What is biofeedback?
Biofeedback is an intervention technique in which a trained practitioner uses electronic equipment to monitor one or more of a person’s autonomic functions like heart rate, skin temperature, muscle tension, or brainwaves. Information about these functions is then fed back to the person in real time in the form of graphs, audio signals, movies, or even video games. In most types of biofeedback, the person is asked to consciously control these monitored functions by, for example, relaxing tense muscles or slowing their breathing. The person can then watch the results of their efforts via this electronic feedback. Biofeedback sessions average about 30 minutes but vary in length depending on the particular technique being used and the intended outcome.
The main goal of all types of biofeedback is to help a person learn to bring some of his or her own autonomic functions under control. In most cases the intention is conscious control, but in some instances the intention is to train the subconscious mind to automatically keep these functions at optimal levels. This is most often the case, for example, with EEG neurofeedback (or EEG biofeedback), a subtype of biofeedback that monitors brainwave activity. EEG neurofeedback often takes the form of movies or video games that change alongside changes in the person’s monitored brainwaves, by for instance stopping, starting, or speeding up. If the ultimate goal is subconscious control, then the person will simply watch or play without deliberately trying to control what is happening.
It is not uncommon to hear people in the psychiatric drug withdrawal community report that biofeedback has been helpful in easing anxiety, lessening the intensity of the body’s ramped up “fight or flight” response, decreasing irritability, and helping with despair and sadness. Some do report that when their cognitive function is especially impaired during withdrawal, this can make completing sessions more difficult. Others also report that because insurance doesn’t typically cover biofeedback, it can be pricey.
Biofeedback is widely accepted within the mainstream Western scientific community for treating physical problems like incontinence, but its efficacy in helping with emotional struggles or impaired cognitive function is debated. The efficacy of EEG neurofeedback tends to be more controversial.
Where can I find more information?
- There are many videos available online that demonstrate biofeedback and neurofeedback.
- An overview of biofeedback’s current uses in western medicine.
- The website for the Association of Applied Psychophisiology and Biofeedback includes help for finding practitioners, research articles and training and certification information.