The brain uses conscious and unconscious processes to govern body activities. For example, a decision to flex a muscle directs and controls a consciously willed process. In contrast, the regulation of most body functions, such as the heart rate, is largely an unconscious process. Biofeedback and neurofeedback programs are an attempt to access and interact with these unseen brain functions in efforts to better study the controlling activity of the brain. Electroencephalography, or EEG, recordings are one primary method of representing this otherwise unseen brain activity.
Biofeedback and neurofeedback programs use data obtained by EEGs and other apparatuses, to visualize, measure, and quantify specific areas of brain activity, with the objective of manipulating this activity by interacting with it. Both programs utilize methods developed by modern technology to obtain this data. Additionally, both programs rely upon brain-body interaction, or feedback, for obtaining and interpreting information.
Biofeedback, however, concentrates upon the general techniques of obtaining data by body activity measurement, such as heart rate, blood pressure, the degree of tenseness in muscles, and skin warmth. For example, electromyography is used to measure muscle tension, and this is shown on computer monitors; those participating in the programs learn how to observe and change detrimental reaction patterns, such as muscle tightness caused by stress. Additionally, EEG biofeedback — also called neurotherapy, or neurobiofeedback — uses the principle of self-control to help achieve these goals through breathing exercises and relaxation techniques.
Both biofeedback and neurofeedback programs are similar in that they use neurotherapy to gain control over unconscious or unknown processes of the mind. Neurofeedback, however, is a specific type of biofeedback program that uses real time EEG displays to show brain activity on a video monitor, rather than later recordings of the event, such as on an EEG printout. The objective of this biofeedback type is to challenge the brain to function in a way that alleviates past problems with body functions. For example, it has been credited with resolving such problems as headaches — particularly migraines — and chronic pain.
Both types of biofeedback — general biofeedback and neurofeedback — began in the late 1960s with participation from psychological specialists such as those from the Menninger Clinic. Biofeedback therapeutic groups began to form in the mid 1970s. Biofeedback therapy has been compared to physical strengthening regimens, where exercise is used to tone and strengthen the body’s muscular system. In a similar way, biofeedback uses mental therapy to achieve this control, and it has similarly been termed a “training session for the brain,” in which some of the brain’s features are addressed, exercised, and toned.