Biofeedback involves using electronic sensors to monitor and provide feedback on the body’s physiological responses, such as heart performance, muscle tension, brain activity, and even your quality of sleep. The goal of biofeedback is to teach individuals to control their bodily responses to improve their overall health and well-being. But is biofeedback truly therapeutic? In this blog post, we will explore the evidence behind biofeedback’s effectiveness as a therapeutic intervention.
The underlying theory of biofeedback
First, let’s examine the underlying theory of biofeedback. The basic idea is that by becoming more aware of our bodily processes, we can learn how to control and treat ourselves towards a theoretically healthy version of our current selves. In other words, we can improve our physical and mental health. For example, someone who experiences chronic stress may use biofeedback to learn how to relax their muscles and lower their heart rate, thereby reducing their stress levels. Similarly, biofeedback can help individuals with anxiety disorders learn to control their breathing and decrease their physiological responses to anxiety-provoking situations, all from reading the data, or so the idea goes.
The problems with the theory of biofeedback
The counter-argument is, do we need a gadget telling us that we are feeling stressed right now, or even tired? Are we living such consuming lives that we are unaware of our own selves? The second argument, do we have the relevant training to analyse the data being provided, and more importantly draw the correct conclusion from that data.
Take for example Pulse Oximeters, these devices provide noninvasive biofeedback on the amount of oxygen being carried around your system. The Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency says this of their home use “The MHRA does not recommend that members of the public use oximeters at home unless they have been advised to do so by a qualified clinician, have been shown how to take an accurate measurement, and they are providing results for clinical review.” MHRA Guidance.
Numerous studies have investigated the effectiveness of biofeedback as a therapeutic intervention, and though the results are generally promising, one study found “There is currently limited evidence to support the use of biofeedback interventions for addressing anxiety and depression in children and adolescents with long-term physical conditions.”Systematic Review of Biofeedback Interventions
further research using a more stringent test methodology is required before biofeedback interventions could be considered for clinical use. The evidence for biofeedback’s effectiveness is not always consistent, while biofeedback shows some beneficial effects on anxiety and stress, these effects were relatively small and not always consistent across studies, perhaps suggesting its effectiveness is no more than a placebo to the user.
The risks of being addicted to Biofeedback
- Obsessive behavior: People who become addicted to biofeedback may become obsessive about monitoring their physiological processes and achieving certain goals. This can lead to an unhealthy focus on numbers and can interfere with other aspects of life.
- Dependency: Some people may become dependent on biofeedback to manage their symptoms or cope with stress. This can be problematic if they rely solely on biofeedback and do not develop other coping mechanisms.
- Anxiety: In some cases, biofeedback can actually increase anxiety if people become too focused on their physiological processes and try too hard to control them.
- Financial cost: Biofeedback equipment can be expensive, and people who become addicted to it may spend a significant amount of money on equipment, training, and therapy.
- Social isolation: People who become addicted to biofeedback may spend a lot of time monitoring their physiological processes and practicing biofeedback exercises, which can lead to social isolation and a lack of engagement in other activities.
Biofeedback shop examples – Browse and read, these are not recommendations.
The evidence suggests that biofeedback can be a helpful and effective therapeutic intervention for those that find comfort in owning such devices, and the information they provide. Like everything in life, moderation and fair usage is the way to go.
They can be a promising tool for improving overall health and well-being if they provide for example the motivation to work towards a safe personal goal of achievement. More research is needed to fully understand its potential benefits and limitations and to identify the most effective ways to use it as a therapeutic intervention, that could perhaps be more connected to your healthcare provider, which would solve one of the main issues surrounding biofeedback, is the lack of qualification to understand some of the data these machines can provide.
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- Thabrew H, Ruppeldt P, Sollers JJ 3rd. Systematic Review of Biofeedback Interventions for Addressing Anxiety and Depression in Children and Adolescents with Long-Term Physical Conditions. Appl Psychophysiol Biofeedback. 2018 Sep;43(3):179-192. doi: 10.1007/s10484-018-9399-z. PMID: 29946920.