When under stress or anxiety, the human body has many unconscious reactions, from tightening of muscles to increased perspiration/body temperature to faster breathing and heart rates. The responses are involuntary and, in many cases, so common that people do not even notice them happening.
Lynn O’Brien, a therapist in Marquette’s Counseling Center, explains that though such a physical response was advantageous when humans lived in caves and needed to defend themselves from predators, it is less advantageous in today’s world. In fact if it gets out of hand it can impede upon a person’s ability to function normally. Biofeedback is designed to address these reactions.
Biofeedback programs are used by therapists to teach clients how to control their body’s involuntary responses to anxiety and stress. The three sensors which measure heart rate and galvanic skin response (how much you are sweating), show the subject’s readings on a TV screen.
Some programs contain guided meditations which allow you to see exactly how your readings change as you relax your mind and body. Others teach the user to control their heat rate and energy level through games like “Rock Garden”, which requires the player to calm his/herself in order to balance rocks atop one another. Think of something stressful or do a high energy action (like laughing), and the rock goes flying off the screen. These visual interpretations of bio data are very helpful for therapists and clients.
“It’s one thing for me to have somebody in this room and to talk about ‘if you breathe you’ll feel better’ and ‘how do you feel when you feel stressed’ [and another] to actually see it on the screen. We hook them up and show them some of the programs, and I can say, ‘I want you to think about…something stressful.’ Then they can actually see the movement on [the screen]. That evidence is really powerful for people,” said Dr. Jodi Blahnik, a psychologist in the Counseling Center.
The advantageous part of biofeedback is that it can be used by individuals who are not formally seeing a therapist. Though biofeedback is considered by professionals to be an effective supplement to counseling or even a substitute to medication, those who simply want a way to deal with the daily stresses of life can also use the therapy to understand their reactions better.
Students or faculty can use the biofeedback programs by scheduling a 50-minute intake (training) session, after which they can reserve the Zen Den for half hour sessions. The center will also be hosting an open house and weekly “Mindful Minutes” meditation sessions (Wednesdays and Thursdays from 12:15 to 12:45). For more information, visit the Counseling Center’s website, call or walk-in during business hours.
Interested? Also read my article on the Marquette Wire.