Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Essay on Biofeedback Training and Self Regulation

Biofeedback Training and Self Regulation Essay

The human mind and body are linked at the most basic level of cause and effect. When something happens in the mind, something will change in the body. When something changes in the body, something will change in the mind almost instantaneously. The measurable output of such information is called biofeedback. These scientific facts are the foundation for the creation of one of the most powerful personal development and health care tools. (Amen) For decades, scientists have researched the many aspects of biofeedback and the ability to train the brain to manipulate the biofeedback of the human body. Some believe the aftermath of such training brings about changes in many health disorders and solutions to problems, ranging from depression to an athlete simply trying to enhance his or her performance. However, the issue of just how effective and reliable this training is has been a source of much conflict. The following questions, which are to be discussed in the sequential paragraphs, represent both the agreements and disagreements of the researchers of biofeedback:

1. What is biofeedback?
2. How can one skill treat so many diverse problems?
3. How can something that works so well, and have such acclaimed results, not be more prevalent?



What is Biofeedback?

A simple definition of biofeedback would be any psychophysiological information about our body that is measurable. These include blood pressure, temperature, and pulse. Biofeedback training, however, is the topic of discussion of this paper. Biofeedback training is the use of instruments to feedback psychophysiological information to a person. The information is called “psychophysiological” because psychological processes are carried out in physiological ways. (Green and Shellenberger) The instruments of biofeedback are designed to monitor, amplify, and feed back diverse biological processes including: heart rate, blood pressure, muscle tension, blood flow in the hands and feet, and brain waves. The biofeedback trainee or patient is then able to use that information to make changes in those processes. This information is useful in order for the patient to become conscious of, and voluntarily create, the physiological and psychological states that produce the desired physiological change. The important element of this training is that the patient or trainee is conscious. Consciousness is vital for such self regulation, and the information that is fed back is vital for consciousness. (Selye)

Analogies are often used to give clearer detail of the process of biofeedback training. One analogy relates the training to a mirror. Like a mirror, the only requirement of the instrument is that it provides the true reflection, useable and accurate information. Perhaps the most important similarity to a mirror is, the biofeedback instrument alone has no power to create change. Therefore, the human who is undergoing biofeedback training must use this “mirror” to control the process that is “reflected.” (Friedman and Rosenman)

How Can One Skill Treat So Many Diverse Problems?

Biofeedback training is the process of gaining control of self regulation, with of course the aid of information or feedback from our body. In order to ensure that biofeedback training is successful the patient needs have the following: goals, positive reinforcements for obtaining such goals, the appropriate instruments, and the feedback of information. Biofeedback is used to teach people to take more control over their health. It does this by making them become more aware of unhealthy behaviors, such as tensed muscles, constricted blood vessels or hypertension, over-reactive nervous system activity, rapid heart rate, respiration or sweat gland activity, or exaggerated, upsetting thoughts. (Charlesworth)

Biofeedback devices focus on body behaviors so that people get more information than their normal sensory awareness gives. Skills and strategies to increase self awareness and control are practiced by the individual in much the same way that a musical instrument is. After much practice the skills become automatic reflexes. The end result is a more stable, more normalized physiology and mind body interaction. Normally the use of drugs is gradually weaned under the supervision of the physician.

Although biofeedback training is pretty generalized there are many branches of it, which are more specialized for the different parts of the body and brain. These include: EMG muscle biofeedback, which measures the electrical activity created by muscle contractions. It is often used for relaxation and performance training, stress and pain management. Thermal or Temperature biofeedback uses temperature sensors to detect temperature changes of the extremity usually on fingertips or toes. It is often used to train people to quiet the nervous system arousal mechanisms which produce hand or foot cooling. It treats things such as relaxation, stress and pain management, arthritis, and anxiety. EEG biofeedback or Neurofeedback, is the fastest growing field of biofeedback, and trains the central nervous system. It feeds back brain electrical activity, or brainwaves. Popular uses for this are ADD/HD, depression, anxiety, insomnia, closed head injury, optimal functioning, creativity and peak performance, anger, Autism, and more. The last type SCL/ GSR/ EDR (Skin Conductance Level/ Galvanic Skin Response/ Electrodermal Response) measures the activity of the skin. Parts of it are based on sweat gland activity. This measure is very useful for relaxation and stress management training, and is also used in bilateral mode for ADD/HD. It can also be very useful with hypnosis. (Charlesworth)

How can something that works so well, and have such acclaimed results, not be more prevalent?

“The current medical model is based on a band-aid approach—fix and repair what’s broken.” (Green and Shellenberger) The biofeedback model, on the other hand, teaches people to become aware of and maintain a healthy state, using self control. Skills acquired with the aid of biofeedback continue to be used long after they rid themselves of the symptoms. The current medical model, as said by Green and Shellenberger (1986), drugs a problem or surgically removes it. The idea of re-setting a person’s nervous system and other body systems to a new, healthier level and maintaining them through trained skills is not generally used in medicine, except for a few areas where physical exercise is recommended. The health care system is organized so that doctors who perform surgery or get paid to medically manage a person on medication lose income if they make referrals to biofeedback or the thought of self regulation. The concept of biofeedback aiding stress reduction is not accepted by many health insurance companies.

Biofeedback research is criticized because it is not doing studies like drug studies. These studies are called double blind studies. Double blind studies require that the patient and the therapist not know which treatment or placebo is being provided. When the treatment requires training for increased patient awareness the double blind concept becomes impossible. For example, if you want a tennis player to hit a ball, the player needs to know how to make the swing. A double blind study might try to prevent the player from seeing where the ball went after it was hit, or it might prevent him or her from knowing if the ball was even hit. The information is part of the learning process. The same standards have been repeatedly applied to biofeedback research. According to Dr. Charlesworth (1984),

“M.D. research panels with serious conflicts of interest have repeatedly set research standards which blindly treat patients like laboratory rats. The problem is not in the lack of double blind studies. The problem is that double blind studies treat people like laboratory animals without minds, without the ability to take responsibility for their behavior. This symptom of the paternalistic medical model which assumes the patient will play a minimal role in his or her care—one of the reasons the character strengths of self responsibility and self reliance are eroding in the U.S.”

“The mind body connection is an incredibly powerful one. Biofeedback and self regulation have evolved as scientific approaches to utilize the potential for making the mind body system a resource in the health care equation rather than an ignored, irritating variable to be managed with drugs” (Middaugh).

Biofeedback and self regulation may be the answer to many health problems. Scientists and researchers have debated for many years whether it is totally accurate to give biofeedback training such credit. After all, it only allows a human to take control of what is already going on inside the body. Perhaps Elmer Green explained it best when he said, “We have not been informed that our bodies tend to do what they are told if we know how to tell them.”

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