by Elyse M. Rogers
Allen & Futaba Robinson — biofeedback specialists
I certainly never expected to meet a fellow Purdue University graduate working in Tokyo in the field of biofeedback and counseling, so was delighted when I received a letter from Allen Robinson, Ph.D., who has just those qualifications. But I was puzzled as to why I had never run across the doctor’s name in my years writing about medicine and science here in Japan.
The mystery was solved when he explained that he works mainly in the Japanese community—in fact his clients “are 99 percent Japanese.” He has been practicing biofeedback techniques in Tokyo for 12 years and speaks fluent Japanese. It’s a shame he hasn’t been more oriented to the foreign community, in my opinion, since the doctor is tremendously well qualified (his Ph.D. is in behavioral psychology) and, of course, he speaks great English.
Perhaps I should explain, since most would assume that anyone born in the U.S. and educated at a wonderful university in Indiana would naturally speak native English, but I’ve found that not infrequently even native English speakers come to Japan and lose some of their English language fluency, particularly those who work and live almost solely within the Japanese community and culture. That certainly has not happened to Dr. Robinson.
His able partner, but very much a person in her own right, is Futaba Robinson who is not only the doctor’s wife (they’ve been married 17 years), but his “boss” as president of the company. There is a romantic story behind all this in that Futaba was the doctor’s patient at the university; she successfully shed a great deal of excess weight (the doctor works in the area of weight reduction psychology) and captured the heart of her sensei as well.
WHAT IS BIOFEEDBACK?
In defining biofeedback, let me quote from the good doctor himself, in an article he wrote for the Scientific Bulletin (a magazine of the Department of the Navy Office and Naval Research Tokyo):
“Biofeedback, simply speaking, is the feedback of biological, physiological data about the functioning of the body to the mind that is controlling the body.
“The purpose of biofeedback training Is to allow a person to learn to control various functions of the body which are normally beyond voluntary control. As an example, many students of biofeedback are now learning to slow down or speed up their own brainwaves in order to produce a more efficient state of mind to accomplish whatever task they may be working on.
“Some doctors are teaching their patients to exert control over the autonomic nervous system which controls body temperature in order to warm or cool various parts of the body. It has been found, for example, that by warming the hands and cooling the forehead, patients are able to relieve migraine headaches without resorting to medication, are able to endure long, cold winters in a single cloth wrap that would be comfortable to the average person on a hot summer day. In below zero weather they arc able to raise the temperature of a hand to melt snow for drinking water.”
Sounds fascinating, doesn’t it? As someone who always has cold hands and freezes even during Tokyo winters, perhaps I should be the first to line up for the doctor’s biofeedback program!
At any rate, I think you get the idea of biofeedback. If you remember, several months ago I wrote a column on a special home-type biofeedback unit called the GSR 2, made by a company called Thought Technology Inc., in Canada, and available in Japan. Actually it was that article which prompted Dr. Robinson to explain his program of biofeedback and to applaud the fact that I had cautioned readers not to think of biofeedback as some kind of miracle, but rather as a program which those interested would have to learn and perfect.
When I interviewed the doctor, I saw his own biofeedback equipment, which in fact is very similar to the small home-unit I mentioned. There’s a good reason for that—the doctor actually had a great deal to do with designing the GSR2 unit before it was purchased by Thought Technology! (Sure is a small world, isn’t it?) In fact. Dr. Robin-son actually owns the Far Eastern rights to the equipment but says he is happy if anyone is selling such equipment and making more people aware of the possibilities of biofeedback training.
His current biofeedback unit is slightly larger than the GSR2 but works on the same principal of skin response. (The conductivity of the skin changes with the individual’s emotional response. It’s this same skin response, by the way, th;it is utilized in lie detector tests.) The GSR (galvinated skin response) is therefore (in the words of Dr. Robinson) one of the safes, easiest to learn and most economical of all types of biofeedback instrumentation available today. It is, thus, the natural choice of many relaxation therapists to introduce a patient or client to biofeedback relations training.”
Although biofeedback techniques to control body temperature have been used to help patients with problems such as arthritis or migraines, the most common use of biofeedback techniques today is for relaxation or stress-reduction training. The doctor’s biofeedback unit includes a monitor so you can easily sec the skin-response changes, and the doctor will show you how to use the instrument by yourself at home if he feels it will be helpful. It costs approximately ¥34,000 but the doctor uses the unit in conjunction with his own counseling or biofeedback work rather than simply selling it on the open market.
