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CBT and Biofeedback


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Hamiel and Rolnick prepublication to Schwartz and Anrdasik : Biofeedback fourth edition

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CBT and Biofeedback

  1. 1. Biofeedback and Cognitive Behavioral Interventions:Reciprocal Contributions Daniel Hamiel and Arnon Rolnick This chapter discusses the integration of two major interventions; cognitive behavioral therapy(CBT) and biofeedback. Integrating these two intervention approaches allows each to be utilized to theirutmost potential, and ultimately increases their individual viability. The concept of a common law marriage can be used figuratively to describe the relationshipbetween biofeedback and CBT. A common law marriage is an informal or de facto relationship that islegally recognized as a marriage even though no legally recognized marriage ceremony has beenperformed. Similarly, CBT and biofeedback, “live together" de facto: both are short-term goal-directedinterventions that aim to maintain and reinforce their evidence-based status. Early in their relationship,both approaches were related to learning theory and were heavily based on relaxation techniques anddesensitization. CBT handbooks today do not include chapters about biofeedback (cf. Dobson, 2001;Bond & Dryden, 2005). The biofeedback literature, on the other hand, continues to recognize the role ofcognitive factors in biofeedback interventions. Nevertheless, to the best of our knowledge there is noclear therapeutic protocol that suggests how to integrate the two methods. The first part of this chapter discusses how biofeedback practitioners can be assisted by cognitivebehavioral concepts and techniques, while the second part demonstrates how cognitive behavioralpsychotherapists can use biofeedback techniques. The chapter concludes by considering which patientsshould be directed to which intervention based upon their general attitude and presenting problem. Biofeedback intervention was originally based on a learning theory model; however it soonbecame clear that thoughts, emotions and interpersonal processes can affect the success of biofeedbackintervention. Several authors contend that from a theoretical point of view the efficacy of biofeedback isat least partially due to cognitive factors (Wickramasekera, 2002; Meichenbaum, 1976; Holroyd et al.,1984; and Penzien & Holroyd, 2008 for a newer perspective). One of the reasons for integrating CBT principles into biofeedback is to help biofeedbackpractitioners use this form of intervention to treat psychological disorders, and particularly anxiety. Whilstthere is no comprehensive model to guide biofeedback practitioners in dealing with anxiety disorders,biofeedback has been found to reduce both state and trait anxiety (Hurley & Meminger, 1992; Wenck,
  2. 2. Leu & DAmato, 1996). In addition, there is a growing body of research that suggests the combination ofbiofeedback with particular elements of CBT is significantly effective (eg. Reiner, 2008).PART 1: HOW BIOFEEDBACK PRACTITIONERS CAN INTEGRATE COGNITIVE BEHAVIORALELEMENTS INTO THEIR PRACTICEThe suggested model should take into account the client‟s thoughts during the session and the basicassumptions (sometimes hidden) that impact the client‟s views about himself and his ability to self-regulate. In a typical biofeedback session, the client‟s physiological responses are monitored on a singlescreen. The proposed model considers the existence of two screens in each session – an actual screenshowing the client‟s objective physiological responses and a metaphoric screen, showing the client‟ssubjective experience as it is shared with the therapist. While working with the physiological screen usually involves practice, working with the subjectiveexperience requires a significant amount of discussion. Deciding when and how to focus on the trainingelements and when to focus on the verbal therapeutic discussion presents a special challenge. One additional element of the integrated model is the therapeutic relationship and how itinfluences the client‟s ability to self-regulate. According to Taub (1978), "perhaps the most powerful factorinfluencing whether or not thermal biofeedback learning will occur is the quality of the interaction betweenthe experimenter/ therapist and the subject/patient, that is, the „person factor.‟” The new directions inCBT, for example Schema Focused Therapy (Young, 2003), also emphasize the importance of thetherapeutic relationship. Hence, the proposed model maintains that the client-practitioner interaction is afactor that warrants repeated consideration. The proposed model introduces new elements to classic biofeedback training on two levels:[1] Macro level: How to use CBT elements in the various stages of training.[2] Micro level: How to use CBT elements within each session.The Macro LevelAcquaintance and Educational StageThe acquaintance and educational stage is usually considered the "psychophysiological profiling" stage,in which the biofeedback practitioner measures a client‟s physiological responses to a variety of stimuli(see Chapter 7). The model described below incorporates a cognitive conceptualization. The term“acquaintance” is suggested for this stage of the model, because the practitioner becomes acquaintedwith the client‟s psychological and physiological responses and the client is introduced to thepsychophysiological view of their disorder for the first time. The client becomes familiar with the “dialogue” between themselves, the practitioner, and theirphysiology, and can then learn how to associate physiological, cognitive, and emotional responses. Therationale for this stage derives from the fundamental assumptions of the cognitive approach, which dealwith the formation and symptomatology of the problem. Many of those who seek treatment adhere to themedico-biological model for “sickness”. According to this model, disease is managed as a result of thephysician‟s active role on the one hand, and the patient‟s passive cooperation on the other. The cognitive
