What is Biofeedback the Biofeedback is a therapy that is used to control body functions through the feedback system that has our body.
The word biofeedback, which can be translated as “biofeedback”, could be considered as a learning technique, widely used in the discipline of psychology.
What is Biofeedback
Defining the word biofeedback is often complicated and far-fetched, but in reality the essence of this technique is quite simple.
We will go in parts to better understand the nature of this technique.
- Our body continually performs an infinite number of automatic functions (such as breathing, blinking, circulating blood, etc.) as well as being voluntary (walking, looking, lifting arms …).
- All these functions do not go unnoticed for our brain, since it is our mind that controls all our actions.
- On the one hand, our brain is in charge of “start up” all the functions that our body performs.
- On the other hand, our brain receives information about the state of the function being developed.
- That is, our brain is responsible for sending the necessary information to our body to perform any function, and in turn, our body sends information to our brain about the development of these functions, so that this one knows what is happening.
- Well, it is this last point, the collection of information that the brain makes about the state of the functions performed in our body, what we understand as feedback, and on which the biofeedback technique is based.
Once this is clarified, we can dare a little more in the definition of biofeedback.
Thus, biofeedback could be defined as a technique that is intended to control, voluntarily and consciously, a function that makes our body automatically. This voluntary control over function is done through the feedback system of our brain.
So far, in spite of not having deepened in how this technique works, I think it is becoming clear the concept that works the biofeedback, which is the following one:
Use our mind’s feedback information about the functions of the body, to be aware of physiological changes of our body that normally go unnoticed, and to acquire a greater capacity of control over certain functions.
What is Biofeedback for?
With training in biofeedback, it is possible to acquire a type of learning that allows to control consciously the physiological functions that are considered as uncontrollable, or that are beyond voluntary control.
By doing this learning, you are actually training in improving your health as you learn to control processes such as sweating, muscle tension or blood pressure.
Being able to control these types of functions, allow you to have a greater facility to reach a state of relaxation when you are overexcited or stressed, as well as regulate the involuntary functions of your body when you feel discomfort, and thus decrease it.
And what is the best of everything?
For each physiological change is accompanied by a change in mental and emotional state.
So when you are anxious, you have a series of thoughts, an emotion of over excitation or stress and some physiological changes such as increased heart rate, sweating or pupil dilation.
In this way, when you control your physiological changes you are also controlling your psychological and emotional state.
That is to say: you perform a psychological therapy in reverse!
Usually psychotherapy works on your mental state, thoughts, cognitions, emotions and behaviors, to eliminate the alteration and thus eliminate the physiological symptoms that it produces in your body.
Biofeedback training instead, allows you to learn to control the physiological states that occur in your body, so that by changing these, whether your psychological state is benefited.
It is therefore not surprising that biofeedback is a technique that is applied in very different areas of medicine as well as psychology.
In the field of psychology is effective to treat disorders such as phobias, neurosis, anxiety, stress, depression, ADHD , eating disorders or insomnia , among others. As well as training elite athletes to control their activation and relaxation while competing or training.
In the field of medicine it is mostly used to treat asthma, side effects of chemotherapy, chronic pain, hypertension, constipation or incontinence.
How does biofeedback work?
So far we know more or less what biofeedback training is all about. But you’re still wondering how this type of training works. How can I control the internal processes of my body?
First of all, it should be noted that each biofeedback session will be different since it is a personalized therapy. The same training in biofeedback may not be useful for everyone.
The training will be in one form or another depending on the aspects that the patient wants to be treated, and the stage of training in which they are.
So, if you decide to go to a specialist for biofeedback training, it should not be surprising that therapy begins with an initial interview, where you must explain both your medical history and the problems you want to treat with therapy.
Also, this first interview will also be useful so that the therapist can explain in detail the type of training you will perform, which consists of each session, how long the intervention will last and what delicate situations we might encounter.
Having clarified this, now we can go and see what a typical biofeedback training session is, which, although varying in each case, contains 6 basic stages. They are the following:
The first phase begins with the detection and measurement of the signals produced by our body.
