The University of Maryland’s Counseling Center now has eight meditation biofeedback headbands available for student use. 

The brain-sensing headbands, which became available to students in February, can be checked out from the Counseling Center with a university student ID for up to 40 minutes at a time, said Dr. Chetan Joshi, this university’s Counseling Center director. 

The Muse brand headbands connect to one’s mobile device through an app and bluetooth technology. Once connected, a user can put on the headband, choose the length of their meditation session, then review their results. They can also track their progress once the session is complete.

A user will hear heavy rain and stormy weather through the app if their mind is ‘active,’ but as the user achieves a more meditative or ‘calm’ state they will increasingly hear bird chirps. The headband senses electrical signals and rhythms from the brain to determine what state the user’s brain is in.

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The [Muse] meditation headbands are available for all undergraduate and graduate students who are interested in learning how to mediate or deepen their meditative practices,” Joshi said. 

In total, the headbands cost $2,300, Joshi said. The push to bring technology into mental health at this university came from the Student Government Association. SGA allocated funds for these initiatives to the Counseling Center, said Ashley Deng, the SGA director of health and wellness.

“A priority for the SGA and for me individually is to continue to expand resources to students as much as possible, and one avenue that has really never been explored yet is the technology side of mental health,” said Deng, a junior neuroscience major.

The headbands are helpful for people who are having a stressful day and “want to change the tide a little bit,” Deng said.

Walter Greenleaf, the chief science officer at Muse, said while mental health care has been viewed as something “non-technical” such as talking to a clinician or a coach, “putting a level of measurement and feedback really changes things to give us the individual agency on addressing their own problem, and it also helps them see their progress.”

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Anxiety, depression and feelings of isolation are a “tremendous” problem at competitive universities, Greenleaf said. He also said he hopes to continue developing the Muse headbands to address challenges that occur in stressful academic environments, though the headbands are already useful in analyzing one’s mental state.

“It’s hard for people to have a sense as to their own emotional state and how their brain is functioning,” Greenleaf said. “You can start thinking calming thoughts or listening to some calming music … and move more in that direction. It’s sort of like giving you an extra window into what’s going on in yourself.”

In addition to the headbands, the Counseling Center will likely begin providing virtual reality-based treatment in the fall, Joshi said.

Using virtual reality — which uses both visual and auditory displays — for mental health, offers, “a deeper level of immersion” that Greenleaf said is “the next generation of the technology”.

“I think you’ll start seeing a whole new generation of combination of systems that … leverage the power of virtuality as a way to grab someone’s complete attention and increase their focus,” Greenleaf said.