the same thing regarding abnormal processing in the brain leading to problems with attention, learning, socialization, and behavior. The above descriptions are found in the literature by esteemed individuals such as Marcel Just, Rudolpho Llinas, Sebastian Seung, Uta Frith just to name a few. The more we learn about ADHD, Aspergers, and other “serious mental disorders” the more we realize that the underlying cause of these disorders is a lack of connectivity in the brain.

    So to further your cause you finally found the missing link to your proof about Brain Balance; Not only was your description of a session at Brain Balance completely inaccurate, it diluted your credibility by reaching so far out on a limb that you took the word of a former disgruntled employee who made $10 per hour (which is insane) and briefly worked for Brain Balance. Now that’s really scientific. If that is an example your due diligence than I truly feel sorry for you and your followers. How dare you besmirch the level of training and intelligence of staff at Brain Balance Centers which range from certified special education teachers, occupational therapists, psychologists, exercise physiologists, masters in education, medical and chiropractic physicians etc.

    You succeeded in giving your readers an absolutely false description of a Brain Balance session. If you really want to learn about what we do and the reasoning behind it, I would be happy to have a scientific conversation with you.

    These parents have experienced the heartbreak of seeing their children suffer and spiral downward. What you are really doing is dissuading parents and children from getting the help they desperately need to lead productive lives. You should be ashamed of yourself.

  3. The criticism of the Neurobollocks article by Mark Goldenberg was so much better than the article itself! I would add that, having experienced an ASD educator doing early childhood intervention in the home, I believe intervention of this kind may apply to a limited subset of “subjects.”
    As with anything else, researchis needed but perhaps these parents who try the method are the real researchers. Compare TMS therapy.

  4. I did a Brain Balance initial session when I was 17 and the description aligns exactly with my experience, down to the therapists age. I wrote up something as an autistic person with an insider perspective of being in a session, but it’s personal rather than scientific: http://differentblogtitle.tumblr.com/post/136445975118/my-mom-took-me-to-a-brain-balance-center-when-i

    • onewordtest: Thank you for your honest feedback! I figured that this was the case for kids. I’m an educator and I heard about this on the radio. My husband has Aspberger’s and before there were titles and names for everything we do and every emotion we feel, his grade school teacher told his mom that he was “retarded.” He’s an electrical engineer and many people respect (and steal) his work/designs.
      I love your critique about going there. It was brilliant! (and I’m not saying that to be patronizing or condescending). The 2nd commenter up really sounds like he has a vested interest in putting down the author and, like I figured, he owns a center.
      Sometimes people cannot get past their own thoughts and ideas. You have some valuable insight and when people make these egregious claims of “curing” ADHD, autism, and the like you really have to wonder where their minds are at that they cannot see, perhaps, why a lay person with critical thinking skills can make their own judgments and ascribe their own perceived value to such things.
      They way you wrote your own critique is absolutely wonderful. I wish these types of places would stop preying on parents’ hopes (concerns/fears?) of having these bright children that see/perceive things “different” as though something needs to be “fixed.” Your conveyance of the whole situation was so on point. I especially loved your description of the “therapists” you had to work with. I hope you still don’t.

  5. I also took my 15 yr. old son to BBC last week and although some of the information the provided did help me understand my son’s LDs better, I don’t believe they showed me enough evidence to point to this school will be the solution and for $6,000 I owe it to myself/my son to continue to research how we can help him. Also I did see two very young girls conducting the initial testing and although I don’t know what they pay them i can tell you THEY ARE NOT college graduates not trained to administer the tests, they simply set them up, hit go and the kids do the tests. Sorry but I’m not sold yet, my son is struggling in high school, diagnosed with ADD in 3rd grade and certainly has a reading comprehension/decoding problem, however what they do there is NOT going to work for all children and I do thinks parents are WAY overpaying for what they actually get at these centers, which is a college student sitting with their kids, connecting them with technology which may improve tests scores, but changing the way hi brain works or actually building more connections and synapses like in the case of Einstein’s brain through music, diet. computer programs, yoga and strength training…PLEASE! Anyway research this people…snake oil, maybe, expensive babysitters…definatly, good experience for kids, probably for some, fixing my son’s ADD, I doubt it!

  6. I am currently conducting research and nearly about to publish our findings on these programs: Learning Technics, Brain Balance, BrainGym, etc. Our findings are very interesting at this point and I am more than happy to share them with anyone interested! Please email Dr. Swede at Swedehart@msn.com

  7. Thanks for sharing your first hand experience. It’s a transparent business opportunity addressing a hungry crowd that is willing to try anything where no clear solution exists. If it’s of any benefit to any child, no one knows why. Luckily, parents will jump ship when something more effective or verified arises.

  8. I have a question for onewordtest. I read your article with an open mind and I now understand why you were so upset. Looking back at being 17, I would have hated that kind of treatment! My question is, did the therapist ever explain how each therapy worked neurologically to you while you were doing them, and if not, do you think that would have changed your overall experience if they did?

  9. Shelley Ratcliff

    I think the science behind Brain Balance is accurate, however, they should hire occupational therapists who have studied the neurology of the sensory systems and how it all works in the body, not a young person who is not qualified.

