An Overview of
Biofeedback Techniques

Biofeedback is a complementary and alternative medical treatment which uses a variety of methods to measure the body’s processes, with the intent to help you become aware of these processes and to learn to gain conscious control of them. Generally, biofeedback involves using a device to aid your awareness of your own responses to stimulus. The theory is that by recognizing the ‘feeling’ of a bodily process, you can work to gain physical control of it.

The theory was proposed in the 1960s by Neal Miller, a Yale University neuroscientist who discovered that rats could be taught to control their heart rates, pulse and other bodily processes once believed to be automatic and involuntary. Biofeedback has been used to treat a number of conditions, including asthma, incontinence, ADHD, anxiety, headaches, high blood pressure and cardiac arrhythmias.

The popularity of biofeedback as a treatment for medical conditions has waxed and waned since the 1960s, and it is currently on the rise again. Its use has been widely accepted as a treatment for incontinence disorders, particularly bedwetting, and for the control of hypertension in adults. There are also psychiatrists who use biofeedback as a conditioning tool to help patients deal with phobias.

There are a variety of biofeedback approaches used for various forms of treatment. The most common approaches measure brainwaves, body temperature, heart rate, pulse and galvanic skin tension. Here's a quick look at some of these:

  • Electromyogram feedback measures muscle tension and is used to treat stress-related illnesses
  • Galvanic skin tension biofeedback measures the activities of sweat glands, and is used to treat anxiety related illnesses like phobias and stuttering.
  • Temperature biofeedback measures skin temperature and is used to treat circulatory disorders including high blood pressure and migraine headaches.

The Evidence In Favor
The strongest evidence of the effectiveness of biofeedback is in the area of bedwetting and other incontinence disorders, though there is recent research that has shown biofeedback can help people learn to lower their blood pressure and heart rate. In addition there are small studies and anecdotal reports that biofeedback is useful in:

  • Anger management
  • Treatment of insomnia
  • Treatment of phobias and anxiety
  • Controlling migraines
  • Treatment of sleep disorders
  • Controlling hunger
  • Controlling impulse behavior in patients with ADHD

Criticisms of Biofeedback Therapy
Most criticisms of biofeedback are based on a lack of scientific evidence that it works. In addition, there are some who criticize it as a uselessly expensive therapy that is used in place of less expensive but just as effective options such as meditation and relaxation exercises.


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