Biofeedback

Mixing modern machines with alternative healing

Biofeedback describes procedures and treatments using electronic instrumentation to convey information to patients about their autonomic nervous systems and their muscles, in the form of audio and/or visual signals that patients can understand. It does sound more like a hospital test than a complementary therapy doesn't it?

Psychotherapy.com does a good job of describing this kind of treatment. For starters, biofeedback is a very general term meaning, in essence, information about your biological condition. So, in the loosest sense, stepping on a weigh scale is a kind of biofeedback - you now know your weight and can make decisions on the basis of having that information. But advocates of biofeedback as a form of health therapy have taken this further: they have developed technologies that monitor other biological processes, such as blood pressure, pulse rate and breathing rate, but in such a way that the patient has immediate feedback in the form of an audible sound or visible light representing differences in bodily response - a light flashing more frequently as your pulse speeds up, for example.

What's the point? Well, monitoring the body's condition can, in some cases, help us monitor our mental condition. For example, a patient, through biofeedback, can learn to slow down his or her heart rate when feeling stress or anxiety. This will actually have the effect of diminishing the very stress that was increasing the heart rate.

The applications are more than just psychological, though. Patients who need physical rehabilitation for damaged or paralyzed muscles can benefit from biofeedback. Machines can tell them how effectively they are electrically stimulating a muscle when they focus on using it. This becomes a way of quantifying willpower, and helping patients learn to focus their mental efforts to produce maximum muscle stimulation.

This kind of approach has its limitations, and many human conditions - emotional or physical - cannot be measured or manipulated with biofeedback. But it has been shown, through clinical research and practice, to have beneficial effects on a number of health conditions. This approach to treatment is particularly useful for conditions that are related to stress. Stress, while a mental condition, is grounded in the body's primitive biology. Stress can actually hurt our bodies over time, yet stress can also be controlled, to some extent, by the brain. Biofeedback can be a way to treat people who are suffering from stress-related problems.

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