  10. I’m disappointed. I’m very skeptical of these kinds of claims and this kind of business. When I saw you article, I was expecting a sound, thoughtful debunking of the actual processes and procedures along with lack of scientific measurements to support their claims. What you wrote was a far cry from that. There was lots of finger pointing over age of assistants, salaries and cost, all of which could apply equally to actual sound medical practices.
    I remain skeptical, but nothing you wrote was of any value.

  11. Pingback: Brain Balance Centers: An insider’s perspective | Sigmaceutical.com

  12. William Hocker

    In your article your conclusion is Brain balance is “fraud”. Let me start by giving a legal definition of fraud: A false representation of a matter of fact—whether by words or by conduct, by false or misleading allegations, or by concealment of what should have been disclosed—that deceives and is intended to deceive another so that the individual will act upon it to her or his legal injury.
    Now if someone were to sue you for libel, then the proof of Brain Balance’s “Fraud would be on you to prove that they are misleading and false and concealing something, deceiving people. You go on to state “My opinion about Brain Balance has always been that it’s pretty much an outright scam, but I’ve never been able to dig up any real details about their treatment program; the information on the website is very vague.” This means you are writing almost in total at this point from a position of ignorance. Furthermore, it is immediately apparent that you are also writing from the presupposition that they are guilty of being a “scam” until proven innocent.
    So what is your new and compelling evidence that this is “fraud”? You state “A reader of this site who briefly worked for Brain Balance got in touch with me, and kindly gave me some detailed impressions of the practices, staff, and treatment sessions at one of their franchise locations.” So you found one ex-employee that worked for Brain Balance. Now the information of the treatment sounds about correct, and the age of the employee may be correct and as is the cost, but what might you have left out?
    First, it is obvious you have not ran a facility of any kind when complain that they receive such a paltry wage. In the Midwest that is a normal starting wage. How many employees do they have on the average site, how many clients do they serve? You don’t even know! Just an FYI a chiropractor charges a similar amount per session and I know they do not pay much more than this for their receptionists. Are they Bollocks? Are they on your “fraud” list too? And if you did not know you can take that wages of a single employee and times it by three to get the actual payout of an employer, with taxes, liability insurance, etc.
    So when you are attacking them, you are upset that they hire people that are too young, but at the site I have seen they are college students from the local university that are working on their undergraduate or Masters degree. Furthermore, why did that person leave, were they fired? Did they graduate? Were they pissed off at the boss? So out of all of the Brain Balances you find one employee? And now you qualified to pass judgment on all of the centers across the country? OK, so I find one classmate that knew you from your high school and she said you were ignorant, lazy, and would steal anything that you got your hands on. Well now I know everything I need to know about you and can judge you. Or based on your reasoning, maybe I should sue my local Taco Bell because the manager is jerk, hires slow old people and their food makes me sick and not to mention they rip people off. Therefore all Taco Bells must be like this.
    I am also certain that if the one ex-employee you found thought that they were a “fraud” you would have spared no space telling us all that is evil at Brain Balance and how they are stealing these poor desperate parent’s money. But you are silent, why?! Probably this is because they must have made some positive impact on the children they served. If there is something positive these children have gotten out of the program then it could not at the very least be a true “fraud” because there was something gained in their expense. You also say this “Boring” I know a lot of treatments that are boring! “Boring” does not mean useless. This is true ignorance if this one of key points in defense of them being a “fraud”.
    The burden of proof is on you! I would take you more seriously if you found several dozen people that finished the Brain Balance program and were really upset. Then I would want to know what their complaints are, but let me tell you from someone who has done research that you can’t go to one Taco Bell and get smoking gun proof that they are all bad. Guess what! This may come to a shock to you, but you can’t do that with Brain Balance either!
    You have a lot of work ahead of you if you are going to judge Brain Balance or anyone! So you don’t like them? Who cares! Are threatened by these people? Do they challenge your job? Are you in the business of psychology and their success threatening your livelihood because they might succeed where you fail? Or are you legitimately concerned? At this point I can’t tell, but it would seem that it might be less concern and a lot more threatened. As someone else asked, what are your credentials to be an expert on this topic? (Not that credentials necessarily make anyone capable of judging something) I don’t know anything about you, except you seem to jump to conclusions and prove things from the position that your presuppositions are going to dictate the facts you present.
    You cannot judge anything from a position of ignorance. The scientific method is to have a hypothesis and then let the facts that you find determine the outcome. Then you will be judged on how well you found the facts presented. At this point not only would your flimsy “proof” not hold up in court, but charges of libel would. The only “NeuroBollocks” I see at this point is you… Give us proof! Oh, and just so you know I do have credentials and currently teach at State College and do consultant work for the Cable Industry and Hollywood Studios. I mention this because I am not a poor parent that is angry because you said I was getting scammed and ripped off. Credentials are meaningless if the arguments are unsound, but you seem not have no credentials or sound arguments.
    If you were to turn this article into one of my classes you would get a ‘D’. You at least seem to have taken the time to get information from one person, although we do not know what that one person really thinks about Brain Balance since it was conveniently omitted. Based on what I have seen of your work so far, if you did interview 100 people that had children finish Brain Balance and Twenty-four of them had a bad experience, your article would headline dozens of parents hate Brain Balance, but you would conveniently omit the other 75% even exist because they do not fit your hypothesis and presuppositions! Get Some Facts!!!

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