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His techniques help patients find healing from within

The components of therapeutic self-regulation have been used for years but have gained traction only recently, thanks to doctors such as Laurence Sugarman M.D.

  Sugarman is the general and behavioral pediatrician at Easter Seals New York’s diagnostic and treatment center in Rochester. He has led the creation and operation of a treatment that, in combination with other cognitive and behavioral therapies, has helped many with autism spectrum disorders and other developmental disabilities.

  Sugarman’s therapeutic self-regulation program started in 2010. This year he began training clinicians in its techniques.

  In January, he became director of the center for applied psychophysiology and self-regulation at Rochester Institute of Technology’s Institute for Health Sciences and Technology. The institute, scheduled to be operational this fall, will provide research and education, including hypnosis biofeedback for autistic students.

  "I’m still at Easter Seals for two 12-hour days, and three days a week I’m at RIT," Sugarman says, "and I’m having the time of my life."

  His passion for therapeutic self-regulation comes from his professional beginnings as a primary-care physician.

  "I very quickly felt frustrated that I had inadequate tools for the growing kinds of problems that most pediatricians see," he says.

  They included stress-related problems, the psychological components of chronic disease and the resultant breakdown of families, he says. The problem has grown with greater awareness of developmental disabilities, including a 100-fold increase in autism spectrum disorders, Sugarman says.

  "The notion that when you encounter that you send them all to a psychologist or a mental health counselor is crazy," he says. Therapeutic self-regulation is nothing more than "a very old skill set that just is underused."

  The program integrates mental health care with pediatric care to treat ailments such as recurring abdominal pain and headaches, sleep problems and anxiety disorders.

  "It’s estimated that at least 20 percent of children meet criteria of having an anxiety disorder, where anxiety impairs their ability to do things they need to do at some point in their life," Sugarman says.

  He began thinking about the effect of psychological factors on physiology-or how thoughts are connected to immune systems-not long after starting his practice in 1986. That led him to acquire the clinical skills to help people regulate their own physiology.

  "There are lots of those-yoga and meditation and prayer, and music and art-but in the medical setting, the two that fit best are hypnosis and biofeedback, because you can neatly integrate them into normal encounters," he says.

  Biofeedback is a patient-guided treatment to control muscle tension, pain, body temperature, brain waves and other bodily functions. Sugarman’s interest in the concept led him to leave primary care and join Easter Seals.

  "Laurence’s efforts to bring novel therapies to his clients at Easter Seals New York have been nothing short of revolutionary," Regional Director Lori Vanderhoof says.

  "More inspiring, perhaps, than the progress he has made with his own patients is the effect he has had on our organization as a whole. His work has inspired many of our clinicians to seek out and adopt techniques to create a multidisciplinary approach to serving individuals with disabilities."

  Sugarman, who is president of the American Board of Medical Hypnosis, describes the use of therapeutic self-regulation for those with developmental disabilities as the frontier of medicine.

  "It’s all about doing things for and with people rather than to them," he says. "And it’s about honoring their innate ability to control themselves."                             

3/18/11 (c) 2011 Rochester Business Journal. To obtain permission to reprint this article, call 585-546-8303 or e-mail [email protected].

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