Saul Rosenthal, PhD

Boston Area Health Psychologist

You may not know that you are already a proficient user of biofeedback! If you feel sick, you probably use a thermometer to take your temperature. The thermometer provides information, or feedback about your biological functioning. Based on the thermometer’s reading, you respond appropriately. When I use biofeedback clinically, I help my clients learn how to monitor and change their physiology. 

Biofeedback is a noninvasive activity that uses information about your own physical systems to help you achieve better health. It is scientifically based and validated by studies and clinical practice. Sensors connected to the body show physiologic functioning in real time, such as heart rate, breathing or muscle tension. The feedback information can be used to improve many conditions that include a physical component.

The main attraction of biofeedback is its focus on strengthening clients’ own physiologic systems to help them improve their health without the use of medications. Biofeedback is often used to help with issues of dysregulation – a state in which internal systems are unable to maintain healthy functioning:

  • Individuals with pain amplification might experience even simple touch as extremely painful because their pain systems overreact.
  • An anxiety attack might be triggered because a student is unable to stop thoughts that he is going to fail, no matter how much he studies.
  • In Raynaud’s syndrome, blood flow to hands and feet is severely reduced due to the body’s overreaction to cold or stress. 
  •  People with attention deficit problems struggle to keep their attention on what is important, appearing either inattentive or hyperattentive.
  • Migraines are triggered when blood vessels in the skull go into spasm.

These are all examples of failures in mental and physical self-regulation. Biofeedback can help bring systems back into balance. It is a high-tech approach to training better self-regulation.

Learned Healthfullness

Biofeedback follows a training model. A client views and learns to change physiologic functioning in real time. With practice, the change becomes automatic as the body’s own ability to self-regulate is strengthened. 

The appeal and benefits of biofeedback are many:

  • It is non-invasive, meaning no medication side effects.
  • It is a proactive, holistic approach that trains the body towards better health.
  • It requires a minimum amount of talk, making it an effective intervention for clients who might not engage in traditional talk therapy.
  • Clients can engage in biofeedback as primary treatment or utilize it as an adjunct to other treatments such as ongoing psychotherapy.
  • The high-tech approach is attractive to many, as is learning more about how the body works and can change.

Treating the whole person

Biofeedback is both evidence-based for particular conditions and personalized for individuals. When I first meet with a client, I run an evaluation looking at the response to stress of multiple systems including heart rate, respiration, blood flow, muscle tension and reactivity. Training plans are based on the presenting issues and the results of the evaluation. Research evidence and clinical experience show that biofeedback benefits many conditions, including: 

  • Anxiety
  • Fibromyalgia and Chronic Pain
  • Headaches and Migraines
  • Hypertension
  • Insomnia
  • Irritable Bowel Syndrome
  • Raynaud’s Syndrome
  • Rheumatoid and Autoimmune conditions

I have been Board Certified in Biofeedback for over a decade. I also coordinated the Biofeedback program in Behavioral Medicine at the Cambridge Health Alliance, a Harvard Medical School site. I continue to mentor clinicians in biofeedback and speak to professionals and the general public on using biofeedback to improve health for children, adolescents and adults.