  3. 3. approach, in contrast, is based upon the bio-psycho-social model, which emphasizes the crucial roleplayed by the client‟s thinking and active involvement in treatment (REF). The acquaintance stage also involves education and instruction. The practitioner invests a greatdeal of effort in explaining the problem and the intervention methods. Much of the explanation is throughpsychophysiological demonstrations. The practitioner shows the client how specific external stimuliinfluence physiological responses, demonstrating how behavior, thoughts, and imagination are a powerfulcomponent in effecting physiological changes. These psychophysiological demonstrations are crucial inestablishing the client‟s motivation and trust in the process that is about to be embarked on. Client motivation is also reinforced during the psychophysiological intake interview, when thepractitioner gathers information pertaining to the client‟s reactiveness and recovery rate. The trainershares this information with the client. Physiological measurements are taken and correlated with theprocesses the client has gone through, thus establishing a therapeutic triangle of client, practitioner, anddevice. Each component in the triangle “assesses” the client‟s condition. The device reports objectivereadings and changes, the client reports on subjective experience, and the practitioner helps integratebetween the two. This triangle enables clients to understand themselves better and to identify avenues forimproving both their physical and emotional condition.Behavioral Techniques Stage: Acquiring Self-RegulationBiofeedback is aimed at helping the client self-regulate and balance their physiology. Trial and error, ofcourse, is a basic principle of learning theories, and biological signal feedback is clearly a major tool intrial and error. Nevertheless, it is postulated that the client should be offered assistance via the teachingof relaxation techniques. First, muscle relaxation and breathing techniques should be taught,representing the B in CBT, namely behavioral techniques. Though practice is the key for success in thisstage, a cognitively oriented practitioner will always listen to the client‟s cognitions during the trainingprocess. What is the client‟s internal dialogue with his body? Does the client believe in their ability to traintheir physiology? Does the client feel betrayed by their body? Failures in the self-regulation processshould be used as an opportunity to learn about possible cognitions that should be observed, discussed,and modified.Cognitive Techniques Stage: Acquiring Self-RegulationMost of the biofeedback literature focuses on teaching behavioral means to achieve relaxation. Yetcognitive techniques can be very useful as well. Autogenic therapy – the repetition of sentences about thebodys relaxed state – has a long history of assisting with self-regulation. Meichenbaums (2007) StressInoculation Technique (SIT) is a natural addition to autogenic therapy. In SIT, subjects are taught tosubstitute negative self-statements about their ability to relax with positive expectations by repeatingpositive self-statements. Sometimes the practitioner might find that the client is having difficulties reducing physiologicalarousal. This is the time to help the client understand the automatic thoughts blocking acquisition ofrelaxation techniques. According to the ABC model, the source of an individual‟s emotional, physiologicalor behavioral Consequences is not the Actual events but rather the individual‟s thoughts and Beliefsystem. Using the ABC model, we can help the client identify automatic thoughts and beliefs that shouldbe addressed in order to achieve self-regulation. A "third generation" of cognitive interventions has emerged in recent years. While mindfulness-based stress reduction was clearly the frontrunner in biofeedback practice for more than 20 years,Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT;Hayes, 2006) interventions unmistakably add an additional
  4. 4. level to the self-regulation process. One of the main premises of ACT is the understanding that trying toohard is unproductive. Biofeedback practitioners can use this principle to help the client learn to “let go”and “not try too hard.”Generalization StageAfter a client has learned self-regulation techniques under optimal conditions, they must learn toimplement them outside the clinic. The challenge is to relax under less comfortable conditions. Alteringthe conditions is carried out gradually. At first, the client practices while reclining in a comfortable chair,followed by sitting up normally in an office chair, and finally standing up. The clients mental state shouldalso be more similar to normal conditions. The client is trained to remain alert and still stay relaxed, to beinvolved with the environment without being overwhelmed by its demands. Using the cognitiveperspective, we ask the client what external and internal conditions help or thwart self-regulation. Thepractitioner then introduces these elements to aide generalization.Exposure and Desensitization StageCBT practice for anxiety disorders usually involves two classical interventions: desensitization andexposure. While biofeedback procedures do not necessarily include such interventions, the proposedmodel suggests integrating such procedures into biofeedback practice. The cardinal principle to remember during this stage is to achieve a state of relaxation whilesimultaneously recreating a real or imaginary stressful scenario. For example, a client who is afraid ofspeaking in front of an audience will be asked to prepare and deliver a speech while continuing toregulate their physiology. An instruction to maintain physiological readings at a low level or to lower themas soon as they begin to rise, will be provided. A client who is anxious about taking tests provides anotherexample. The practitioner can create test scenarios during the therapy session and train the client toreduce stress during a test. At times it may be necessary to recreate an actual test scenario, but usuallyin vitro re-creation is sufficient. Thus we can train clients to implement and practice relaxation techniques during difficultsituations, whether in vivo or in vitro. Clients can advance to the final stage only after they acquire andlearn to implement control abilities in stressful situations as well.Weaning and Termination StageAll forms of treatment are geared towards enabling clients to separate from and leave the supportiveenvironment. Clients who sought out biofeedback because they were not able to regulate their tensionsacquire the ability