Dr. Spiegelhoff & Associates is now offering biofeedback*!  Have you heard of it?  If not, let me tell you a little bit about it.

Biofeedback is a mind-body treatment used to control body functions.  In psychotherapy, it is often used to assist patients in controlling stress-related body functions, such as heart rate, muscle responses, and breath.  When stressed, many individuals experience physical (somatic) changes to their body, such as increased heart rate, muscle tightening and cramps, GI issues, urinary issues, and more.  Biofeedback teaches patients to new skills to control their body.  Biofeedback can help individuals reduce stress, balance emotions, improve sleep, restore energy, and increase focus.  Research has supported the efficacy of biofeedback for treating anxiety, depression, trauma, ADHD, chronic pain, urinary incontinence, and more.

Heart rhythm is often used as an indicator of health, including resilience, biological age, disease and disorders, and stress.  Heart rate variability is due to action in the autonomic nervous system (ANS), which regulates internal fuctions.  Two divisions of the ANS include the sympathetic nervous system (PNS) and the parasympathetic nervous system (PNS).  The PNS enables the body to manage stress through the “flight or fight” response.  This response has evolved as a survival mechanism, allowing us to react quickly in life-threatening situations.  However, the body isn’t perfect.  With time it can misinterpret uncomfortable events as life-threatening and overreact.  This can lead to prolonged stress, panic attacks, and other chronic issues.  Here are symptoms to be aware of when you experience this stress response: 

• Increased heart rate
• Pale or flushed skin
• Blunted pain response
• Dilated pupils
• Trembling
• Bladder and bowel issues
• Hypervigilance and anxiety

Unlike the SNS, the PNS is known for “rest and digest.”  The vagus nerve makes up about 75% of the PNS and promotes cardiac relaxation.  In addition to relaxation, the PNS is responsible for homeostasis, ensuring you are balanced.  In psychotherapy, patients can be taught various techniques to activate the PNS, such as basic breathwork, meditation, and other mindfulness practices.

When used with breathwork and mindfulness, biofeedback provides insight and data on the communication between the heart and the brain.  Patients will use new skills to achieve coherence, a state that uses the heart to balance emotions and thoughts.  While some patients may experience relaxation, coherence isn’t relaxation. Instead, it is a state of optimal functioning in which psychological, emotional, and physical stability and resilience are in sync.

At the practice, we use a device and software to analyze patient heart rhythm – heart rate variability (HVR).  There are two ways to achieve this process.  The first option uses a handheld device where a patient places their thumb on a sensor.  As they hold the device, it will measure heart rate.  It also has an LED that changes color, indicating progress toward achieving coherence.  The second option is to clip a sensor onto the patient’s ear, which is connected to the computer.  Software on the computer provides real-time heart rhythm feedback.  As breathwork is practiced and emotional regulation techniques are practiced, the patient will see their heart rhythm pattern become more regulated.  The software also calculates and displays the percentage of time, during the session, spent in varying degrees of coherence.

If this is something you are interested in, let your counselor know.  If you are not a patient and are interested, contact us for information and to schedule an appointment.

*Biofeedback is only available for in-person sessions.