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  • Biofeedback

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    Biofeedback in Petaluma

    Biofeedback is an evidence-based approach to mental and physical health and wellness with a long-standing track record of positive outcomes. During a biofeedback session, sensors are placed on the body (e.g., on the finger, on the ear lobe, on the forehead) to read and record the body’s physiological functioning. Then, this information is run through a computer software that translates that functioning into a form of visual or auditory feedback the client can then use to consciously influence that physiological functioning. 

    With practice both in and out of session, the client learns how to achieve an optimal level of physiological functioning, which then, in turn, becomes the client’s new baseline.

    Heart Rate Variability Biofeedback

    Contrary to what most people think, the heart does not beat at a steady, consistent pace. Instead, from moment to moment, the time between heart beats varies. Heart rate variability is a measure of that variation in time between heartbeats. Research suggests that the greater the variability in time between heartbeats reflects a healthy balance between the sympathetic (i.e., fight or flight) and parasympathetic (i.e., rest and digest) branches of the nervous system, and is associated with a wide range of positive health outcomes for a number of mental health conditions, including anxiety, depression, PTSD, AD/HD, chronic pain, and more. 

    In heart rate variability (HRV) biofeedback training, clients learn to increase their HRV for mental, emotional, and physical wellness.

    Galvanic Skin Response Biofeedback

    Galvanic skin response (GSR) refers to the changes in the body’s production of sweat from sweat glands in the fingers tips or palms in response to a stimuli. GSR is considered a good measure of sympathetic activation in the nervous system associated with strong mental or emotional reactions. 

    GSR biofeedback uses sensors placed on the fingers to measure sweat production and to help clients recognize when their arousal is increasing so they can use mind-body skills to reduce stress and bring the nervous system back to baseline more effectively.

    Thermal Biofeedback

    Thermal biofeedback involves the use of a temperature sensor on the fingers to measure blood flow to the periphery of the body. The more blood flow in the hands, the warmer the hands become. Blood naturally flows to the hands and feet when we are relaxed, and naturally flows away from the hands when we are under stress. 

    Thermal biofeedback teaches the client to control blood flow to the hands as a way of engaging the parasympathetic nervous system’s “relax, rest, and digest” response. This, in turn, reduces stress. Thermal biofeedback is used for a wide range of stress-related conditions, including anxiety, depression, PTSD, migraines, and more.

    Electromyography Biofeedback

    Electromyography (EMG) is a measure of tension in a muscle. When the body is stressed, muscle tension tends to increase, which is why, for example, individuals struggling with anxiety or stress report tightness and tension in their shoulders, neck, and jaw. In EMG biofeedback, the client is able to see how much tension is in a particular set of muscles that are being trained and then use mind-body techniques to reduce that tension. EMG biofeedback provides immediate feedback to the client about how well they are reducing tension. After number of sessions, client note less muscle soreness and tightness, as well as improved mental and emotional well-being.

    Heart Rate Biofeedback

    When the body is stressed, the sympathetic nervous system is activated and causes an increase in heart rate. Heart Rate Biofeedback can be used to train a slower heart rate, which in turn encourages parasympathetic activation. Since the sympathetic (i.e., “fight or flight”) and the parasympathetic (i.e., “rest and digest) branches of the autonomic nervous system cannot be active at the same time, training a slower heart rate over time encourages parasympathetic dominance.

    Respiratory Biofeedback

    The breath is a bodily function over which we have conscious influence (e.g., you can slow your breath down or speed it up). Slowing down the breath is fundamental to engaging the parasympathetic branch of the autonomic nervous system. When we breath at a slower, even pace deeper into the belly, we become more relaxed, heart rate slows, and HRV can even increase. With Respiratory Biofeedback, the client learns to slow and steady the breath, which leads to reduced stress with increased parasympathetic dominance.

    Types of Biofeedback

    There are several different biofeedback modalities used for various health conditions. Some forms of biofeedback are within the scope of practice of different health professionals, such as physical or occupational therapists. Other forms are within the scope of practice of mental health professionals. I offer those listed here in conjunction with neurofeedback to support the body’s ability to regulate itself more effectively.

    What is Biofeedback?

    The Association for Applied Psychophysiology and Biofeedback (AAPB) defines biofeedback as follows:

    “Biofeedback is a process that enables an individual to learn how to change physiological activity for the purpose of improving health and performance.

    Precise instruments measure physiological activity, such as heart function, breathing, muscle activity, and skin temperature.

    These instruments rapidly and accurately “feed back” information to the user. The presentation of this information – often in conjunction with changes in thinking, emotions, and behavior – supports desired physiological changes.

    Over time, these changes can endure without continued use of an instrument.”