to do so without the intervention. It is also assumed that some of the client‟spsychological problems will emerge during the transitional or separation phases. Therefore, workingthrough this stage while the client is still in treatment provides the opportunity to recreate difficultiespertaining to this process. In biofeedback therapy, termination involves “weaning” the client off the deviceas well, thus enabling the client to gain control over his psychophysiological responses without directfeedback. During this stage one of the client‟s task is to link internal physiological clues withpsychophysiological readings and then to construct a replacement in the form of a habitual internalfeedback. Hence, this stage deals with the ability to generate the relaxation response even without the aidof the device. To achieve this goal, the practitioner measures the physiological variable without displayingthe feedback. The client is asked to “guess” his physiological status as well as to try to estimate whetherthe line of the graph is sloping upward or downward (discrimination training; Andrasik & Blanchard, 1983;Gainer, 1978). This stage is marked by the client‟s deliberations over whether the time has come to
  5. 5. terminate treatment and whether the treatment has achieved its goals. Questions are raised pertaining todependence and independence. Moreover, the client must cope with the loss of fantasies that “all myproblems will be solved” or “I will not get tense anymore.” Indeed, the client must relinquish some of hisbasic assumptions regarding constantly being in control and feeling good. We expect that during thisstage of treatment, the emphasis will be on the verbal component of the psychotherapeutic dialogue.(See Lynn & Freedman, 1979, for a discussion of other ways to facilitate generalization and transfer oftraining.)The Micro Phases: Session StructureAs cognitive and emotional factors are introduced into biofeedback training, the structure of the sessionsmust be transformed from trial and error technical training to a more sophisticated process in which theclient‟s cognitions are identified and discussed. Hence, each session is divided into different phases, witheach phase using the biofeedback equipment differently. The idea is to use the sensors to takemeasurements several times during a session. Each biofeedback event is then accompanied by a perioddedicated to verbal discussion about the subjective and objective results of the psychophysiologicalexercise. Hence, the verbal dialogue is used to enhance the physiological changes and vice versa. Beck (1995) suggests that CBT sessions should be divided into a number of phases: brief updateand mood check, transition from previous session, setting agenda, homework review, discussion ofagenda issues, homework assignment, summary, and feedback. The biofeedback literature is lessconsistent regarding this issue. Some writers describe the various sensors used to take measurements,the feedback screen, and other equipment in great detail, however the session format is often leftunmentioned. This may explain why so many laymen believe that each biofeedback session consists of afull hour with the client sitting in front of the screen trying to control some line graphs. In contrast,Andrasik and Schwartz (see chapter 6) describe a possible format for headache sessions: adaptation,baseline, self regulation, stimulation, biofeedback, reassessment of self-regulation (see Andrasik &Blanchard, 1983, as well). We propose the following stages for a biofeedback session enhanced by CBTprinciples: Welcome, homework discussion, and agenda setting Self-regulation ability evaluation Sharing phase I Learning to practice Sharing phase II Relaxation, reframing and creation of alternatives (RRCA) Homework assignment and session termination
  6. 6. Table: Format of integrated Biofeedback training assisted by CBT elements Phase 1 Phase 2 Phase 3 Phase 4 Phase 5 Phase 6 Phase 7 EvaluatingBiofeedback Learning & Self - RRCAexercise part practicing Regulation AbilityVerbal/ Welcome, Homework &Cognitive homework, Sharing I Sharing II terminationpart agendaDuration 3-5 4-7 8-15 11-14 4-7 6-8 3-5(mins.)Welcome, homework discussion and agenda settingEach session should begin with some type of welcome from the practitioner. Typically, the client beginsby describing his or her feelings and symptoms. In the proposed approach, it is suggested that thepractitioner postpone this evaluation phase for a few minutes. Instead, the practitioner should describethe session agenda and ask the client about the homework assignment. Beginning the session with theagenda conveys a clear message that the program is well structured and has a target to be achieved.Evaluation PhaseFirst the client completes a five minute biofeedback exercise aimed at evaluating the balance between"calming forces" and "disturbing forces." This evaluation is, in fact, a brief ritual during which the subjecttries to relax while simultaneously focusing on issues that are bothersome. The EDA sensor is mostsuitable for this exercise because it is very sensitive to slight emotional changes. The client is given the following statement: “Your aim during this phase is twofold: to try toinfluence your physiological reading towards greater self-regulation and at the same time to pay attentionto inner processes that might keep you from relaxing.” The advantage of this wording is that it enables theclient to avoid experiencing stress in the case that they do not succeed. The client is able to comprehendthat they are undergoing a process of observation and not simply a process aimed at “straightening thelines.” In a way, this is a process of acceptance, which is a main component of CBT and increases thepotential to make a change. During measurements, a client may sometimes feel that they must provide explanations for whatis happening to them and why they are unsuccessful. The biofeedback practitioner should encouragethem to follow through with the practice and not feel the need to explain performance. The followingrecommended phrasing has been found effective: “While practicing you may learn some important thingsabout yourself, and possibly you will want to articulate them. It is better that you place these thoughts intoa „basket‟ or on a „clipboard‟ in your mind so we can discuss them immediately after the practice.”
