Biofeedback therapy, as the name suggests, is a therapy that uses the mind to control the body. Also called the mind-body therapy, it is fast emerging as a complementary and alternate healing technique that can help treat a variety of physical and mental health problems. Practitioners have found clinical evidence that this technique is helpful in treating 150 medical conditions, some of which are asthma, all kinds of digestive disorders, headaches, urinary incontinence, high blood pressure, hot flashes, nausea associated with chemotherapy and others. Even where no apparent problem or symptoms of a particular disease are present the biofeedback therapy can be used to maintain an overall state of health and well-being.
Biofeedback technique lays a singular emphasis on the patient and his understanding of his physical state, which forms the base upon which the therapist builds his diagnosis and charts further course of treatment. This perhaps is the only form of therapy which lays an emphasis on both, the therapist, and the patient alike and their joint/shared perspective in the prognosis of the illness. Like in meditation where the body and the mind are singularly aligned, similarly in the biofeedback technique, the internal state of the body is relayed to the mind by a set of extraneous devices. The mind is thus impressed upon to take corrective action and retract the body to a state of equilibrium. Thus, biofeedback gives one a feedback about one’s body and is used as a means to achieve better control over the physiological processes.
Biofeedback is said to have made it’s beginnings in the late 60s and grew as a much hyped tool in the 1970s. It has continued to be of interest to the healing community. Some practitioners are of the opinion that biofeedback is not a form of treatment per se; rather it is a process of increasing the familiarization of the patient with his body. In this sense it is educational and it requires immense focus and practice. To be aware of one’s bodily state and any alterations that go with it requires total concentration and will power. With increased practice, one is able to gain control over the physical state of despair more easily and gradually decrease stress, pain and discomfort in exchange for a healthier and smoother lifestyle.
 Why Do We Need Biofeedback?
Our bodies are automated or conditioned to react in basically two ways whenever confronted with a stressful situation. A person, in the advent of a stressful event usually resorts to a ‘fight, or a flight’ response. In the former, a person usually confronts the stressor while in the later, the person runs away from the same. The kind of reaction a person adopts is situation specific. It is also time specific, meaning to say that a person may change his reactions to the same stressor at two different points of time. All of these are based of individual judgments about the outcome of his reactions to the stress inducing event or factor. Needless to say, whichever way a person may choose to react, there is a change in the physiological processes within the body. The heart beat increases, there is increased blood flow, the body temperature rises, the muscles tense, there is increased sweating, the blood pressure level increases etc. This ultimately leads to increased stress. While most practitioners do not always view stress as harmful and advocate that an optimum level of stress may actually be good for the body since it helps in keeping the individual mentally and physically alert and agile, too much of it is harmful and may at times be even potentially dangerous.
Given the environment and the times we live in, a person lives under duress most of the time. Each episode of stress puts a lot of strain on the individuals body, this episode is usually followed by a state of relaxation where the body gets time to repair, heal and return to a state of normalcy. Too many episodes of this constant tensing and relaxing are actually the root of a variety of ailments because the person does not get adequate time to adjust to these frequent changes. In fact, the levels of stress the person can withstand gradually increases over time and in doing so the bodily state of relaxation are slowly obliterated from the consciousness. This high strung physiological state ultimately is responsible for specific disorders such as high blood pressure levels, digestive disorders, migraines, neurosis etc. In totality the wearing and tearing of the human body, not due to age or any specific illness, can only be ascribed to individual inability to cope with the stressors present in his life as his incapacity to relax, calm down and bring back his body to a state of equilibrium.
The bio feedback technique attempts to provide information about a persons own physiological state, so as to enable the person to take corrective actions. Hence it is viewed as a technique in which individuals are trained to control the internal bodily processes, not apparent from the outside, but are nevertheless harmed when the person is in a stressful situation. These internal processes are also thought to be involuntary which makes them far more difficult to control. However with the help of a bio feed back technique, an individual has the option of receiving data about his heart rate, blood pressure level, muscular tension, and skin temperature. The practitioner views the data, analyses it and discusses the consequence of any abnormalities found in the data. The person is then taught to use this data and control the internal physiological processes. Gaining control over the body cannot be achieved without gaining control over the mind since it is assumed that the mind and body share a symbiotic relationship. The synergy between the two makes it imperative that both the mind and the body, together, as a united whole are targeted. Biofeedback attempts to do just this and reduces not only physical signs of stress but also the mental wear and tear involved.
 Biofeedback- How does it work?
Theorists are divided on the principle on which the biofeedback technique works. However many would tend to base it on the Operant Conditioning theory by Skinner which premises, among other things, that desirable behaviour can be achieved by adopting a host of positive rein forcers. Hence when a person is under stress and there are considerable signs of physiological discomfort, the biofeedback therapist can help provide relief by teaching the person a host of relaxation techniques. When a person, through these techniques controls his internal processes, the feedback records this and this success acts as a positive reinforce. In subsequent feedback sessions, these positives reinforce moulds and change the behavioural pattern of the person making him more able to deal with stress.
The three most commonly used forms of feedback techniques that are available are electromyography or EMG which measures muscular tension, Thermal biofeedback which measures the skin temperature and the Neuro- feedback or electroencephalography (EEG) which measures brain wave activity. The particular technique or device adopted is dependant upon the medical condition and the overall objectives set out by the patient and the practitioner. The EMG used electrodes and other types of sensors to understand the extent of muscle tension. It therefore promotes muscular relaxation. The thermal feedback works via sensors attached to the tips of the fingers or feet. It has been seen that under stress the body temperature usually drops. Hence a low reading would prompt the person to begin relaxation techniques. The Galvanic skin response training gives the reading of the amount of sweat produced by the person in stressful situations. This information can be extremely helpful in conditions as phobias, anxiety based disorders etc An EEG monitors the activity of brain waves under various mental conditions prompts action whenever there is an abnormality.
A typical biofeedback session lasts for 30 – 60 minutes. There are electrical sensors attached to the body which alert the mind via auditory or visual signals, about the body’s reaction to stress. Thus in case there is a light flashing or a beeping sound is heard, the person overtime and with some help and practice will start to associate it with a certain physiological reaction to stress and will take the pertinent action. Each successful session acts as reinforcement and finally the person is ready to reach the final goal- that of recognizing the physical symptoms and producing the required responses without the help of technology.
 Does it work?
Biofeedback as a technique may have a lot of takers due to its immense potential to rid the body of its ailments without the use of medication. Unlike in other alternate healing processes that are not backed by any scientific evidence. The individual is put in charge of the healing process and can easily monitor the progress since it is mostly a self help process. Alongside the medical costs are considerably low. However sceptics argue that the entire technique lacks a theoretical backing. Most practitioners and patients alike cannot explain how they have been able to control their bodies. As in most faith healing methods, this too is based entirely on individual faith in the therapy. Most researchers state that the effects, although universal, is unpredictable and by and large psychological in nature. However with the advances in brain imaging techniques, researchers have blown the above notion away and have shown that such faith healing methods do promote the brain to actually release endorphins or natural pain relieving substances. Thus drug effectiveness is enhanced by the power of the mind and a chemical minus faith will be of little use to the individual. It is in the light of these arguments that the biofeedback technique scores.
- What is biofeedback?
- Biofeedback Infocenter
 Further Readings
- Biofeedback for Clients