THRIVING SMALL BUSINESSES IN WYOMING: Clinic Explores Training the Mind to Heal Itself
Cheyenne-based Brain Advancement Center provides mixture of traditional therapy, cutting-edge alternative treatments
- Published In: Other News & Features
- Last Updated: Aug 07, 2023
Tammi Miller (left) and Tammy Cooley (right) are the Chief Executive Officer and the Chief Operating Officer, respectively, at the Brain Advancement Center in Cheyenne. (Courtesy photo from Tammy Cooley)
By K.L. McQuaid
Special to the Wyoming Truth
Tammi Miller was a school psychologist in Cheyenne in 2016 when an intervention to help a troubled student turned violent.
Miller was attacked and sustained several severe blows to the back of her head, leaving her with a traumatic brain injury that brought on crippling insomnia, migraine headaches and speech problems.
After doctors told Miller she should expect little improvement and her symptoms dragged on for months, she quit her job and opened a private therapy practice that would grow into the Brain Advancement Center, a business that’s posted a more than seven-fold spike in revenue in four years.
From the start, the business flourished, growing to 40 clients in its first year.
Miller, however, didn’t. Her migraines persisted, sleep remained elusive and speaking clearly was difficult.
Desperate for a way to regain control of her life and her mind, Miller turned to an alternative treatment known as neurofeedback, which works to train the mind to heal not only itself but physical ailments as well.
After just two neurofeedback sessions, Miller’s insomnia disappeared. She made other progress, too.
“The decision to try neurofeedback was the direct result of doctors telling her that she was as good as she was going to get,” said Tammy Cooley, who joined the Center in 2022 as Miller’s partner and now is its chief operating officer.
Even before the attack, the pair had talked about opening a unique Wyoming mental health center, one that would take a holistic approach by offering counseling and mentoring along with alternative treatments like neurofeedback.
“We thought about what was missing, and where we could improve upon what was already out there,” said Cooley. “It was a big dream.”
In 2019, the Brain Advancement Center debuted as the only place in Wyoming offering brain mapping and neurofeedback for depression, anxiety, stress relief, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and other issues.
Neurofeedback “isn’t about fixing mental disorders but about moving toward greater flexibility and range for the brain,” the Center’s website states. “Feedback is like a mirror for the brain,” one that focuses on “shifting the way the brain produces and distributes energy.”
Despite its growth, the Brain Advancement Center has also faced numerous challenges.
The COVID-19 pandemic generated uncertainty and forced the Center to take on debt to cover its payroll and keep the doors open.
Combating stigma over mental health treatment was equally difficult.
“In Wyoming, when you’re living by the Code of the West, it’s not easy to say that you might need some help,” said Cooley. “Ours is a very ‘pull yourself up by your own bootstraps’ culture. We have to meet people where they are with compassion and have flexibility.”
That’s especially important because Wyoming often ranks first in the U.S. in deaths by suicide each year.
In 2005, there were 17 suicides for every 100,000 residents. By 2021, that figure had spiked to 31.5 deaths for every 100,000—double the national average, according to the Wyoming Department of Health. Three quarters of those deaths involve firearms.
To slow the onslaught, the Brain Advancement Center offers specialized counseling and has conducted outreach at events sponsored by the Cheyenne Youth Baseball League and other groups.
The rising cost of services and a lack of insurance coverage has also adversely impacted the business.
“People are open [to alternative treatments]; the problem is the system typically isn’t,” Cooley said. “It’s made it difficult for us to bring a lot of these things to market, because people end up having to pay cash for them. We knew we had to make it affordable.”
In California and Colorado, brain mapping can cost $4,500.
“A lot of people in Wyoming don’t have $4,500 to spend on something like that,” Cooley said.
The Brain Advancement Center charges $350 for an initial brain mapping, and each neurofeedback session — the center recommends between 20 and 30 sessions for best results — costs $100 per session.
Cooley said neurofeedback accounts for between 10% and 20% of the center’s revenue, which has grown from about $200,000 in 2019 to over $1.5 million last year.
Tammy Paulsen turned to center therapists in 2021 to get help for her son, who suffered from depression, severe anxiety and was largely verbally uncommunicative. The following year, they decided to try neurofeedback.
“We’ve seen tremendous results,” she said. “He’s like a different kid now. He’s been able to go off his medications. I can’t say enough good things about the Brain Advancement Center.”
Cooley said finding qualified professional mental health counselors has also been hard, the result of stringent state requirements placed on therapists that lead many to seek licenses in neighboring states like Colorado and Utah.
“It takes a lot more time and money to obtain a license here, so people don’t. We’re not in a business that makes widgets,” she said. “When human talent is hard to find, it makes it difficult for us to do our business.”
Today, Brain Advancement Center has a staff of 15. (Kristine Galloway, who has written two freelance stories for the Wyoming Truth, is a therapist at the Center.)
Despite the many challenges, the Center has received tremendous community support, Cooley said.
Angel Cruz, co-owner of Toilets on the Go, of Cheyenne, has been one such supporter.
“I stand behind them, and I support them and so does my husband,” Cruz said. “They’ve helped us and numerous people we know. There are a lot of people that need to vent, especially men. They go to work and collect a paycheck and support their families because that’s what they’re taught to do, but they also keep a lot of things inside and that’s not healthy. What the Center is trying to do for society I think is incredible. If I ever need to talk about something I know I have those ladies to turn to.”
Cooley acknowledges that the Center’s client base is dominated by women. Of the roughly 350 clients they see each month, only about 30% are men.
Five years from now, Cooley said she’d like the Center to have expanded beyond Wyoming, Colorado and Nebraska, where it provides services now thanks to tele-health.
She’d like to see the company’s revenue increase, too, to between $5 million and $10 million annually.
“We’re making steady progress, but we’d like to see more people and expand our consulting services,” she said.
As for Miller, she’s continued to improve, despite putting in 55-hour weeks providing counseling and doing other tasks.
“She’s the most amazing human being,” Cooley said of Miller. “She struggles every day, but she’s functioning much better all the time. She’s doing the work of four people right now. When you look up dedication in the dictionary, there’s a picture of Tammi. The beautiful thing, too, is she’s a living example of the results that we’re offering.”