  7. 7. Sharing Phase IThe first sharing phase is designed to facilitate interaction between the client and the practitioner. Itspurpose is to gain some insight into the client‟s internal processes. The client is asked to tell thebiofeedback trainer whether they felt they were able to relax and what was going on in their mind duringthe previous exercise. On the superficial level, this is the client‟s way of telling the therapist what helped with theregulation of their physiology and what hampered the process. On a more profound level, a highlyvaluable therapeutic procedure commences during this stage. From birth, our processes of self-controlare constructed through the dialogue between the mother and her baby. The baby is overwhelmed byphysical and emotional discomfort and by the experience of incompetence. The mother “listens to herbaby‟s complaints” and the mother provides comfort by responding to the pain. The act of sharingbetween client and practitioner resembles this very primary process between child and caregiver.Research indicates that the interaction between client and practitioner can serve as a “curative factor.”Taub (1978) posited that when a “warm” therapeutic dialogue exists between client and practitioner, theclient is better able to control physiological variables such as expansion or constriction of blood capillaries(skin temperature measure). The sharing phase emerges in a variety of ways during the stages of treatment. The biofeedbackserves as a trigger for discourse and sharing of thoughts between client and practitioner. The practitionershould not show the client the results immediately after completing the practice so as to allow discussionof the client‟s subjective experience to take place. The client is questioned regarding his feelings duringthe session: Did they feel relaxed or tense, and at what stage? What was done to make the graphdescend? What caused the graph to ascend? Observations indicate that clients frequently do notevaluate the results correctly. Often they perceive their performance as good when their actual relaxationcapacity is low. Alternatively the graph may depict a good rate of relaxation but the client‟s subjectiveevaluation differs. This lack of agreement is significant from a diagnostic point of view and can serve as atrigger for discourse. The table below describes the possible significance of four theoretical cases.Table: Subjective and objective assessment (with EDA –arousal level). Descending graph Ascending graphSubjective Internal and external indicators are May be seen in cases where clientsexperience in accord and in the desired are convinced they know how toof relaxation direction. Practitioner tells client that achieve relaxation, or alternatively in they have an inherent ability to cases where clients are unaware of relax, and that aim of the treatment the extreme state of stress they are is to learn to apply this ability under experiencing. It is very important to conditions of stress. explain to such clients that this may be a consequence of a lack of ability to The client is also informed that their be fully aware of their stress. objective and subjective data are in Therefore, one of the purposes of the accord; hence feelings can be treatment is to develop awareness of trusted. their state of stress.Subjective Occurs often with clients who have a In this condition, the negative resultsexperience negative perception of their body concur. In such situations, relaxationof stress control abilities. These people quite abilities and self-control need to be often have mistaken assumptions improved. and assessments of themselves. We The practitioner should further tell the
  8. 8. can make use of this gap to point out patient that now, perhaps for the first their thought distortions and time, they are receiving objective gradually teach them to trust their corroboration for their ongoing inner abilities. experiences of stress. For the first time they have a way to change and evaluate their progress on a continual basis.As treatment progresses, clients learn to better link their inner experiences to the physiologicalmeasurements. The practitioner should devote time to discuss with the client what helped as well as whathampered their ability to achieve balance. In time, these discussions should lead the client to deal withperceptions and thoughts that might interfere with their ability to achieve balance.Working Phase – Learning and TrainingIn contrast to other psychotherapy approaches, CBT combines insight and work. This is what makes theintegration of biofeedback and CBT intervention so natural. The basic assumption is that in most cases,clients‟ difficulties stem from conditioning or automatic linkage between certain stimuli and the stressreaction. Our model suggests that the primary way to deal with these conditioned responses is to learnrelaxation and alternative thinking methods to produce a “counter response” to the stress and anxiety.Learning and training are required to “break” conditioned habits and create new habits or alternativemeans of response. This can be time-consuming and requires patience. The behavioral aspect ofbiofeedback therapy is crucial during this phase. The practitioner must insist on pursuing the training andnot comply with the client‟s request to “talk about it.” We encourage feedback about the client‟s relaxationtechnique – but in a way that does not hamper the training.Sharing Phase IIAfter the intensive training, the client should share with the biofeedback practitioner what else went on inhis mind during practice. Several points may arise during this phase. The client may be too embarrassedto relax in the presence of the practitioner (see chapter by Schwartz in this book ). He/she may alsospeak of being frustrated about not being able to fulfill the assignment of relaxing. On the other hand, theclient may reveal, for the first time, how eager he was for a chance to “let go” and how much he missedhaving a warm and tender significant other. All these possible issues can be discussed and elaborated insharing phase IIRelaxation, Reframing and Creation of Alternatives (RRCA)In the RRCA phase, the biofeedback device can be used as a tool to facilitate attitude change orreframing. The client‟s ability to alter their behavioral and thought patterns improves significantly whenthey are no longer anxious and stressed. The consensus is that individuals are more flexible in theirthinking and ready for change when they are in relaxation mode. Wickramasekera (2002) argued thatbiofeedback can alter people‟s hypnotic level - the level at which they can be affected by suggestions or