To measure the signals of the functioning of our organism are placed electrodes by the body, which will be in charge of detecting them and transmit them to the biofeedback device.
In this first phase of detection we can choose between two types of techniques:
- The invasive ones, in which the electrodes are inserted inside the subject.
- Non-invasive, in which the electrodes are placed on the surface of the skin.
But what signs are we detecting?
Well, it depends on what we want to deal with.
- In this first phase of training, we can use 3 different devices depending on the functions of our body that we want to measure.
- If we want to obtain information about the somatic nervous system, the instrument we will use will be an electromyogram.
- If we want to record and measure the responses of our autonomic nervous system , we will use blood pressure control.
- And finally, if what we collect are the functions performed by our central nervous system, we will use the electroencephalogram.
This first phase of training, which only involves the use of several devices to quantify the records of our body functions, allows us to obtain all the information necessary to define the type of biofeedback training to be performed.
Once the signal is recorded, a series of actions are carried out to convert the signal produced by the organism into a stimulus that is capable of producing the same action as the signal and that can act as feedback during training.
The first of all is the amplification of the signal, then the processing and the filter will come, and finally the conversion.
The physiological signals that we have collected through the different instruments are processed and analyzed by the biofeedback device. However, in order to analyze the collected signals it is necessary to amplify them.
Thus, the magnitude or intensity of the response collected in a controlled manner, with the minimum possible distortion, is magnified in order to perform
Signal processing and filtering
Once amplified the signal must be filtered.
What does this mean?
Very simple: Normally, the signals that we can register of our body (the blood pressure, the muscular contraction, the electrical activity of the brain, etc.) are not pure, since they may have been captured by other potentials, Signal with which we intend to work.
To do this, the signal captured with the electrodes is filtered through different frequency ranges. Once the signal is filtered, it is processed.
The processing consists of converting the internal signal of the organism that has been registered in the biofeedback device, into visual, auditory signals or direct information to the subject.
To do this, there are two techniques:
- Integration: is to simplify the feedback signal. It is done by accumulating sets of isolated signals that occur in a certain period of time, with the aim of converting them into a single signal that can function as a representative of all sets of signals.
- The response threshold: with this technique, the facilitation of information or feedback to the subject is performed only when the signal exceeds (either above or below) a certain previously established amplitude.
Conversion to auditory or visual cues
In this phase, the signals that have already been processed finally become a stimulus that can be perceived and evaluated by the patient.
The aim of this stimulus is that it is capable of producing the physiological function we have recorded, and with which we want to work.
Once we have the physiological signal converted into stimulus, it is time to set the goals of the training.
In this phase, then, what is intended to be achieved with the training, and what the objectives are both short and long term.
Setting these goals is essential to be able to carry out an adequate follow-up of the training, and to quantify if the procedures and processes performed are adequate to the objective.
We finally reached the important phase of the intervention. The training itself.
Biofeedback signal integration
In this phase, the measuring devices used in the beginning of the therapy will be connected again. However, now we will not only lie down while the machine works.
And is that during training, the signals that our body sends to our brain, we will come through the stimuli that have been made previously.
That is, we will be presenting the stimuli that the expert has made. These stimuli may be:
- Visual: movement of a needle, series of colored lights, images, etc.
- Hearing: tones that vary in frequency and intensity.
- In addition, the stimulus can be presented in different ways:
- Proportionally: the feedback varies proportionally over the entire response amplitude
- In binary form: the stimulus has two states, and one of the two is presented based on previously established criteria.
The goal of this training is that we gradually learn to control our physiological responses to stimuli.
At first our physiological response to the presented stimuli is a concrete answer. However, through the systematic presentation of these stimuli, you learn to control your physiological response, which you were previously unable to control.
As the stimuli are presented to us, the apparatuses are recording our response, we can objectify our physiological responses, and our progress in training, which will serve to the therapist to redefine the exercises of the following sessions.
It is possible for the therapist to ask you to perform some kind of activity at home, in order to extend the skill out of the consultation, even in advanced stages, you may be taught to use the devices, in order to be able To do solo training.