Biofeedback involves the use of instruments to make a person more aware of his or her own biological functioning. Like any good therapy, it makes the unconscious conscious. The instruments make the psychotherapy client more conscious of psychophsyiological functioning that had previously been out of their awareness. As the term biofeedback implies, biological information (such as muscle tension or blood pressure) is fed back to the person through the use of monitoring and amplifying equipment. Once you become aware of specific aspects of your biological functioning, you may then be able to change it for the better.
How is biofeedback an improvement over earlier, less technologically based methods of relaxation? Many of the moment-to-moment changes in your physiological functioning are usually outside your awareness. Your forehead muscles may be tense for hours before a stressful event occurs. Electronic biofeedback equipment can provide continuous amplified signals that will immediately inform you of tiny changes in physical tension. These signals may take the form of a tone that beeps at a fast pace when you are tense, and a slower pace as you relax. Using such a tone as a guide, genuine physiological relaxation can be achieved more easily.
How can this biofeedback-assisted relaxation benefit your health? Disturbances in psychophysiological functioning contribute to a variety of medical disorders. For example, people suffering from tension headaches or lower back pain often have extremely tense muscles in the areas where pain is experienced. Those affected by high blood pressure or migraine headaches may have problems in their cardiovascular systems. Biofeedback can help people relax in a way that specifically restores order to previously unbalanced physiological systems. The result can be less pain, or fewer ulcers. In addition, biofeedback can be useful to those simply seeking an efficient method of relaxation. Phobias and other anxiety-related problems may be more easily overcome following biofeedback learning.
Biofeedback is a useful clinical tool in its own right, but is also important as a symbol of the general shift from a disease orientation to a wellness model. In the traditional disease model, patients held their physician responsible for curing them when they became ill. In a wellness model, we realize our own ultimate responsibility for maintaining our health. Biofeedback can help to provide us with skills for assuming this responsibility.