Brainwaves (Neurofeedback) • Heart function • Breathing • Sweat gland activity • Muscle activity • Skin temperature
These instruments rapidly and accurately “feed back” information to the user. The presentation of this information — often in conjunction with changes in thinking, emotions, and behavior — supports desired physiological changes. Over time, these changes can endure without continued use of an instrument.
Quite simply, biofeedback is like a window into the self. A good example to illustrate this is stress. In today’s fast paced world we are all familiar with stress and the negative impact it can have on our health. Most people can identify when they are feeling stressed, but may not be aware that during stressful periods their heart rate speeds up, their respiration rate increases and their muscles may be tense. With knowledge of these physiological changes comes the power to regulate them.
Biofeedback has been widely used by a variety of health professionals in the treatment of disorders such as anxiety, depression, ADHD, trauma and PTSD to name a few. In fact, the American Academy of Pediatrics has just upgraded neurofeedback to a level 1 treatment for ADHD.
You can learn more about biofeedback by visiting the websites of the AAPB (Association for Applied Psychophysiology and Biofeedback), the ISNR (International Society for Neurofeedback and Research) and the BCIA (Biofeedback Certification International Alliance). All three websites provide a wealth of information for professionals as well as anyone interested in learning more about this fascinating field.
During a biofeedback session, a therapist attaches one or several electrical sensors to parts of the body that yield information about the nervous system and convert the information into sound, pictures or a flashing light – something that can be perceived directly. For example, a temperature sensor on the finger can translate skin temperature into a beep tone that can be heard – the higher the skin temperature, the faster the rate of beeping. With that kind of “feedback” from the body, people can learn to warm their hands by raising the skin temperature. In doing this, they learn to consciously relax the pathways of the sympathetic nervous system that controls the “fight or flight response” which constricts blood vessels when stress levels are high. The same pathways can also be used to control changes in the body that accompany any high-stress condition or response, ultimately resulting in an improved state of relaxation, calmness or clarity.
Computerized software and portable devices are available that can offer biofeedback techniques to an individual with little-to-no professional training. Individuals can be taught or learn by self-instruction on the computer. Electrical sensors usually detect changes in pulse or heart rate variability and offer feedback by way of audio or visual cues, even in the form of a game experience.