BIOFEEDBACK Q & A
About The Biofeedback Institute of Los Angeles
The Biofeedback Institute of Los Angeles began in 1970 as a division of the Toomim Institute for Advanced Health Services and as a non-profit organization. It’s functions are:
To PROVIDE a broad spectrum of biofeedback, counseling, educational and consulting services to the community.
To TRAIN professionals in the use of biofeedback, as an adjunct to their current practices, andfor behavioral retraining of stress-related challenges and stress management.
To EDUCATE the community in terms of theory and methods of behavioral conditioning, and in the many uses of biofeedback training and therapy.
To SERVE everyone, including those who cannot afford private practice fees.
The Biofeedback Institute of Los Angeles uses the most sophisticated and advanced computerized biofeedback systems available today.
WHAT IS BIOFEEDBACK?
Biofeedback is the process of increasing an individual’s awareness of sensations in the body by using specialized sensors and computerized devices. One biofeedback instrument we’ve all used is the fever thermometer. Biosensors are more sensitive to small changes in the body than a fever thermometer. In addition the process of biofeedback provides information about changes in the body as THEY OCCUR. This immediate information allows people to become aware of how attitudes, thoughts and feelings (as well as body holding patterns) relate to pain and stress. With this information people can learn what makes them tense and how to relax.
WHAT IS STRESS?
We usually think of stress as always a negative experience. But stress may be both positive and negative. Hans Selye, whose research pioneered the scientific study of the biological effects of stress, called the positive aspect of stress eustress – the SPICE OF LIFE. We stress ourselves when we challenge ourselves; when we run, laugh, use creative capacity and relate to others. Any challenge in our lives, even moment to moment change, stresses our nervous system. Eustress is good for our minds and bodies. It helps us grow and enjoy ourselves. But sometimes we challenge ourselves – or circumstances challenge us – beyond our capacity to comfortably cope. Then stress is likely to produce harmful mental and physical effects. For example, people who suffer the loss of a loved one, children who are abused, accident and trauma victims, must cope with a multitude of problems which they will be ill equipped to handle. Some of us create situations that overburden our coping capacities by working at a job for which we do not feel trained, or we work or live with people we don’t get along with comfortably. Many of us live in a state of chronic distress because we see the negative aspects of our lives and ourselves more clearly and easily then the positive.
CHRONIC DISTRESS produces changes in our minds and bodies which lead to feelings of anxiety and tension, sometimes inappropriate anger, chronic fatigue, and stress-related physiological disorders. Just as our bodies learn to type or swim our muscles learn to tense, our hearts to beat faster, blood vessels to contract, sweat glands to activate, digestive juices to flow, gut to contract as a LEARNED RESPONSE to even minor stressors. Chronic stress leads to over activation of specific body systems. We find ourselves suffering from headaches and migraine, hypertension, insomnia, gastrointestinal problems, back and muscle pain, panic attacks, poor immune system function, and other physical problems. We may try to ease our discomfort with food or alcohol, drugs, cigarettes, compulsive spending or even compulsive working. We may become irritable or excessively passive, and thus lose the support we need from friends, coworkers and family. Such maladaptive attempts to “manage” stress and reduce anxiety usually produces more problems, further taxing our overburdened coping systems and causing more stress. Stress is a major factor in ALL pain and contributes significantly to the course of healing all illness and injury.
Stress is both a biological and a physiological process. A situation is stressful when we perceive it is stressful. Each mental and emotional state is always accompanied by a physiological state. This is called a psychosomatic or psychophysiological response pattern. When stress is
chronic, the stress-related psychophysiological response patterns become habitual and lead to physical illness and mental and emotional problems.
The recognition of the importance of chronic stress in our lives has motivated many psychological and medical therapists to develop therapeutic systems to reverse the destructive physical and emotional effects of chronic distress, and to help people develop more effective coping skills.
Some other challenges addressed with biofeedback training are, arrhythmias, asthma, Raynaud’s disease, TMJ, dysphoria, stuttering, incontinence, learning / attention deficit, anxiety and phobia, learning disabilities, breathing disorders, ulcers, irritable bowel syndrome, and eating disorders.
HOW WILL BIOFEEDBACK HELP ME?
Before plans for biofeedback training can be made, a consultation evaluation of your stress system must take place. This is done with the use of a stress assessment during which sensors are placed on your body. We can thus quickly and efficiently explore many aspects of your life experience and have the advantage of working with this information at the beginning of training.
BIOSENSORS MEASURE THE BODY’S RESPONSE TO STRESS.
At the Biofeedback Institute of Los Angeles, well trained psychologists use biosensors which give information about at least four body systems simultaneously. These usually include measuring the activity of tense and painful muscles, measuring the temperature of your fingers (cold hands are symptomatic of stress), and measuring sweat gland activity (most people sweat more when stressed). Extremely small but repeated changes in these systems reveal your characteristic stress response patterns as you experience a series of simple, mental and emotional exercises which are appropriate to your specific problem.
We explore lifestyle factors and attitudes and belief systems which usually underlie maladaptive stress response patterns. We stress ourselves by denying our power to assert our needs, or by asserting ourselves incorrectly. We relate to authorities as if they are a parent, or see danger in situations which objectively are relatively safe. Biosensors are so sensitive, they immediately, as you talk or imagine yourself in a stressful situation, reveal your stress response pattern. By exploring options and problem-solving opportunities with you while your physiological response patterns are monitored we can easley point out those areas that need attention. The process involves attaching surface muscle tension sensors, thermal and sweat gland sensors, and where appropriate heart activity sensors and brain wave and or brain blood flow sensors to various parts of the body. These sensors provide information about small changes in these organ systems. You then become aware of small changes indicative of stress in your everyday life. You grow increasingly aware of when you are tense and when you are relaxed. With this awareness, you are immediately alerted to the mental, emotional and situational events in your life that are associated with the physical symptoms characteristic of your challenge.
You are then taught various relaxation techniques until you find those that most effectively break the maladaptive psychophysiological stress response patterns. You practice these relaxation techniques in the office with the immediate help of biosensors and computer devices and with an experienced biofeedback trainer.
You will learn to use relaxation as a coping skill. You will practice relaxation, meditation, imagery or visualization and self hypnosis with brainwave entrainment at home and at your workplace. Soon stress will be a signal to relax and quiet, rather than a signal to tense and worry. New, adaptive body stress responses soon become habitual. Biosensors are no longer necessary. The new habits are learned and can be used at your will.
HOW IS BIOFEEDBACK DIFFERENT THAN TRADITIONAL PSYCHOTHERAPY?
Biofeedback training differs from traditional psychotherapy in that it is much more limited to the beliefs, attitudes, problem-solving techniques, and coping skills that are directly related to the psycho-physiological symptoms disturbing you now. It is limited in scope and generally short term ranging from 5 to 20 sessions. Biofeedback training usually involves cognitive behavior modification procedures, 12 step program concepts and assertive training techniques.
HOW DOES BIOFEEDBACK HELP WITH CHRONIC PAIN?
Chronic pain often results from physical injury for which traditional medical and physical therapy treatment has been only partially effective.
In some instances there is no relief possible from the physical cause of pain. A nerve is damaged or trapped in such a way that the patient can do no more than “live with it.” In these cases, biofeedback training and stress management therapy can help you cope better with the pain through learning to use relaxation as a coping skill and to increase your pain tolerance. We can help you relax with the pain rather than brace against it and create more pain through secondary tension, which is controllable once you are aware of how you are bracing and how it feels to let go of the chronic pain pattern.