History and Philosophy of Biofeedback

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Biofeedback is one of the earliest behavioral medicine treatments and has been practiced in clinical settings since the 1970’s. Biofeedback achieves its results through psychophysiological (mind-body) self-regulation. In simplest terms, the ability to observe oneself and acquire the skills needed to make changes in one’s physiology, behavior, or even lifestyle in order to promote well-being and health. It is a tool for achieving mind-body integration. In biofeedback therapy, individuals are trained on electronic monitors to exert control over vital bodily processes, such as heart rate, respiration, blood pressure, muscular tension, and brain activity. By observing and monitoring shifts in bodily functions or striate muscle activity, patients learn to adapt and modify their mental and emotional responses to alleviate symptoms and help regulate specific health conditions. Biofeedback is widely used by physicians, nurses, psychologists, physical therapists, drug rehabilitation counselors, dentists and other professionals to treat many disorders.

In the 1950’s and 1960’s researchers from different fields independently studied various applications of feedback mechanisms to modify physiological functions in animals and humans. H.D. Kimmel, Neal Miller and David Shapiro were among the psychologists using operant conditioning models to further biofeedback research, and it was in the late 1960’s that the term biofeedback was first used to describe this type of learning. Early researchers thought that the instrumentation itself exerted direct psychophysiological effects and that the feedback information functioned as a kind of behavioral reward which led to symptom reduction. As a result, early outcome studies designed to show clinical effectiveness underemphasized the important role of training in biofeedback. Contemporary clinicians and researchers now view successful biofeedback treatment as contingent largely on skills acquisition and mastery, and the focus of research has shifted increasingly from demonstrating efficacy to refining and improving training procedures. In 1969, researchers joined together to form the Biofeedback Research Society (renamed the Association for Applied Psychophysiology and Biofeedback) to promote communication, study, and application of biofeedback in the U.S.