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Biofeedback Therapy

Updated on October 12, 2013
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MsMillar has been a writer on HubPages for six-plus years. She enjoys the freedom Hubpages allows for her to explore her creative side.


What is Biofeedback?

Bio-feedback. It is exactly, what it is. Bio, *meaning one's life course or way of living. Feedback, *information in response to an inquiry, experiment, etc. Feedback about your life or way of living as it pertains to your physiologic self. Biofeedback therapy, coupled with technology, has made its way into the mainstream of health care. The biofeedback therapist teaches the patient to alter certain sympathetic and/or parasympathetic actions while receiving instant feedback from their physiological results via electrodes. A person can be taught to perceive certain body functions such as blood flow, cardiac activity, sweat gland activity, blood pressure and even the activity of their brain. Biofeedback is based on the relationship between thoughts, behavior and physiologic functioning. It's a safe, effective, cost efficient, non pharmacological therapy.

*Definition source: "" 6/2012

The History of Biofeedback

Biofeedback was first recognized in the late 1950's as a culmination of multiple roots. In reference to "Biofeedback - A Practitioners Guide" (2nd edition, Mark S. Schwartz & Associates) the fields from which biofeedback developed include (in no particular order):

Instrumental conditioning of ANS (automatic nervous system) responses Also known as operand conditioning, is the process of learning through reinforcement and punishment.

Psycho physiology The relationship between the normal functioning of a human body (or organism) and their thoughts and feelings.

Behavior therapy/medicine A form of psychotherapy where an undesired behavior is replaced with another more acceptable one.

Stress research/management strategies Refers to the learning process of managing internal crisis, plight, predicament or exigency and the study of such phenomena.

Biomedical engineering The application of engineering instrumentation to biological processes such as pacemakers and artificial limbs.

Electromyography (EMG) This is a technique in which electrodes are placed on the surface of a muscle or inserted into the muscle to record the "electrical" activity of the muscle.

Electroencephalography feedback (EEG) The measurement of the "electrical" activity in the brain. Electrodes are placed on the surface of the scalp in which they pick up the activity in the brain.

Cybernetics This refers to the study of human controlled biologic functions and the electronic devices that may replace them.

Cultural factors Personal beliefs, religious beliefs, moral values, and laws all play a part in the development of biofeedback. With an operating structure of holistic health, biofeedback has a larger circle of acceptance with cultural factors than some other medical process's.

Professional developments The formation of the Biofeedback Research Society in 1969 also contributed to the development of biofeedback. The BRS eventually renamed itself and became the Biofeedback Society of America in 1976.

All these factors contributed to the development of biofeedback therapy and aid in its acceptance by the medical profession as a viable choice of intervention.

Biofeedback Machines

The EMG M57. This is an older model EMG.
The EMG M57. This is an older model EMG. | Source
This machine is for thermal/temp reading.
This machine is for thermal/temp reading. | Source

How Exciting is That?!

Biofeedback utilizes various devices to collect/record physiological responses. The most common methods use:

  • EMG
  • EEG
  • Thermal
  • GSR aka. Galvanic Skin Response

Do you recognize any of these components? Maybe you heard of them or experienced them in a different context? Have you ever sat for a "lie detection" test? Biofeedback utilizes 4/5 of the lie detector! That's right, the lie detector test. EMG to record muscle tension. The EEG to record those pesky brainwaves. Thermal to report to the technician if the patient is developing cold hands, an indication of stress, and of course, GSR for the sweaty palms when a tale is being told.

EMG Set-Up for Headache or Stress

EMG set-up for Tension, Migraine Headache Therapy or Stress
EMG set-up for Tension, Migraine Headache Therapy or Stress

Why Biofeedback?

Would you reduce or eliminate the amount of medication you take everyday if you could and still remain healthy? Would you like to reduce or eliminate Ritalin from your child's daily diet routine? These are silly question, I know, of course you would. Biofeedback has proved to do just that. Reduce or completely eliminate some medications. Biofeedback has had phenomenal results with children living with ADHD and ADD. Diabetics have reduced their dependence on insulin to the point of controlling their diabetes by diet alone.

Biofeedback is not replacing one drug for another. It is a therapist trained in biofeedback and relaxation techniques teaching a patient how to use these techniques in order to produce a favorable outcome. The therapist and patient decide on what goals they want to accomplish according to the desired results the patient intends or is medically advised to attain.

Which Biofeedback is Right for You?

Headache Pain
Stress Reduction
Sleep Enuresis

What to Expect at a Session

To give you an idea of a biofeedback treatment several EMG electrodes are placed on the skin. Location is determined by that individual's needs. We'll put ours on the forehead. The patient is experiencing chronic headaches. Three sensors are filled with conductive fluid and taped to the forehead. Two lateral electrodes pick up activity while the center electrode provides a reference point. The thermal wire is connected to an index finger. Generally the dorsal side of a digit is desirable so when hands are lying in the lap, relaxed, there won't be artificial worming of the electrode which would create a false reading. The EMG wires are connected to the EMG machine, thermal are plugged into their separate machine, the machines are activated and the therapist will take a few minutes to calibrate the machines and record a baseline. The baseline is the patients normal "base" or untreated activity level at the electrode sites. You'll be asked to relax and close your eyes. At that time the therapist will guide you through narration of visualizations and/or relaxing techniques. As the narrated visualization progress's the reading will show signs of relaxation. If not, the therapist will alter the narration until the feedback shows signs of relaxation and the hands warming. The feedback is then translated by the therapist to the patient for discussion. Once the patient begins mastering the relaxation response he/she may be asked to practice the technique at home or work or when the headache is most likely to come on without the assistance of the EMG and temp. The ultimate goal being independently invoke the relaxation response at will to eliminate the headache or reduce the severity. Sessions, on average, are one hour every week or bi-weekly for six to eight weeks, with check-ups schedule out three months to six months. Biofeedback is meant as a training process, not a lifetime commitment.

Thermal feedback is very interesting. The sensors are normally placed on the finger tips. The sensors will pick up the slightest change in temperature. Veins naturally have a "muscle" surrounding them. When a patient experiences or imagines a stressful event, pain or has certain thoughts/images, it provokes a stress response which in turn tenses the muscles, including the muscles surrounding the veins. When the muscle in the finger tip constricts it prevents or reduces blood flow which in turn causes the fingers to grow cold. "True" relaxation involves "letting go" to the extent of allowing the muscles surrounding the veins to relax, allowing the blood to flow, allowing the finger to become warm. So, the harder you try to relax, the colder your finger while become from the constricting muscle "trying" to relax. Truly letting go involves not trying at all.

Biofeedback has come a long way in a relatively short time. Now that the medical community recognizes biofeedback as a viable solution some insurance company's will cover the cost of the sessions that which are not to exceed their outline for what expected treatment should be. Reduction of medication or, on occasion, completely eliminating medications is an exciting prospect that is unfolding before us.

© 2012 Joanna


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