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Biofeedback is a clinically-proven therapy that uses specialized non-invasive equipment to monitor and display your physiological activity in order to expand your awareness and increase control of your body.  Biofeedback is an empirically supported treatment of several anxiety disorders including:

  • panic disorder

  • phobias

  • generalized anxiety disorder

  • obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)

  • posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD)

How do biofeedback therapists assess anxiety disorder patients?

After a medical evaluation to rule out medical diseases and medications that can produce the symptoms of anxiety, a biofeedback practitioner may conduct a psychophysiological profile that monitors your breathing, finger temperature, heart rhythm, skeletal muscle activity, and skin conductance during resting, mild stressor, and recovery conditions using biofeedback sensors. The psychophysiological profile will enable your biofeedback provider to develop an individualized training program to correct abnormal physiological changes associated with anxiety episodes.

Frequent findings during biofeedback stress tests of patients with anxiety disorders include:

  • shallow, rapid breathing

  • constriction of the small arteries of the fingers

  • reduced heart rate variability

  • contraction of muscles in the upper shoulders, neck, and forehead

  • increased sweat gland activity

Neurofeedback is a specialized form of biofeedback for the brain based on regulating the brain's electrical frequencies, or EEG, in order to teach the brain to produce brainwaves that are not associated with anxiety or low stress tolerance.  Over several sessions, the brain is trained to learns to produce healthier types of brainwave frequencies though operant conditioning and learning theory.  The changes are shown to be permanent.  Individuals with anxiety disorders have been shown to have higher, faster frequencies of brain activity in areas of their brain associated with emotion.  By training these areas of the brain to produce less of this fast frequency activity, the brain learns to calm and the client is better able to handle stressful situations and decrease overall anxiety. 

How does biofeedback treat anxiety disorders?

Biofeedback training methods may combine cognitive behavior therapy (CBT), which is a form of psychotherapy, with one or more kinds of biofeedback training, including:

  • EMG biofeedback (skeletal muscle activity)

  • heart rate variability biofeedback (timing between heartbeats)

  • respiratory biofeedback (breathing patterns)

  • skin conductance biofeedback (sweat gland activity)

  • temperature biofeedback (blood flow through small arteries)

What is the client's role in biofeedback training?

Biofeedback therapists assign “homework” during each training session. You are expected to note symptoms and practice self-regulation skills in between training sessions. These assignments often involve:

  • lifestyle modification, in which you change routine behaviors like diet and exercise

  • biofeedback practice, in which you practice self-regulation using portable biofeedback devices that range in sophistication from a disposable thermometer to a compact heart rate variability trainer

  • relaxation exercises, which may involve practice in reducing arousal that takes from 15 seconds to 30 minutes

  • self-monitoring, in which you record your symptoms, performance, or daily experience

Why is “homework” important to your success?

These assignments help you to increase your awareness and control to the diverse settings and activities of your daily life. Practice allows you to transfer your new skills from the clinic to everyday life where you need them. Studies confirm that successful biofeedback patients practice at least occasionally.

There are many reasons why regular practice contributes to success:

  • Practice devotes more time on task. When you practice five times a week for 30 minutes, you have added 6 ½ hours to the 1-2 hours you spend in the biofeedback clinic.

  • Practice extends training to new settings and activities. Just because you can warm your hands in the clinic does not mean that you can warm them at home or at the office. You may need to practice in each setting to transfer your self-control skill to that setting.

  • Practice allows you to consciously correct unhealthy behaviors like shallow, rapid breathing or muscle bracing.

  • Practice makes self-control automatic. You may need to practice a relaxation skill like skeletal muscle relaxation for 6 months until you can perform it automatically at the first sign of trouble.


Source: 2015


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