The A-R approach is a clinically tested medical treatment for epilepsy that has proved remarkably successful at stopping patients' seizures. The approachpart neurology, part psychology, part commonsenseis the life's work of neuropsychologist Donna Andrews.
As a child, Dr. Andrews suffered from debilitating seizures. Doctors told her there was nothing she could do beyond taking medication. Refusing to accept that prognosis, Dr. Andrews began researching the neurological condition, investigations that led to several significant medical discoveries.
For generations, neurologists had believed that epileptic attacks struck randomly, like lightning from the damaged neurons of an epileptic brain. Dr. Andrews discovered that this was not the case, that seizures have definite triggers, pressure factors in a patient's life that spark an attack.
With further research, Dr. Andrews was able to prove that seizure triggers do not have to be physical pressures. They can also be emotional. She documented how stress, anger, fear and shock can also spark seizures in epileptics.
Dr. Andrews realized that these discoveries could significantly benefit epileptic patients, most of whom were told that seizures are indeed random and that there was little they could do to stop them beyond taking medication.
In 1981 Dr. Andrews
joined forces with Dr. Joel Reiter, a Harvard-trained neurologist, establishing the Andrews-Reiter Epilepsy Research Center in Santa Rosa, California. There the two doctors treated patients with severe cases of epilepsy by applying behavioral techniques.
Patients at the A-R Center learn several key skills. The first is to recognize their auras, the physical cues that a seizure is beginning. Patients also learn to recognize their triggers, the emotional and physical pressures that spark seizures.
Andrews has shown that if a patient identifies his auras and responds with focused relaxation instead of panic, he can stop his brain's electrical misfirings before those misfirings become a full-blown seizure.
To establish long-term health, at their clinic in California, Andrews and Reiter start patients on the path to resolving the emotional pressures that trigger their seizures. Over time, patients develop an introspective, nuanced understanding of how their own epilepsy functions. A-R patients create seizure diaries, in which they record the story of each seizure, including their thoughts and feelings just before an attack.
By writing these journals, patients begin recognizing connections between triggers and attacks, realizing then how to alter their behavior to prevent additional seizures.
Dr. Steven Schachter, professor of neurology at Harvard Medical School, homes in on this aspect of the A-R approach in his book Complementary and Alternative Therapies for Epilepsy (co-written with NYU neurologists Orrin Devinsky and Steven Pacia), summarizing the technique crisply: "Identify settings that cause seizures and avoid them." Schachter, Devinsky and Pacia are forceful in their praise of Andrews and Reiter, calling their work "an important step in the treatment of epilepsy."
To the public, epilepsy is still known as an incurable disorder, one of the toughest neurological conditions to treat. Andrews and Reiter's research have presented a different view. In 30 years of applying the A-R approach, the doctors have helped thousands of patients halt their seizures, many of whom were considered refractory, or untreatable, cases.
Including Dr. Andrews herself. By continuing to employ the A-R techniques, Dr. Andrews has been seizure-free for over 40 years and has been off all medication for several decades.
On the left are seven avenues to learn more about the Andrews-Reiter approach:
"The Talking Treatment," a first-person piece by investigative reporter Joshua
Kors, detailing his experience with the Andrews-Reiter approach and his journey
from sickness to health
"A Detailed Look at the Andrews-Reiter Neurobeheavioral Epilepsy Program," a step-by-step description of how the A-R program operates, written by Megan Kennedy, an author and former patient
The Andrews-Reiter Relaxation Tape, now available as a free download
Epilepsy: A New Approach, written by Dr. Joel Reiter and Adrienne Richard,
an acclaimed author and epileptic who shares her personal story
Taking Control of Your Epilepsy, a workbook for patients seeking to stop their seizures, written by Dr. Donna Andrews, Dr. Joel Reiter, and nurse Charlotte Janis
For Neurologists and Medical Professionals
"A Neurobehavioral Approach for Treatment of Complex Partial Epilepsy: Efficacy," a medical study analyzing the effectiveness of the A-R approach, written by Dr. Donna Andrews and Dr. Joel Reiter, published in the respected medical journal Seizure
A Neurobehavioral Treatment For Unilateral Complex
Partial Seizure Disorders: A Comparison of Right- and
Left-Hemisphere Patients, a second medical study analyzing the A-R approach, published in Seizure, written by Dr. Andrews, Dr. Reiter, Dr. Albert Kastl, Warren Schonfeld and Pat Denning