Biofeedback: What Is It And What Is It For?

We explain everything there is to know about a new type of therapy, Biofeedback.

Many things have changed since the standard mode of psychotherapy consisted of verbal healing that was proposed from  Freudian psychoanalysis.

One of those things has to do with the loss of popularity of psychoanalysis, yes, but there is also another factor at play: nowadays the development of technology makes it possible to propose therapy proposals that were inconceivable decades ago. The use of a technique called biofeedback is an example of this.

Biofeedback: sensor technology applied to psychotherapy

Biofeedback is, in short, a technique based on a system of sensors thanks to which the patient is aware in real time of various physiological parameters that describe the functioning of their body.

Thanks to biofeedback, a feedback loop is created thanks to which the person has it easier when learning to achieve optimal functional levels in aspects such as blood pulse, body temperature, etc. In other words, as the individual is informed in real time about what is happening in various parts of their body, they learn to associate these phenomena with certain sensations and, with a little practice, they become more capable of regulating certain bodily functions. .

Thus, biofeedback makes it easier to consciously control (and for our good) bodily processes that could otherwise get out of control in certain situations, negatively affecting our quality of life.

The usefulness of biofeedback

Decades ago it was believed that mental processes, everything that has normally been called “the conscious mind”, was separated from the bodily functions that ensure our survival, such as heart rate, sweating, etc. The idea was, basically, that both processes ran in parallel ways, or more specifically that the conscious mind is mounted on the basic physiology of our organism just as a peripheral device is coupled to a computer or a mobile phone.

However, the implementation of biofeedback represents a break with this belief, and has allowed the emergence of a new horizon of possibilities in therapy and learning in general. Thus, for example, biofeedback allows one to learn relaxation methods very effectively, cope with anxiety and even more effective ways of breathing.

At first, the use of biofeedback is still a challenge in which attention must be paid to both the sensations we experience and the information that the sensors give us, but little by little the progress that is made can be made more easy until they are present in our lives almost automatically.

Additionally, biofeedback has shown scientifically proven efficacy in the treatment of  insomnia ,  ADHD, chronic pain,  anxiety disorders and  phobias, and many others. Despite this, this technique continues to be of very recent appearance, and its usefulness and guarantees of efficacy continue to be a subject that is discussed in scientific communities, depending on the type of treatment to which it is intended to be applied.

Types of biofeedback

The defining idea of ​​biofeedback is what we have seen, and precisely because it is so simple it can be applied to many cases and be used with a wide variety of sensors, machines and computer programs. 

This means that the biofeedback technique can have several uses depending on the form it takes. These are its different types.

1. Neurofeedback

Thanks to neurofeedback, patients are informed about the way in which their brain is activated  in certain situations. This makes it possible for the patient to relate subjective experiences about what he feels and thinks with the feedback provided by machines, thus having a reference about in which moments and situations progress is made and when not.

Neurofeedback is the most obvious link between the application of biofeedback and psychology, since the measurements provide information about the state of the brain. However, there are also two other types of biofeedback.

2. Somatic nervous system registry

This is the type of biofeedback in which the sensors collect information about the somatic nervous system, which is the one that transmits voluntary commands from the brain to the muscles. Thus, this method makes it possible to record information related to muscle tone, mainly through a method called electromyogram.

3. Autonomic nervous system registry

The somatic nervous system is the one that transmits orders related to involuntary actions, such as the regulation of heart rhythm, body temperature or the type of substances secreted in the digestive system, among others. Therefore, using sensors on it allows better control of these processes and correcting them when there are imbalances.

How is biofeedback used?

Biofeedback sessions are always supervised by a therapist who will guide the entire process, from goal setting to the course of each of the sessions (which last less than an hour). 

At the beginning, the physiological function on which you want to intervene is chosen, how it reacts before the sessions is measured, and the objectives are set. Then, the biofeedback sessions are carried out, which are usually raised as if they were part of a training in which the most clearly active role is played by the patient. Finally, the results obtained are compared with the objectives set.

Occasionally, the patient can continue to use the biofeedback technique out of the office once the necessary instruments have been provided and they have learned to use them without asking for help. However, even if the therapist is not present in these cases, they will be able to consult the records obtained by the sensors to see the progress that has been made.

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