Biofeedback, Alternative Therapies and all the others,
"You do not need any bloody instrument
to do Biofeedback Training"

Ilan Shalif (Psychological Ph.D.)

Biofeedback is, essentially, the first scientific alternative therapy. Based on laboratory findings, on measurable variables and change, it does not relay on old wisdom and new intuitions. It does not relay on the mixture of sound observations and fantastic speculations. It does not trade robust scientific approach with plausible reasoning of insufficient data and misunderstanding of basic processes involved.

However, for many years and for many users, it is like the case of the Semantic Differential of Charles Osgood - the first measuring tool of emotion. It is unnerving [according to him] to have a good working tool you have not the slightest idea how it really works.

And biofeedback works. Any measurable active process that can yield immediate on-going read-out can be influenced. The success of the more advanced tools - the computerized EEG programs used to work on depression and ADD - is more disquieting than that of the more peripheral GSR and EMG.

The cure for this problem is, surprisingly or not, in the scientific and holistic approach to the human system. Believe it or not, the core of the system is the emotional subsystem. Besides the subsystem responsible for the basic life processes, this subsystem is the only one that regularly over-rides in daily life the decisions of the conscious thinking processes.

To sum the emotional system in few sentences needs quite a gross oversimplification. However, it seems warranted in this specific context: As pre-scientific philosophers claimed - and Descartes as a sample, there are some entities called simple emotions like happiness, anger, fear etc. that create mixtures and combinations that are the observable emotions. (A great leap forward from the ancient dogma about the four ingredients-components of the universe and all that is in it, namely: earth, water, air and fire.)

Charles Darwin, as part of the results of his quest after the origin of the species, put forward a theory about the emotions in man and animal. Results of modern studies confirmed the fact that there are few basic emotions common to all humans (with few common to humans and less developed animals).

Results of more recent studies (including my dissertation empirical research) indicate that those are also the main emotional variables of the subjective experience [in daily life]. These are also the same variables that are used in the spontaneous perception of emotions of others. (i.e. These are the main variables found when we analyze the daily life perceptions of individuals of their own feelings - with verbal and nonverbal items. Not to mix with the variables and processes of verbal thinking, reasoning and meaning which are cultural and educational dependant.)

Each of those basic emotions has its physiological base in the neuronal and chemical processes each of them has its repertoire of influences on the various bodily processes. As there are more than ten basic emotions active all the time and as there is some overlap between their influences, it is easier to change than analyze.

As previous scientists of affect pointed, any thing that happen in us - including all the spectrum between the one time marginal to the significant and regular (like habits, personality trends, psychosomatics, neurosis etc.) has a specific emotional mixture. Thus, each of them has a physiological aspect that can be measured (in principle) even when below the threshold of perception.

In essence, if we want to change any of the above processes we just have to find its physiological component and attend to its feedback. This enhances the reorganization and improvement process which are active all the time in the background. It recruits these processes to give a special treatment to the regulating patterns associated with the attended feedback.

We can work at it in the opposite approach - i.e. to use as biofeedback any dynamic and measurable physiological variable, with the hope it is related to the psychological problem we want to change. (When we work with all of the feedbacks, it really does not matter which is related to which process.)

All the alternative bodily approaches try by touch or by other stimulus to change the physiological components of the psychological processes and usually succeed - disregarding what they believe or say that they are doing. Most of them, cause by the stimuli they inflict on the one who is treated by them, to attend to the sensations they are initiating. This, quicken the reorganization of the processes they are dealing with and so bring about certain improvement. many of them even instruct the one they are treating to attend to these sensations.

From the experience of the Focusing community of lay-persons and professionals, and from my experience with hundreds of applicants, (including practitioners of alternative treatments) the systematic attention of persons to the bodily sensations works like enhanced biofeedback. And it has one big improvement on the original biofeedback training: one can use it to influence processes which are not easy to measure or even impossible. (How one can directly measure pain or itchings?)

It seems that the other psychotherapies - These which pretend to be scientificly based and the non-scientific ones, succeed as they intentionally or as by products cause people to experience discernible emotional components related to their problems. Thus, regardless of what their specific speculations are, they facilitate the vicarious biofeedback training of their clients.

As all the alternative approaches and the various psychotherapies do not understand the essence of their contributions, the gains derived by them are seriously limited. Thus, many people improve only slightly and many not even that.

All of them can enhance the improvement of their applicants, by just suggesting them to pay more attention to the bodily sensations occurring at the treatment sessions. Those who practice biofeedback and feel that the trainees they coach needs more, can coach them to use between sessions, as biofeedback targets, the various bodily sensations.

The more daring ones can encourage their trainees to provoke specific emotional targets. Thus, the efforts invested in the measured function during the training sessions and the attention invested in the bodily sensations between sessions, will be more focused and thus more effective.

More on the biofeedback WITHOUT instruments:

On these sites one can find: self-help book with a chapter for the coach; texts on the theory of emotions; and texts that connect between the two. (Both in English and Hebrew).

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