What Is Biofeedback Therapy And Will It Work For Me?

Updated December 02, 2019

Reviewer Elizabeth Strong


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Biofeedback is used to treat many ailments, both psychological and physical. In Santa Monica in 1969 Biofeedback was introduced at a conference held by the biofeedback research society. For the first time, spiritual/consciousness awareness met science on the mutual ground; biofeedback was met with enthusiasm by both scientists and the consciousness awareness movement.

The interdisciplinary nature of biofeedback is what made it so unique and appealing. This new therapy promised to help people gain control over the body processes that were once thought to be involuntary, such as controlling brainwaves or pain perception. Although this interesting new therapy seemed brand new to most of the world, the roots of biofeedback originate back in 1908 with research by Edmund Jacobson at Harvard. The research of Jacobson continued and evolved through the early 1930's as work continued his research showed that progressive muscle relaxation could ease neurotic tension and several physical disorders.

The early work of Jacobson provided a framework for the development of biofeedback therapy. Another researcher, Johann Schultz, refined his contribution to the early development of biofeedback with his Autogenic Training, this technique used crude electrical equipment to produce low arousal that brought about a quieting effect on the autonomic nervous system. By the time the 1960's arrived, these new disciplines developed into biofeedback therapy that was introduced by the biofeedback research society in Santa Monica.

The study of biofeedback techniques, by several medical fields, has led to the biofeedback available today. While there have been critics through the years, and critics today as well, there are many positive, scientific, reports that show this therapy is legitimate. The FDA has even approved a biofeedback device for personal home use and many health insurance plans cover this therapy.

Today, biofeedback has decades of research and data to rely on, and the data says it works. The main goal of biofeedback therapy is to provide an individual with an awareness of the body's physiological and psychological functions with the idea that through this awareness an individual can learn to control those processes. Biofeedback has proven itself to be a real benefit to many and it is worth giving some thought to this form of therapy.

The Different Types Of Biofeedback

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There are several different types of biofeedback used to provide feedback that can then be utilized to understand and control human physiology. Each biofeedback has its own set of indications and the point of the therapy is to learn to understand the indications provided by the biofeedback to learn how to control the specific physiological functions. Regulating physiological functions provides the user the ability to alleviate symptoms of many different ailments, both mental and physical.

This is a list of the different types of biofeedback used for therapy:

  • Brainwave Biofeedback - an EEG machine provides biofeedback on brainwave activity. Multiple sensors are placed on the head and the machine gives feedback on brainwave activity. This biofeedback is then used to learn how to regulate the activity.
  • Heart Rate Biofeedback - an ECG machine is used to measure heart rate and heart rate variables. Sensors on the finger, earlobe, wrist, or chest provide information about heart rate and other variables that are used to learn how to read and regulate heart function.
  • Respiration Biofeedback -Bands are placed around the chest and abdomen to measure respiration rates and respiration patterns. The biofeedback from these bands is used to learn how to control respiration.
  • Muscle Biofeedback -an EMG machine uses sensors placed on the muscles to read the electrical activity created during muscle contraction. This biofeedback is then used to learn how to recognize and regulate muscle contraction.
  • Temperature Biofeedback -Blood flow to the skin is monitored using sensors on the finger or feet. This biofeedback provides feedback that is used to recognize rising stress or tension levels.
  • Perspiration Biofeedback -an EDG machine uses sensors on the fingers, palm, or wrist to measure perspiration on the skin. This biofeedback is used to recognize anxiety and stress.

Physical And Mental Conditions Treated With Biofeedback

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Many physical and mental conditions can be treated with biofeedback. It is important to note that there are less than reputable practitioners of biofeedback, always ask for credentials before committing to a session. Biofeedback cannot cure conditions, it can ease symptoms and improve health, and Biofeedback cannot screen for disease or diagnose anything.

