I’ve long been a believer of the benefits of biofeedback, a simple technique anybody can learn to help control their own physiological responses, such as your breathing or muscle tension. I know because I spent 3 years in graduate school heading up the biofeedback program at my graduate school, sitting in countless supervisions watching young therapists learn to effectively wield the technique to help hundreds of clients.
So it was no great surprise to read about a new study in the journal Biofeedback that describes the successes achieved in North Carolina at the Wounded Warrior Barracks, the first rehabilitation facility of its kind.
The purpose of this biofeedback program is to help US Marines and Navy Corpsmen adjust to their injuries and assist them in the development of skills to manage depression, anxiety disorders and posttraumatic stress disorder.
Injuries sustained are a result of both physical and psychological trauma. Often isolating the specific cause of the injuries proves difficult because symptoms normally associated with physical trauma, such as headaches, are also aggravated by psychological conditions. Therefore, the biofeedback program, addressing both psychological and physiological elements, was employed to improve treatment.
Biofeedback is the process of displaying physiological signals (e.g., muscle tension or brainwaves) in real time to the subject. This aids the person in developing additional control over his or her physiology. Therapy begins with mild stressors, such as math and performance testing, and increases to immersive virtual reality (e.g., virtual Iraq, virtual combat medic). This allows individuals to practice controlling their physiological responses to the trauma.
The Training for Optimal Performance program involves four types of training: cognitive, heart rate variability biofeedback, neurofeedback and relationship and resiliency. The program is important because it allows participants to be active in their own recovery, as well as in that of their fellow Marines and Navy Corpsmen. The therapy also acts as an alternative to medication. Furthermore, because of the bonds between military personnel, successes are amplified by group therapy, as opposed to individual therapy.
The experiences of the staff, Marines and Navy Corpsmen at the Wounded Warrior Barracks will be used to develop best practices that will help military personnel improve their moods and interpersonal skills, decrease anxiety and control anger so that they are able to return to duty, be medically discharged or successfully readjust to civilian life.
I think this is a great program and an example of a low-cost, low-intensity psychotherapy technique that only requires practice to master. Once you do master it, you ditch the actual biofeedback equipment and can do the techniques anywhere, at any time. Which is ideal for soldiers.
Read the full article: Training for Optimal Performance Biofeedback Program (PDF)
Parts of this entry were adapted from a press release.