Chances are you have used
biofeedback yourself. You've used it if you have ever taken your
temperature or stepped on a scale. The thermometer tells you whether
you're running a fever, the scale whether you've gained weight. Both
devices "feed back" information about your body's condition.
Armed with this information, you can take steps you've learned to improve
the condition. When you're running a fever, you go to bed and drink plenty
Biofeedback Clinicians rely on
sensitive high-tech devices in somewhat the same way that you rely on your
scale or thermometer. These machines can detect a person's internal bodily
functions with far greater sensitivity and precision than a person can
alone. This valuable information is used by both patients and therapists
to gauge and direct the progress of treatment.
For patients, the biofeedback
machine acts as a kind of sixth sense which allows them to "see"
or "hear" activity inside their bodies. This insight allows a
unique opportunity to make changes and gain control of this activity,
ultimately reducing stress and pain.
One commonly used type of machine, for example, picks up electrical
signals in the muscles. It translates these signals into a form that
patients can detect: triggering a flashing light bulb, music, or
activating a beep tone every time muscles grow more tense. If patients
want to relax tense muscles, they try to slow down the flashing or
beeping, initially with the therapists help and then independently.
Like a pitcher learning to throw
a ball across a home plate, the biofeedback trainee, in an attempt to
improve a skill, monitors the performance. When a pitch is off the mark,
the ballplayer adjusts the delivery so that he performs better the next
time he tries. When the light flashes or the beeper beeps too often, the
biofeedback trainee makes internal adjustments which alter the signals.
The biofeedback therapist acts as a coach, standing at the sidelines
setting goals and limits on what to expect and giving hints on how to
improve performance. Today, advancing technology allows for a
multitude of feedback alternatives, including music and video graphic
style visual screens.