The following physical conditions maybe improved with the proper use of Biofeedback provided by a professional therapist or certified health care provider:

  • High Blood Pressure - Biofeedback can be used to help you regulate blood pressure. It will not cure any disease that is causing high blood pressure, but it can help you regulate it and alleviate symptoms.
  • A Headache-Biofeedback can be used to help you alleviate headaches by helping you relax tense muscles which in turn reduces pressure on small capillaries which can cause headaches. Using biofeedback to reduce stress and relax muscles helps by alleviating the triggers for headaches in the first place.
  • Anxiety - Biofeedback helps you learn to regulate the bodies reaction to anxiety which reduces the symptoms of anxiety. This therapy can also alleviate the stress that triggers anxiety and reduce the severity of anxiety overall.
  • Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder - Biofeedback can improve focus, concentration, lower stress, and improve blood flow, helping you to control ADHD but it cannot cure it.
  • Asthma - Learning to control breathing using biofeedback can reduce the symptoms of asthma.
  • Fibromyalgia -Biofeedback can lessen the severity of the symptoms of fibromyalgia by providing the ability to relax muscles and change the perception of pain in general.
  • Incontinence/Constipation - Biofeedback can lessen fecal incontinence, urine incontinence and constipation by providing better muscle control.
  • Chronic Pain - Biofeedback can help alleviate chronic pain by changing the perception of pain.
  • Irritable Bowel Syndrome-By reducing stress using biofeedback you can alleviate the symptoms of IBS triggered by stress and the relieve the pain associated with this condition.
  • Stroke - Biofeedback delivers information about body systems such as the central nervous system, this biofeedback can be used to help alleviate the symptoms of stroke and improve recovery.

Many psychological conditions are treatable with biofeedback. In general, biofeedback is all about learning to control and regulate the body and mind using thought. All psychological disorders benefit from stress reduction, enhanced mental clarity, enhanced mental focus, and an improved mind-body connection.

Those with learning disabilities can benefit from an improved mind and body connection. When the mind and body are relaxed, and clarity and focus are improved, learning has a chance to improve. Depression and anxiety can be alleviated, as well as most other psychological conditions; when stress is reduced, and mental acuity is improved ,psychological conditions improve. There is even research to show that those who have PTSD may be helped using biofeedback therapy.

Instruments And Devices Used For Biofeedback

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The main instruments/devices used for administering biofeedback are:

  • ECG - provides feedback on the heart
  • EEG - provides feedback on brain waves
  • EMG - provides feedback on muscles
  • EDG - provides feedback on perspiration levels
  • Computer Programs - these programs help turn the information provided by the feedback machines into biofeedback to the patient. Interactive graphics and computer prompt provide guidance on practicing proper biofeedback techniques and it provides feedback on progress/results. Any sensors used for biofeedback can be plugged into the computer to provide usable feedback through prompts and graphics.
  • Mobile App -mobile apps are available for practicing biofeedback, the app tracks physiological events and changes using wearable sensors and then provides the user with the feedback that is necessary to practice biofeedback techniques.

Does It Work For Everyone?

Biofeedback is not a cure-all, it is used to enhance health by providing the patient with the information they can use to develop a stronger mind/body connection. The more in touch an individual is with their physical and mental state, the healthier they are. Everyone can get some benefit from biofeedback. This type of therapy can be used even if there is no actual mental health concern; it is a therapy that enhances as well as provides a therapeutic effect for those with mental health problems.

Results vary greatly; some may gain more from this therapy than others. How well these therapy works varies from person to person. Results depend on the severity of the problem and the understanding of the patient. There is a learning curve; the biofeedback is meant to help the patient gain a deeper understanding of their mind and body, how well the information is applied can vary.

Therapists and other certified healthcare professionals can administer biofeedback therapy sessions. It is important to do some research before choosing a provider. Anyone who practices biofeedback should be certified to do so. Biofeedback is a therapy that works well alongside other traditional psychological therapies, so it may be a great addition to other plans of treatment.

Finding the right counselor, doctor, or therapist is important because how the biofeedback therapy is performed, and how well the individual understands the results, makes a big difference in the quality of the therapy. Just like any other medical/psychological treatment, a certified professional is the only one who can provide safe results. If you are unsure about whether this therapy is right for you, ask your doctor or therapist, they are the only ones who can answer that for you.

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