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What is Biofeedback?

Excerpted from "An Introduction to Biofeedback"
by George D. Fuller Von Bozzay. Ph.D. and Pennie Sempell of the Biofeedback Institute of San Francisco

Biofeedback is the use of instrumentation to mirror psychophysiological processes of which the individual is not normally aware and which may be brought under voluntary control. This provides ones with immediate information about their biological conditions. This could include: muscle tension, skin surface temperature, brain wave activity, galvanic skin response, blood rate and heart rate. This feedback helps the individual play a more active role in managing their health.

Countless tiny minute changes constantly occur in our bodies. There are changes in muscle activity, brain wave patterns, heart rate, blood flow, hormonal and gastric acidity. Many of these changes are related to psychological factors, including stress, arousal, fear, sexual excitement, anxiety and relaxation. Learning to manage this interaction of the mind and the body underlies much of biofeedback training.

An example of this type of learning is the familiar experience of learning to hit the "bull's eye" with a dart. If we had to learn blindfolded without any knowledge of how close or far our throws had been from the center, we would have almost no chance of improving, but our eyes give us feedback. Instantaneously they tell us, "Oh, I threw a little too far to the right (or left)." With practice at throwing darts and getting feedback, we have a much better chance of improving than if we had been blindfolded. Yet, we don't really understand exactly which nerves directed which muscles in exactly what manner nor were we aware of just how our brain synthesized all the feedback information. Still, we can now hit the bull's eye and we have a greater awareness of how to do it. Biofeedback is like our eyes in the bull's eye example. It gives us information we need to gain better control over something we wish to do voluntarily. Thus, biofeedback is essentially a learning technique that allows the individual control over some physiological and psychological processes.

Biofeedback has applications in general relaxation training, neuromuscular re-education, exploration in psychotherapy, stuttering, tinnitus management, diagnosis and demonstration of mind-body interaction, and asthma, just to name a few. Because psychological and medically related issues usually involve cases where biofeedback is useful, it's important that clients seek consultation with licensed health professionals experienced in the use of biofeedback in addition to their area of expertise. Professional biofeedback societies have been established in some states to set standards for training professionals and assistants in biofeedback. These groups also provide educational services to the public. Persons interested in biofeedback services should contact the Biofeedback Society of California (San Francisco) or the Biofeedback Society of America (Denver, Colorado) or their state's local society.


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