  9. 9. statements made by the therapist or by themselves. Costa and McCrae (1986) suggested thatbiofeedback may increase a clients openness to alternative cognitive explanations and perception ofclinical symptoms. In this phase, therefore, the client uses the biofeedback device to train, but as aroutine prompt to achieve some degree of relaxation and openness of mind. The client is asked to closetheir eyes and listen to the auditory feedback of the device or set of devices. This auditory feedback mayserve as a lullaby that helps deflect the client‟s focus from current anxieties. In this phase, the material gathered at the beginning of the session is reframed. Reframinginvolves presenting some alternative assumptions about oneself and the world, thus allowing foralternative solutions. This reframing can occur with or without the practitioner‟s help. At first the client isasked to enter into a relaxation mode without the practitioner‟s help by just letting go while listening to thedevice feedback. Then he/she is advised to use one of the methods that increases HRV. Though theclient can choose respiration to increase his HRV, we suggest using the HRV sensor to cultivate positivefeelings. McCraty and Childre (2004) and Bhat and Bhat (??) have argued that optimal wellness andsuccess in HRV biofeedback require the conscious and systematic cultivation of positive emotions andjoyfulness. It is therefore advised that HRV feedback be used as the main tool in this RRCA phase.Homework AssignmentAlthough homework itself is not conducted during the session, it is an integral part of the therapeuticapproach. The fundamental assumption of the technique is that changing how a person regulates himselfrequires a great deal of training. Therefore it is of vital importance to practice outside the clinic and asfrequently as possible.Through the homework assignments, the advantages of the integrated approach emerge in two ways. First, instead of asking clients to write a list of symptoms at home, they are asked to listen to theirinternal dialogue about their symptoms: What thoughts served as a trigger for the physiological change?What thoughts were caused by the physiological change? Identifying both types of thoughts at homeenables the client to challenge them in later sessions and leads to improved self-regulation. Second, the homework can help identify whether the client has given up on practicing andsometimes on therapy altogether. From a CB perspective, when a client fails to do homework there isusually a thought or dysfunctional assumption behind this. Identifying and challenging this assumptionmay pave the way to successful intervention. Without this cognitive intervention, practitioners and clientsoften give up on the intervention when the client fails to do their part. Here is an example. A client who suffers from hypertension is not practicing breathing at homeeven though sessions are regularly attended and biofeedback training is proceeding well. Without acognitive approach in mind, the practitioner might say, "Its up to you. If you do not practice, ourintervention will not be useful." Taking the cognitive approach, the practitioner will ask the client to monitorthoughts at home, mainly those related to practice (as described above). This process may reveal that theclient has some perfectionist assumptions, such as "if I am not doing it exactly as I have been asked todo, it‟s worthless." As the client skipped some of the training, the belief that there is no need to continuearises. The practitioner should challenge this assumption and help the client continue practicing at home.Termination stage >>
  10. 10. PART 2: HOW COGNITIVE BEHAVIORAL THERAPISTS CAN INTEGRATE BIOFEEDBACK INTOTHEIR PRACTICE In the past, physiology was neglected in psychotherapy, and to a certain extent this remains truetoday. This trend began when Freud abandoned his project aimed at combining neurology and psychiatry(Gay, 1998) and continued when cognitive therapists ascribed an exclusive position in therapy tothoughts (Beck, 1995). Yet more current works by Servan-Schreiber (2005) and Ledoux (1996)emphasize the special characteristics of the emotional brain. This brain is responsible for emotions andphysiology, but often functions separately from the cortex and from cognitive influences. Hence, thephysiological component in therapy becomes very important. Under the assumption that physiology plays a major role in mental health, this section focuses onthe role of biofeedback as therapeutic agent in a CBT setting. The role of biofeedback and physiology intherapy has recently become more natural with the reinforcing influence of the third generation of CBT.This new therapy trend introduced the role of mindfulness (Hayes, 2006) and controlling attention intherapy (Wells, 2000). In this section we show how biofeedback is relevant to these developments,theoretically and practically.Rationale: Biofeedback as Training for Meta-ControlIndividuals seek out therapy because they are unable to stop or control their suffering, whether physicalor mental. Naturally, they believe that regaining their control will put an end to their suffering. Rather thandirectly trying to stop suffering and get the individual back in control, CBT challenges and changes theconcept of control. CBT proposes the notion that a persons problem is not with reality (i.e., not being ableto stop the suffering) but rather with the way he or she perceives this reality (the belief that the personshould stop the suffering to go on with life - ABC model, above). The goal of therapy is to persuadepatients to give up their dysfunctional basic assumption that life should go the way they want or expect itto go. CBT seeks to provide a more sophisticated concept of control, that is, the freedom to relate toone‟s situations rather than trying to control them completely (something that is not always possible).Individuals should be liberated from the (western) addiction to achieving everything they want. Accordingto the CBT concept, control is the freedom to make a decision about whether to try to change actualreality or whether to take on the more challenging task of accepting reality when necessary. This ability isreferred to as "meta-control." Relaxation can serve as an important step toward achieving acceptance and "meta-control."Therapists like to help their patients choose between holding on (remaining tense to make a change) andletting go (relaxing and accepting). Yet this choice might be threatening for a patient. In contrast torelaxation, hyper-vigilance and tension serve a patient‟s need to feel in control, which is very hard toabandon. Biofeedback can provide an exciting solution to this obstacle. Relaxation using biofeedbackinvolves experiencing control (though it is actually an act of giving up), and is therefore much lessthreatening. Indeed, biofeedback is unique in that the individual experiences a sense of control whileactually letting go. This is precisely the meaning of "meta-control," as mentioned above. In CBT patients learn to give up their basic dysfunctional assumptions related to their need forcontrol. The therapist persuades the patient to distract themselves from things that used to make themfeel more responsible and more in control (being preoccupied with worries, for example). Feeling incontrol based on continuous worrying is an illusion, but is still not an easy feeling to let go of. In therapypatients are exposed to scenarios that create the most threatening state of mind for them - relinquishingthe wish for complete confidence. To do so, patients must abandon the bodily state of alertness that theyuse to maintain the illusion of being in control. By going through such a process, the patient eventuallygives up the need for absolute control and the illusion of having it. In return the patient achieves the best
