What Is Biofeedback?

What Is Biofeedback?

One of the many services Harbor Mental Health offers is biofeedback.  Biofeedback is an effective intervention used to treat a variety of health conditions.  Some examples are described below.

Conditions treated with biofeedback

  • Anxiety disorders
  • Asthma and other breathing problems
  • Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder
  • Digestive issues (e.g., constipation, irritable bowel syndrome)
  • Insomnia
  • Pain (e.g., headaches, fibromyalgia)
  • Raynaud’s phenomenon
  • Some side effects of chemotherapy
  • Stress-related disorders
  • Stroke
  • Temporomandibular disorders
  • Tinnitus
  • Urinary and fecal incontinence

How biofeedback works

Biofeedback uses electronic devices—including mobile and wearable technology—that measure physiological changes, such as heart rate, heart rate variability, and skin temperature.  This real-time information, obtained through sensors (attached to fingers, ears, or other body parts), is then “fed back” to the individual.  For instance, the information may be presented on a computer screen as numbers or graphs, sometimes accompanied by visual and auditory signals.

Biofeedback training helps you:

  • To become aware of the physiological changes inside your body.
  • To learn how your thoughts, emotions, and behaviors affect your body. 
  • To learn how to control your bodily responses. 

For example, during a session, you can observe in real-time how a particular belief (e.g., “Things will never get better”) affects your heart rate, skin conductance, or muscle tension.  Subsequently, you can replace the negative belief with more realistic thoughts and then observe, immediately, how these thoughts affect your bodily responses.

A biofeedback session typically lasts from half an hour to an hour.  The length of the treatment depends on multiple factors, including the nature of your condition, how quickly you make progress, and the type of biofeedback (described below).

Common types of biofeedback

  • Brainwaves: Using sensors placed on the scalp, a device called an electroencephalograph measures brainwaves (i.e. electrical patterns generated by brain cells).  The goal is to increase desired brain activities, such as focus or relaxation.
  • Breathing: Breathing biofeedback, typically done using chest and waistbands, allows you to monitor and regulate your breathing.
  • Sweat: Using sensors attached to your hands, a device called an electrodermograph measures electrical activity in the skin, including skin conductance.  Skin conductance increases (as a result of increased sweat production) when one is feeling stressed or anxious.
  • Temperature: Using sensors attached to your extremities, this type of biofeedback provides information about blood flow to your skin, and your skin temperature, which is another indicator of stress.
  • Heart rate: Two techniques are used.  Either a photoplethysmograph (with earlobe or finger sensors), to monitor changes in blood volume; or an electrocardiograph (with torso and wrist sensors), to monitor changes in heart rate.
  • Muscle tension: Using sensors placed on skeletal muscles, this type of biofeedback provides information about electrical activity related to muscle contraction and helps you reduce muscle tension.

The risks and benefits of biofeedback

Biofeedback is one of the safest therapies available.  Unlike medications, it has no side effects.  And it is noninvasive.  More importantly, biofeedback puts you in control.

Nevertheless, biofeedback is not suitable for everyone.  In addition, most biofeedback products advertised are not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).  And third, a variety of biofeedback devices and methods are available, which means choosing the right one can be difficult.

We are here to help. 

Come visit us at Harbor Mental Health, where our health care team can determine your suitability for biofeedback training, assist you with finding the right biofeedback device for your needs, and work with you to address your mental health concerns.  We look forward to meeting you.

About Harbor Psychiatry & Mental Health

We believe outstanding healthcare is delivered when we merge the science of medicine with the compassion of our hearts. We refer to this as “head and heart together,” inspiring constant improvement and lasting success.
Psychiatrists Orange County CA
Psychologists Orange County CA