Reviewed by Robert Bogenberger
What Is Biofeedback Therapy?
Biofeedback therapy is a mind-body technique that helps a person recognize and learn to control some of the body’s physiological functions, such as heart rate or muscle tension. By learning how to manage these functions, a person can use the techniques to reduce the physical symptoms of stress, anxiety, and other mental health issues.
The increasing availability of technology and biofeedback devices has made using biofeedback therapy and techniques easier1. Biofeedback has a wide range of applications. It can reduce blood pressure, relieve pain and improve gastric function in adults. It has also been effective in helping children reduce dental anxiety2, bedwetting, and symptoms of asthma.
What Is the Goal of Biofeedback Therapy?
The goal of biofeedback therapy is to improve a person’s health or performance by making them more aware and in control of their physical responses to mental stressors.
Physical and mental health affect one another. When we feel stressed mentally, our body reacts physically: muscles tighten, breath shortens, heart rate increases. Some of these physical responses are within our control to change and redirect, as long as we are able to notice them. Biofeedback therapy teaches us how to recognize when physical responses are within our control to change, minimize, or mitigate.
Biofeedback therapy has been used to help prevent and treat conditions like migraine and chronic pain. In addition, biofeedback therapy can be used to help reduce the physical effects of stress and anxiety.
How Does Biofeedback Therapy Work?
Biofeedback therapy uses a number of different techniques. Your therapist will match the best techniques for the particular goal or health issue that you are experiencing. In general, biofeedback therapy works by teaching the client how to recognize and control bodily functions like heart rate, temperature, and muscle tension.
Biotherapy Techniques and What To Expect
A biofeedback therapy session is more like training than therapy. Clients wear a biofeedback device that measures the specific body function that the session is focusing on and provides visual or auditory feedback for the function.
Depending on the health issues to be addressed, many different physical functions can be monitored. Measures of heart rate, breathing, muscle tension, blood flow, and brain waves have all been used in biofeedback therapy
Using the feedback from the device and relaxation techniques from the therapist, the individual learns to control or change that function by changing thoughts, emotions, or feelings. Common examples include:
- A person with frequent tension headaches hearing a tone that rises or falls as the muscles in their head tense or relax
- A child trying to move a ball on a video screen by producing relaxing brain waves to reduce anxiety
Biofeedback therapy sessions last between 30 to 90 minutes. The number of sessions and the length of the session depends on the overall goals of the therapy. In some cases, biofeedback devices are able to be purchased for home use. Clients should be aware that not all insurances cover biofeedback therapy.
Benefits of Biofeedback Therapy
Biofeedback helps people become more aware of their body and its reactions. By learning to recognize reactions that lead to anxiety, pain, or stress, people can learn to control these reactions and improve their mental and physical health.
Other benefits include:
- It’s noninvasive and painless: Unlike some medications or more invasive treatments, biofeedback therapy occurs outside of the body and generally has no negative side effects.
- It can be used with other treatments: Biofeedback doesn’t generally interfere with other treatments, like medications, so it can be used alongside other therapies.
- It can help people who might not be able to take other treatments: For people who cannot tolerate medications or are limited in options that work for them, biofeedback can offer an alternative therapy.
It can help control emotions: Through practice, people using biofeedback therapy may be able to have better control of their emotions and reactions to life events.
6 Types of Biofeedback Therapy
1. Heart Rate Variability Biofeedback
During heart rate variability feedback, clients are equipped with devices to measure their heart rate in real time. Then, they learn techniques that will help them change their heart rate at will. Studies have shown that this type of biofeedback therapy can be helpful for issues like anxiety3, asthma, and irregular heart rates.
2. Neurofeedback (EEG Biofeedback)
During neurofeedback, also known as electroencephalography (EEG) feedback, sensors are applied to the brain. This type of biofeedback has been used for attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) as well as some seizure disorders.
3. Electromyogram (EMG Biofeedback)
With electromyography (EMG), sensors are placed on the body, and the EMG measures muscle activity and tension. EMG biofeedback can help teach people how to improve or relieve chronic pain.
4. Thermal Biofeedback
During thermal feedback, sensors are placed on the skin to measure body temperature. One use of this type of biofeedback is for stress. When a person experiences stress, their skin temperature tends to lower, so becoming more aware of this can help someone notice when they are experiencing stress.
5. Galvinic Skin Response
A Galvinic skin response is used to measure the amount of sweat on the skin. This can help detect emotional reactions. This biofeedback technique has been used for anxiety and pain.
6. Pelvic Floor Biofeedback
Pelvic floor biofeedback treatment involves retraining the muscles of the pelvic floor in order to help patients with bowel or bladder function issues or pain. Sensors that relay muscle activity to a computer can help individuals learn to control muscle function. Biofeedback may be combined with muscle exercise to help patients.
Biofeedback Therapy in Treatment
Biofeedback therapy has been used for a wide variety of conditions and mental health issues. These iInclude:
- Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
- Chronic pain
- Stress management
- Tension headaches
- Brain injuries
Biofeedback therapy can also be used alongside of other therapies designed to strengthen the mind-body connection, including:
- Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)
- Somatic therapy
- Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR)
- Mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR)
Biofeedback devices can range from medical equipment to at-home wearable devices. Therapists can help clients determine which devices may be useful for the specific type of biofeedback therapy used and the goals of the therapy.
- Clinical biofeedback devices: These devices are often FDA-approved and found in the offices of biofeedback therapists. Although some may be authorized for home use, most are used under the direction of a therapist.
- Personal biofeedback devices: Personal use wearables are increasingly available and affordable. Some devices are designed for biofeedback and can involve wearing sensors that monitor bodily functions. Others may have a wider use but can function for biofeedback. Both types may deliver results via apps or through connecting the device to a personal computer.
Is Biofeedback Therapy Right for You?
Biofeedback therapy can help strengthen the mind-body connection and allow people to strengthen their mental health through physical techniques. Visit a biofeedback therapist to learn more about whether biofeedback therapy is a good option for you.
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