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Pieces of Eight

Ron Newton, assistant vice chancellor, Administration and Finance, tries out the virtual reality training at the Biofeedback Lab in Belk Building during the lab’s grand opening. Behind him is Steve Duncan, assistant vice chancellor, Military Programs. (Photo by Cliff Hollis)

Biofeedback Clinic Celebrates New Site With Open House

By Christine Neff

The therapies used and studied by East Carolina University’s Psychophysiology Lab and Biofeedback Clinic may be unconventional, but their benefits have been undeniable to clients they have touched.

Take Sgt. Christopher Soldano, a USMC Wounded Warrior who came back from combat in a state he described as a “cognitive mess.” Through biofeedback, virtual reality training and the use of the online virtual world, Second Life, he has experienced much improvement in his speech and other cognitive skills.

“By coming here and doing a lot of different therapies, along with the medication therapy I’ve been learning…it has enabled me to do things I didn’t think I would ever be able to do again,” Soldano said.

Soldano shared his thoughts at a grand opening of the lab and clinic held in the Carol G. Belk Building March 19. Visitors toured the lab where graduate students and faculty members lead studies and work with a variety of clients, from Marines wounded in battle to children with behavioral health issues.

Carmen Russoniello, director of ECU’s Psychophysiology Lab and Biofeedback Clinic, spoke of the humble origins of the program and its first locations in Minges and a small room in Christenbury.

“It wasn’t really the building that mattered,” he said. “It was the people and the dream.”

That dream drove the program to its current facility in Belk Building and led to successful research projects that deal with a range of topics, including post-traumatic stress disorder as experienced by children after Hurricane Floyd, stress as a cause of error in physicians, the effect of stress on metabolism in children and the ability of video games to improve mood and concentration.

The program is perhaps most proud of its work with Wounded Warriors.

The Wounded Warrior program provides assistance to injured service personnel and their families until they can return to duty, be medically discharged or readjust to civilian life. ECU’s program helps Marines meet that last goal by teaching them how to appropriately process prior traumatic experiences and rebuild positive relationship skills.

Matthew Fish, program coordinator, described the first tenuous meeting of the Wounded Warriors and the graduate student researchers they work with.

“The only thing the Marines were told was, ‘Report to the government van and go to East Carolina. You’ll be part of a research project,’” Fish said. “You can kind of imagine how that first interaction went.”

Since then, the relationship has come a long way.

The Marines meet twice a week for individual sessions and circuit training to learn how to control symptoms of post-traumatic stress syndrome or regain skills lost to injuries.

Biofeedback, the real-time recording and playback of the human body’s physiological response signals, together with the psychological interpretation of those responses, is a unique intervention that allows the patient to see the connection between mind and body. Biofeedback training teaches the patient to decrease stress activation within themselves. Tools such as virtual reality training, video games and computer programs help put this in practice.

Fish speaks highly of the Wounded Warriors in the program. “The guys we work with have golden hearts,” he said. “They train hard. They train like Marines. They never give up, and they’re always there when we need them.”

Steve Duncan, assistant vice chancellor for military programs, takes pride in the ways ECU is helping the military, and hopes to see more programs evolve.

“East Carolina is positioned to work with the military to solve the problems and help the community that helps us,” he said. “We owe them a debt of gratitude.”

This page originally appeared in the May 1, 2009 issue of Pieces of Eight. Complete issue is archived at