  11. 11. type of control possible in the actual situation. Biofeedback plays an important role in achieving this "bestpossible control" experience, that is, "meta control."Conditioned Emotional Triggers: What CBT Cannot Resolve Dysfunctional basic assumptions can usually be addressed by CBT. However, direct andincreased sensitivity to external triggers related to the emotional brain (above) often cannot be influencedby the cortex and therefore should be treated by a system other than the cognitive one. This sensitivity isconditioned and very much connected to physiology. The integrated CBT and biofeedback (physiological) intervention relates to each individual as awhole, including both cognitive and emotional-physiological dimensions. This proposed interventionattempts to respond to the challenge posed by direct, non-cognitive, emotional, and physiologicalsensitivity by adding a physiological dimension to therapy. As in the first part of this chapter, two differentviews of the intervention are presented. First the general role of biofeedback in the different stages ofCBT is discussed, and then its practical application in the sessions themselves is considered. Eachsubsequent CBT stage is needed if the previous one proved insufficient to solve the patients problemreasonably.Stages in Biofeedback-Assisted CBT InterventionStage 1 - Attempting to stop the suffering: At this stage of therapy, the patient has already identifiedthe catastrophic thoughts that accompany suffering but they are not yet being effectively challenged. Thetherapist assumes at this stage that the patient does not really believe in the catastrophic thoughts, whichserve other purposes, and therefore has no need to challenge them. The patient is aware of the poisoningeffect of these thoughts and has learned not to cooperate with them. Biofeedback at this stage helpsdeflect the patient‟s focus from the thoughts and relieves suffering by reducing the bodily stress thataccompanies these thoughts. This step reflects the normal role of biofeedback as a tool for improvedcontrol over the body. By reducing bodily stress, the patient can shift their focus from the "thinking about"mode to a more positive and active coping mode. This is sometimes sufficient to stop the suffering.Stage 2 - Attempting to reduce suffering by changing a patient’s way of thinking in order tochange the resultant destructive behavior. Changing the patient‟s thinking is the hard core of most CBinterventions. At this stage, the therapist tries to challenge the patient‟s dysfunctional basic assumptionswhich are the source of suffering, and to shift the focus of attention from fixed suffering to functionality.The patient learns to accept that direct efforts to stop the suffering are insufficient. Biofeedback helpspatients learn and use the concept of "meta-control" to achieve this goal. The therapist helps the patient understand the reasons they are stuck by negative andcatastrophic thoughts. Together they try to discover the hidden reasons ("meta-cognitions" according toWells (2000)) that make the patient focus on the negative thoughts. One major hidden reason is theconcomitant experience (or rather, illusion) of taking control over one‟s situation by constant thinking orworrying. The therapist and the patient attempt to discover dysfunctional basic assumptions that make thepatient believe in the catastrophic thoughts. For example, if a patient believes that to feel safe they needa strong supportive figure, when alone they might be afraid of “falling apart.” The patient may try to avoid being alone, and this effort may be expressed physiologically. CBTthat works on cognition alone will not be sufficient because of the strong negative conditioning usuallyinvolved in such a case. Here, the role of biofeedback is to release the physical tension preventing thepatient from thinking realistically. Bodily alertness and hyper-vigilance are related to narrowed attentionand a polar way of thinking, which may be effective in emergencies but not under normal circumstances.
  12. 12. Biofeedback and physiological techniques in general help patients expand their attention andopen them up to more flexible ways of thinking and behaving. They serve to release bodily tension fromemergency mode.Stage 3 – Directly Experiencing Emotions and Sensations: When an individual cannot control theirbehavior due to the intensity of the negative emotions, a third stage is needed. Changing cognitiveassumptions, releasing physical tension, and defocusing are not sufficient. Some forms of suffering areresistant to disappearing. At this stage, the patient is taught to overcome judgmental thinking that feeds negativeuncontrolled emotions and is related to the past. The patient is directed to remain focused on the difficultemotions and sensations of bodily stress. The patient learns how to enhance skills to remain in thepresent (mindfulness) with the suffering (the emotions and sensations) and to deflect the focus away fromnegative judgmental thoughts (the past) and anticipatory anxiety (the future). Bodily sensations reflect themost pure experience of the present. Hence biofeedback, which helps connect the patient to their body,plays an important role in developing this "present-orientation skill." By teaching the patient to recognize bodily changes, partly control them, and accept the fact thatcontrol is only partial, biofeedback helps the patient to keep from returning to a focus on the negativethoughts (usually judgmental self-evaluation). Consequently it helps minimize the emotional andphysiological impact on suffering and behavior. The amount of suffering that remains probably isnecessary to illuminate some problematic issues the patient still needs to address. Integrated biofeedback-assisted CBT interventions are recommended primarily for treating peoplewith anxiety disorders that are marked by elements of hyper-arousal and “fear of loss of control” or statesof uncertainty. These characteristics are associated with many other psychiatric disorders, such as eating,mood, sleep, and impulse-control disorders. The following is a clinical demonstration of the potentialadvantage of using biofeedback techniques in CBT. First, the use of biofeedback in the psycho-educational part of the therapy session is described, followed by a demonstration of the core of therapy. The Use of Biofeedback Techniques in CBTExperiential Psycho-educationThe psycho-educational part of CBT can be very influential, and, for some patients, this accounts for mostof the change effected by the therapy. In simple CBT, the therapist uses the cognition itself todemonstrate some cognitive distortions and relevant information. However, this remains on the verballevel, which in turn is affected by the patient‟s cognitive distortions and subjective perceptions. On theother hand, integrated therapy can help the patient directly experience various effects of their thoughtsand expectations. Here are some examples: Demonstration of “fight or flight response”- Eliciting any surprise response from patients enables them to experience the normality of such a response, which they otherwise would have perceived as some form of personal weakness. In such a response, the EDR line graph ascends rapidly and then slowly descends. One of the major problems in dealing with anxiety is the patient‟s response to their symptoms. The patient becomes anxious and sometimes depressed because of this anxiety. Normalizing this anxiety by demonstrating the "fight or flight response" and other mind-body connections can alleviate some of the patient‟s worries about their own responses and symptoms.
