A method of treatment that uses monitors to feed back to patients physiological information of which they are normally unaware. By watching the monitor, patients can learn by trial and error to adjust their thinking and other mental processes in order to control “involuntary” bodily processes such as blood pressure, temperature, gastrointestinal functioning, and brain wave activity.
Biofeedback is now used to treat a very wide variety of conditions and diseases ranging from stress, alcohol and other addictions, sleep disorders, epilepsy, respiratory problems, and fecal and urinary incontinence to muscle spasms, partial paralysis, or muscle dysfunction caused by injury, migraine headaches, hypertension, and a variety of vascular disorders, including Raynaud’s phenomenon.
The American experimental psychologist Neal E. Miller (1909-2002) conducted pioneering work in biofeedback in the 1950’s and 60’s. Miller worked to map the physiological bases of the most visceral of human drives such as fear, hunger and curiosity. Miller’s ideas were revolutionary at the time.
As James S. Gordon many years later recounted to a House committee, “In 1961 when Neal Miller first suggested that the autonomic nervous system could be as susceptible to training as the voluntary nervous system, that people might learn to control their heart rate and bowel contractions just as they learned to walk or play tennis, his audiences were aghast. He was a respected researcher, director of a laboratory at Yale, but this was a kind of scientific heresy. Everyone ‘knew’ that the autonomic nervous system was precisely that: automatic, beyond our control.”