Biofeedback counseling is an innovative counseling technique used to teach awareness about the body’s unconscious physiological processes. It is effective in teaching patients how to alleviate stress and to take control of their own health.
A recent study by the American Academy of Family Physicians found that two-thirds of all visits to family doctors are linked to stress-related symptoms. Biofeedback is used to teach the unconscious mind to respond to stress and lessen its effects on the mind and body. It has proven useful in combating a variety of ailments including: addictions, anxiety, asthma, insomnia, chronic pain, depression, fatigue, headaches, high blood pressure and irritable bowel syndrome.
Biofeedback treatment involves attaching sensors or electrodes to the body that provide a variety of readings — instant feedback — on things such as skin temperature, muscle tension and brainwave function.
During a session, the patient is asked about a life event, such as a stressful situation at work. The patient’s response to this event, which could involve a cooling of the hands, tensing of the muscles or sweating, is instantly recognized and “fed back” to the patient by a machine. This trains the patient to understand, and unconsciously respond to, the effects of stress through self-regulation techniques, such as taking deep breaths, relaxing tensed muscles or even slowing the heart rate.
Recently, the technique has gained popularity as a way to help top athletes relax in high-stress situations. In fact, four members of the Italian national soccer team used biofeedback as part of their training for the 2006 World Cup, while India’s lone gold medalist from the 2008 Summer Olympic Games in Beijing, Abhinav Bindra, cited biofeedback as a key ingredient in his 10-meter air rifle victory.
Research suggests that biofeedback is as good or better than any medication for controlling headache and jaw pain related to excess muscle tension.
Benefits of biofeedback are not limited to the office. Follow-up studies several months after ending formal biofeedback treatment show that people who continue practicing cognitive-behavioral techniques often experience symptom relief.
Regarding high blood pressure treatment, research supports biofeedback as being consistently effective for blood pressure reduction and maintenance. In fact, the biofeedback device used by the Center for Psychological Services is the first non-pharmacological treatment approved by the FDA for controlling hypertension.
Research on biofeedback to control psychological and behavioral conditions such as anxiety and ADHD suggests significant symptom reduction, particularly when used in combination with cognitive-behavioral techniques. For example, breathing techniques learned through biofeedback, combined with techniques to re-direct anxious thoughts, often reduce physiological and psychological symptoms associated with anxiety.
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