Biofeedback – Part 2: How It Works

It is common knowledge that certain specific body functions, controlled by the central nervous system, can be measured theoretically. What's more, such a "test" as this can also be further "fed-back"--for improving both physical and mental well-being. Scientifically speaking, the parameters, for such a progression, are wholly related to the contraction of voluntary muscles, skin temperature of the arms and legs, brain-wave activity, electrical conductivity of the skin, heart rate, blood pressure, and the rhythmic contractions of the intestine.

Which explains why biofeedback instruments, for any given purpose, range from small portable units to hi-tech gadgets. However, the best machine, low-tech or advanced, practitioners suggest, would be the one that could unobtrusively facilitate a dialogue between a patient's conscious mind and his/her physiology.

During a typical biofeedback session, recording equipment is attached lightly to the area of interest. It is, thereafter, connected to the biofeedback instrument by wires. Soon, faint electrical, or any other, activity is evaluated--allowing for varying numerical scores to emerge--all of them with the view of actually quantifying a sensation. A person, for example, may "visualize" images that move him/her to a particular goal. Alternatively, of the Sun warming him/her--by raising the temperature of his/her hands made cold by anxiety.

In like manner, a weak electrical sensation may be placed--for a more obtainable benefit. So much so, when a patient is asked to concentrate and influence feedback in a desired direction, s/he observes what realistically works to bring about a change in either a positive or negative direction. Hence, initiatives that achieve the desired change are often selected, defined, and refined, to suit a given situation or need. Needless to say, the idea would enable a person to learn, almost on volition, and enter into that mental state which can alter his/her physiology--without the use of feedback equipment...in due course of time.

The frequency of biofeedback sessions may, of course, differ--25 to 45 minutes. The length of treatment may also vary at individual levels. Treatment should, therefore, be terminated, or suspended, when the patient has realistically learned and promoted a habit strong enough to be incorporated into his/her self-image--one that has given the maximum benefit, or relief. In addition, it would also be helpful for one to understand when a "booster" session would be needed: for better results.

It must, however, be emphasized that biofeedback is not simply placebo therapy, albeit many discerning researchers and investigators have broad-based their argument on it, and other psychological parameters. Protagonists are, of course, convinced that the patient's innate ability to perceiving what is happening inside his/her body is fostered by (bio)feedback in several ways.

What is the reason? Even a weak or unusual sensation, for example, can be strengthened and used--after electronically recording the information about the continuously changing functional processes involved. The concentrated data, thus, obtained are presented to the patient through one of our major routes of sensory inputs--sight, hearing, or touch. This overall journey, when collated, allows the person to use trial-and-error routes--to explore "how" and "what" s/he feels vis-à-vis influences on a particular bodily function.

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