  13. 13. Demonstration of “anticipatory anxiety”- The goal of this intervention is to challenge the patient‟smisconception that being ready in advance will help. The therapist asks the patient to get ready forthe same kind of "surprise" generated by the "fight or flight" response demonstration, but this time totry to suppress the response in advance. The therapist counts from 10 to 0, and then presents thepreviously used stimulus, while assessing arousal level throughout the entire process. The therapistthen shows the patient the high price of arousal that is paid for being prepared. This over-preparedness is a very common component of many psychopathologies. Anxious patients areconstantly on the alert in order to be ready for possible future disasters. They are preoccupied withthoughts related to the past and worries about future disasters. This intervention also demonstratesvery nicely the concept of "unnecessary suffering." Relinquishing this tendency toward beingprepared in advance will help the patient avoid accumulating unnecessary stress and worries.Demonstration of “thought-physiology-emotion connection”- According to CBT, an event is notthe reason for the consequences, but is rather due to the person‟s thoughts or the belief system. Thefollowing biofeedback demonstration can illustrate this unequivocally. The therapist says: "Try tomake the line graph descend, faster… faster… I am disappointed in you…" The therapist can also“threaten” the patient with a difficult math test.This simple exercise can also demonstrate the notion of "meta-control." Trying too hard will not helpthe patient control their physiology. The physiological recordings cannot be controlled until the patientgives up or relinquishes the desire to relax or achieve balance.Understanding psychosomatic phenomena –This can be demonstrated by asking the patientsomething that causes an internal conflict between the wish to please the therapist and the resistanceto the request. For example, the therapist might say, "May I ask you a personal question?" In a group,the therapist might say the following to one of the participants: "Will you straighten up the room at theend of the session?” The patient will probably say "yes," even though their body keeps saying "no,"expressing all real feelings via physiological changes. by increased arousal level, increased muscletension, and lowered peripheral temperature. The therapist then explains that saying “no” too oftenwill bring about a continuous somatic response, or psychosomatic phenomenaSuch a demonstration,in contrast to a purely theoretical explanation, has the potential to give the psychotherapy a real push
  14. 14. by offering a rationale for psychosomatic symptoms and the motivation to look for the mental sourceof such symptoms.Comparison between practicing biofeedback with eyes open and eyes closed – If a patient performsbetter with their eyes open, this may signal an added need for control (very often the case withchildren). Problems in controlling biofeedback measures with eyes open may indicate performanceanxiety and sometimes a coping model of avoidance. In such cases, the therapist should train thepatient in biofeedback therapy with eyes open while remaining aware of the patient‟s performance.On the other hand, practicing biofeedback with eyes closed can provide exposure for a patient whohas difficulties performing under uncertainty. This kind of exposure can be a particularly importantexperience for patients with anxiety disorders.Demonstration of the power of acceptance and distraction – As described above, an importantelement in CBT involves relinquishing the tendency to judge oneself through constant evaluations ofsuccess. Using biofeedback to distract patients from this constant evaluation can help them acceptand evaluate results almost without self-judgment. During biofeedback practice, the patient is trainedto distract themselves from the direct goal of success. This usually improves performance. Thepatient learns to give up on a coping model that focuses on results and learns to enjoy the process.The patient is trained to be aware of their performance, to accept it even if they are not satisfied, andto continue to do their best in a balanced and enjoyable way. The patient is taught the importance ofdistraction from judgment and learns to focus on practical evaluation of performance, as well as todecide what action to take. Both criticism and compliments of the patient‟s performance duringbiofeedback will most probably harm performance. On the other hand, acceptance of what cannotchange for now (unavoidable suffering in the present) will maximize performance.Understanding the activity of the autonomic nervous system (ANS) – The HRV as a measure of ANSbalance level is shown by the ratio between the activity of the sympathetic and the para-sympatheticnervous systems. biofeedback software settings that provide direct feedback about the patient‟sbalance as reflected in the ratio of these two systemshelp patients learn that the goal is usually notrelaxation but achieving a balanced state. The understanding that relaxation is not the goal ishelpful to patients who fear losing control as balancing the ANS allows for control, sometimes without
  15. 15. the feature of relaxation . An increased belief in ability to control provides the patient with the confidence they need to expose themselves to previously avoided "risky situations" . Demonstrating the difference between a baseline state, which usually indicates low ANS balance, and the results of short biofeedback intervention (biofeedback with slow breathing or guided imagery) – Using this method, it is usually easy to generate a quick change. Low HRV usually co-occurs with a coping model of alert hyper-vigilance or a simplified conception of control. "It would be awful for things to happen against my will, so I have to remain alert." Simple physiological intervention such as slow breathing with the help of biofeedback can be used to demonstrate how easy it is to relinquish this attitude and increase HRV and balance level, at least for the present time. The same can be demonstrated very nicely using EMG. Patients hooked up to EMG sensors on their extensor or flexor muscles usually exhibit high EMG levels, sometimes even above 20mv. For many patients, however, asking them to relax their muscles and sit comfortably is sufficient to monitor a dramatic reduction in muscle tension (below 1mv)! So after a short intervention, excessively high readings (usually a low balance of ANS at baseline) can turn into much more balanced ANS readings. The simultaneous use of two sensors (modalities) can reveal some very interesting information about an individual‟s coping model. Very often we find a contradiction between measurements in two different modalities. For instance, during guided imagery, a child with encopresis describes an "accident" while in class. As predicted, his peripheral temperature decreases, but his EDR also decreases! When asked what he is doing in class during the "accident", the child answers, “I am pretending I am not there!” The child is dissociating, or in CBT terms, using a coping model of avoidance. In this