BILA pioneered the combination of clinical psychotherapy and biofeedback; Neurotherapy. Biofeedback instruments detect a person's internal bodily functions with greater sensitivity and precision than most people can alone. Clinicians use this information to gauge and direct the progress of training. Circ. 1975
What Are The Benefits?
Biofeedback training helps people improve their health and optimize performance by feeding back signals from their own bodies. This process of personalized feedback leads to an increased awareness of feelings and sensations in the body. Awareness exercises the ability to control and process the information that is fed back to the trainee.
For example, one common biofeedback technique called EMG (electromyography) picks up electrical signals from muscles and translates the signals into a form that people can detect. The EMG is attached to a computer or other device which triggers a flashing light or activates a signal when muscles tense. As one relaxes tense muscles, the flashing or signals slow or stop. People learn to associate sensations from the muscles with actual levels of tension and they develop alternative healthy habits for keeping muscles only as tense as is necessary for as long as necessary. Successful training enables people to repeat this response at will without being attached to EMG or other biofeedback instruments.
Biofeedback techniques provide real-time physiological information about the body generally, and the nervous system in particular. With training, an individual becomes more sensitive to otherwise subtle body sensations and respective nervous system triggers and develops deeper insight and knowledge about their body. In time, trainees learn voluntary control over respective functions like heart rate, skin temperature, muscle tension and brain activity, including brainwaves and blood flow. Successful biofeedback trainees earn self-validation with respect to their unique physiology, and ultimately a better sense of self. These intuitive skills are essential for optimal functioning, wellness, and resilience. Biofeedback is inherently empowering as it provides the trainee with unique information and ultimately power and control over their body.
“Biofeedback” was coined in 1969 to describe laboratory procedures (developed in the 1940s) that trained research subjects to alter blood pressure, muscle tension and heart rate. As the field of psychophysiology* evolved biofeedback instruments were built to feedback signals generated by sweat gland activity, skin temperature, electrical brain activity, and finally brain blood flow - all nervous system functions not normally considered voluntary.
Biofeedback is based in medicine and laboratory science and validated in clinical practice. Some insurance companies provide benefits for biofeedback training procedures.
*Psychophysiology studies the relationship between mental activity and physical functions; in other words, it investigates the mind-body connection in a scientific way. Psychophysiologists are interested in how mental characteristics affect the body, how we experience information from our body, and what changes happen when people experience particular emotions. Biofeedback is applied psychophysiology. Psychophysiologists research methods to teach people better ways to control body functions and optimize health.
HEG (hemoencephalography) is the study of blood flow in the brain. More specifically, HEG neurofeedback is the study of voluntarily controlled brain blood flow and corresponding changes (in oxygenation) that are fed back to the user. HEG neurofeedback is different from typical brain exercises in that HEG neurofeedback training targets brain areas (usually in the prefrontal cortex) that correspond with particular challenges. For example, certain areas of the brain do certain things; the prefrontal cortex (PFC) is involved with executive functions such as attention, organization, and planning. You can think of the PFC as the captain of the ship and the rest of the brain as the crew; the PFC integrates and analyzes incoming information by way of neuronal connectivity, and mediates other brain area functions with the goal of optimizing survival. Literature reviews reveal that many brain function challenges are rooted in PFC executive function failure. For example, impulse control issues (associated with ADD) are generally marked by PFC trouble including hypoperfused (decreased) blood flow. And although the temporal lobes are involved with memory functions, auditory processing, word-finding, and emotional responses, and the parietal lobes are involved with direction, the PFC mediates information (or charts the course) for these other brain area processes. HEG neurofeedback is associated with increased emotional self-regulation (i.e. anger management, and bipolar mood swings) by increasing the ability of the PFC to control emotions (mediated by a deeper brain structure called the amygdala) and reappraise the stimulus.
HEG neurofeedback allows the trainee to activate their brain which increases blood circulation and thereby strengthens neural connections. Blood delivers oxygen and the basic nutrient glucose (sugar), at life-sustaining levels to the brain. Our brains have an amazing ability to supply extra blood preferentially to areas in current use. Even in repose, the brain consumes about 1/5 of all energy used in the body. Metabolized energy resulting from brain activity causes the brain temperature to rise in the used (venous) blood. If we used the entire brain at one time it would overheat and be severely damaged. The flow of blood cools the brain and prevents overheating.
Active brain areas are marked by high oxygen density and higher than normal temperatures. Simple measurements can locate active brain areas. Note here that we have no sense that tells us where an active area is located. For example, when we stand, activity occurs in the motor strip across the top of the head, but we have no sensation with information about the exact location of that active bit of brain tissue.
From infancy on, we have learned to use specific parts of the brain for accomplishing familiar tasks. We carry out the same learning process for anything new. We may want to do something we see others do or we try to do something that seems possible. Initially, we accomplished it by trial and error. In trying, we find some modicum of success. We are encouraged, so we try again and again. We improve as we go and our brains reinforce and expand existing neural networks.
PirHEG (passive infrared) neurofeedback (developed by Jeffrey A. Carmen uses a sophisticated passive infrared thermometer and brain temperature changes are fed back to the trainee. nirHEG (near-infrared) neurofeedback uses an optical probe, developed by the originator of HEG Hershel Toomim. nirHEG shines light through the skin and skull to assess the color of brain tissue; oxygenated arterial blood is red, deoxygenated venous blood is blue. Increases in brain activation and demand for nutrition result in faster blood flow and redder blood in the tissues. nirHEG is the study of the change in color of the brain due to brain oxygen absorption. Dr. Toomim, researcher and inventor of nirHEG, described this physiological function as, an outstanding opportunity for providing neurofeedback.”
For more information and related HEG research please refer to the articles on the Biocomp Research page.