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Biofeedback is a technique that involves monitoring a person’s physiological state and feeding information about it back to that person. Recipients of the feedback are trained to consciously control aspects of their physiology—using relaxation techniques to slow down heart rate, for example—and this learning is used to help manage symptoms of a variety of medical and psychological conditions.

Neurofeedback is a form of biofeedback that involves the use of information from the brain detected using a method such as EEG.

When It’s Used

Biofeedback may be helpful in treating anxiety, insomnia, certain pain disorders, tension and migraine headaches, constipation, urinary incontinence, and some other conditions. Scientific evidence has accumulated for the efficacy of biofeedback in addressing a range of symptoms, though a 2014 review highlighted the need for further standardized, controlled research on its effective use in the treatment of psychiatric disorders.

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What to Expect

A therapist may use electronic sensors that attach to a patient’s skin or fingers or a belt that wraps around the waist to provide feedback on the patient’s physiological state, which is presented in the form of visuals or sounds. In a typical session, which may last up to an hour, the therapist will explain what the sensors are tracking—heart rate, breathing, blood pressure, muscle tension, electrical activity in the brain, or one or more other physiological markers. The therapist will show the patient how the signals relate to different physical or mental states, such as feeling more or less stressed. Ultimately, a patient can be taught to employ certain techniques, such as mindfulness or breathing exercises, to modulate these states, using the feedback as a guide along the way.

Biofeedback may be used in combination with other forms of psychotherapeutic intervention.

How It Works

By harnessing real-time information on one’s bodily state and demonstrating how it connects to conscious behaviors—such as thinking about certain images, breathing in a certain way, or relaxing muscles—biofeedback therapy is designed to help patients take more control over the functioning of their bodies. In the course of therapy, they may learn to better manage symptoms linked to the observed physiological activity.

What to Look for in a Biofeedback Therapist

Patients should consult a doctor or health care professional for a referral to someone who can offer biofeedback therapy. The person offering biofeedback should be a licensed clinician and may have a certification for the use of biofeedback, in addition to other degrees and qualifications.

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Schoenberg, P. L., & David, A. S. (2014). Biofeedback for Psychiatric Disorders: A Systematic Review. Applied Psychophysiology and Biofeedback,39(2), 109-135. doi:10.1007/s10484-014-9246-9