case the child is not avoiding the situation itself but rather dealing with the situation. Our conclusion is that as long as an individual‟s physiological modalities are not working in the expected direction, he or she is still paying a physiological price for some unfinished psychological issues or a non-adaptive coping model. Biofeedback can serve as a beacon lighting the way for psychological intervention.Core of therapyIn stage 1 of the therapy, the task is to of stop suffering. Here the role of the biofeedback in the core oftherapy is clear. The therapist trains the patient to better control physiological elements using differentbiofeedback modalities. Specifically, the patient is taught to attempt to control symptoms directly, such asheadache and muscle tension, breathing problems due to stress, extreme sweating, cold hands, panicattacks, and tremors. In discussing the stages of CBT therapy above, the importance of controlling attention wasdescribed. This skill is relevant in all stages of therapy. The easiest biofeedback modality to use forenhancing this skill is the EDR. Using different kinds of meditation or mindfulness techniques, thepatient attempts to minimize distractions, reduce bodily responses to destructive ideas, and decrease
  16. 16. arousal level. These parameters can easily be monitored with the EDR modality (and others as well),hence making it possible to check the effectiveness of mindfulness and meditation techniques. Paying attention to the body is an important element in mindfulness techniques. Easternphilosophy and CBT share the notion that focusing on the present releases individuals from their fearsand worries. An individual cannot become anxious unless past negative memories and worries about thefuture are combined. Focusing on experiencing the present can prevent this. Using biofeedback toincrease awareness of body sensations can support this process. Awareness of bodily sensations helpsdistract the individual from thoughts that are not related to the present and therefore helps themexperience the present. This training is critical in the third stage of therapy described above. Exposure is the main goal of each stage of CBT: being exposed to lifes tasks and to challengesthe patient was trying to avoid. Biofeedback can support this process in several ways: a. Demonstrating the exposure principle: The patient needs to learn that avoidance is not the only way to reduce anxiety. Paradoxically, exposure does this much better, and the effect remains for a longer time. The EDR and EMG line graphs descend (and the temperature rises) with exposure (de-sensitization or even flooding type of exposure), demonstrating habituation, while the patient keeps a focus on the source of their negative emotions. The therapist can use sounds, pictures or movies, or can create a scene related to the patients source of negative emotions. This is appropriate for treating phobias, and can also work very well with exposure to problematic thoughts, as in Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. For the patient, monitoring their bodily sensations during exposure is like looking inside themselves. The screen presenting the new balance in the patients‟ physiological responses convinces the patient that the anxiety has been resolved even before it is noticed personally. b. In-vivo exposure can often be implemented in the clinic (e.g., when treating fears related to blood tests, injections, blood pressure measurement, or insects). The therapist prepares the patients for an increase in stress and arousal level at the beginning of exposure, and later habituation. Often, however, exposure occurs without any anxiety emerging. The patient experiences the paradoxical effect of the exposure from the first moment. For example, asking the patient to focus on negative thoughts leads to a decrease in arousal level and anxiety, while asking them to avoid negative thoughts causes an increase in arousal level and anxiety. These phenomena, best demonstrated by the biofeedback graph, demonstrate the importance of exposure. Also demonstrated is the ineffectiveness of attempting to push thoughts out of one‟s mind and the effectiveness of accepting thoughts.
  17. 17. c. In-vitro exposure – Guided imagery of the actual problematic scenario the patient is trying to avoid is used in preparing for in vivo exposure. If the patient is hooked up to biofeedback sensors, it is possible to identify the more problematic points during in-vitro exposure and better prepare for in-vivo exposure. More importantly, implementing this imagined in-vitro exposure many times makes the real exposure (in vivo) much easier.These are all examples of how biofeedback can motivate, enhance, comment on and demonstrate avariety of cognitive techniques at different stages of therapy. CONCLUSION: BETWEEN THE TWO MODELS OR INTERVENTIONSThe first difference between these two models – CBT-assisted biofeedback and biofeedback-assistedCBT - is in who implements the intervention. In the first model, this is a biofeedback practitioner, while inthe second it is a psychotherapist. Naturally, the client is the first to select between the two interventionsby deciding whether to pursue biofeedback intervention or psychotherapy. It is assumed that individualswho select biofeedback will have some – though not all – of the following characteristics: pay moreattention to the body, more concrete, look for control, more scientifically orientated, less oriented totalking about feelings, less able “to get into” thoughts and feelings, less aware of possible psychologicalconflicts, and looking for a quick change (Wickramaskara, 2002). Those who prefer psychotherapy willhave more or less the opposite characteristics. Still, if the decision is ours, whom should we refer to which type of intervention? The answerdepends first on the individual‟s characteristics, so it is important to explore the above characteristics inevery client. Second of course, the answer depends on the presenting problem. If extreme physiologicalresponding is involved, it makes sense to try to bring the patient some relief and use biofeedback.However, this can still be achieved by a psychotherapist familiar with biofeedback (second model orintervention). Yet there is a clear difference between the two, and therefore there are clear criteria for when tostart or to switch to psychotherapy. When there is a major psychological problem (strong dysfunctionalbasic assumptions), biofeedback intervention is not sufficient. If this is known in advance, throughexperience with the patient or questionnaires, starting with the second intervention is advisable. If a majorpsychological problem emerges during biofeedback intervention, it is prudent to move to psychotherapyas well. Otherwise, the main criteria are personal characteristics as described above. Given that mostpsychotherapists still refrain from the use of psychophysiological tools, we can imagine an oppositescenario in the case of extreme physiological symptoms or unbalanced ANS that ordinary psychotherapycannot effectively address. In such cases it makes sense to refer the client to a biofeedback practitionerfor a parallel intervention.