A large area of Dr. Robinson’s practice is devoted to learning motivation. Indeed, his studio for the last 13 years is actually located in the Waseda prep school in Takadanobaba. Although it is actually his private studio, it is on school property because he teaches a 10-week bio-feedback-technique class each year to the Waseda prep school students.
This is an interesting school. It serves those students who have the capability of being college material but have not applied themselves during high-school so they cannot pass the test to get into a university. Any student in the school’s program must take the doctor’s biofeedback program to learn how to monitor personal concentration and motivation. By applying him/herself to biofeedback training a student can find that he/she spends less time studying but enjoys it more and gets more out of it.
If the concept doesn’t impress you, perhaps the doctor’s “success rate” will. Before he joined the school, only 30 percent of those who completed the program passed the college entrance examinations; one year after his biofeedback program was included, a whopping 70 percent passed.
(Interestingly, although the success rate went up to 70 percent within a year, it has since stayed at that level. “Whatever we do, we find three out of 10 do not pass the examination,” the Robinsons both say in frustration. Currently they are working on some new techniques they hope will break through that deadlock.)
The doctor has many interesting success stories, but perhaps one of the most interesting concerns a foreign child who was attending one of the international schools in Tokyo. The family was leaving Japan, but the child had such a bad school record here and was such a discipline problem at school that his parents knew he would not get into a quality school when he returned home. So they brought the child to Dr. Robinson.
The doctor worked with the child twice a week for four months, but after only about five sessions everyone began to notice a change. The happy ending is that the child became a star pupil, took examinations for two quality schools, passed both and chose the school he preferred. Perhaps more importantly, this problem-child’s whole attitude switched from negative to positive.
In addition to his special involvement with the Waseda prep School. Dr. Robinson and his wife set up and still operate Japan’s first biofeedback technique center that is open to the public. While stress management is a popular reason for people to visit this doctor and learn biofeedback techniques, there are many other reasons as well.
Working on an individual’s “self concept” or self image is an important part of Dr. Robinson’s practice.
After he explains it, one understands that this basic concept is one which underlines many different types of outward problems or conditions. For example, regarding counseling those who are overweight, “People who are heavy often have very low self esteem, so their dieting efforts arc self-defeating,” he explains. “When they learn to raise their self image and learn to work with some of the basic problems in that area, the diet can become successful.”
He tells the story of one woman who was very overweight and unhappy and had tried every diet and failed. Even after she was successful in the program and lost weight, she would return to her home country and visit her mother who would promptly feed her wonderful cakes and candies. She couldn’t say “no” to her mother. Finally she got the courage to tell her mother she would not be eating the goodies provided, and actually got her mother on the same weight-reduction program! (Sort of like if you can’t beat ’em, get ’em to join you.)
Dr. Robinson also works with sports-minded people and. of course, with anyone who has a need for professional counseling in any area of life.
I was surprised to learn there is an organization that certifies biofeedback therapists/ practicers. Certification is through a stringent program, according to Dr. Robinson, which has helped biofeedback attain a more “respectful status.” Dr. Robinson is the only one in Asia to have taken and passed the exam.
The Association for Applied Psychophysiology and Biofeedback (old name was the Biofeedback Society of America), which held its 20th anniversary meeting in San Diego this past spring, is a surprisingly large organization. Their membership directory lists more than 2.000 people in the field of biofeedback or applied psychophysiology.
LOCATION, PROGRAMS & FEES
Dr. Robinson usually sees patients or clients in his studio (classroom) since all his equipment is there, and that is located in Takadanobaba, in Jusanji Hall at the Waseda prep school. But it’s best to call for an appointment (office number below).
There is no charge for the initial test session, and if the patient decides to sign up for private sessions they run ¥10,000 per session (of approximately 30 minutes). Usually 10-12 sessions are conducted. The doctor actually prefers groups of 8-15 since they are set up for it in the classroom and he kindly says “it’s cheaper for the client” With the Japanese this is the usual procedure, but with foreigners it’s been mostly one-on-one sessions. If he gets enough interest, however, he would be glad to schedule a group session.
Allen Robinson, Ph.D, and Futaba Robinson, R.C.S. Inc., Shibuya 1-9-4-311, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo 150. Phone (and fax) 498-0858.