There’s a growing trend toward alternative healing methods. Some—like acupuncture, yoga, and massage—are supported by research and offered by many medical center integrative medicine programs. Others—like energy healing—are more controversial. Read on to learn about a form of energy healing called biofeedback therapy, if it has any evidence-based benefits, and how to tell the difference between the real thing and a scam.
“I’m outraged that this fraudulent device is still out there,”
What Is Biofeedback?
Let’s start by talking about what biofeedback therapy isn’t.
Before she died, JoAnn Burggraf’s son Bryan begged her to go to the hospital. “Mom told me this device would make her well,” he told The Seattle Times in a recent interview. Because she distrusted hospitals, she was receiving regular “biofeedback” from an unlicensed and inexperienced “practitioner.” She died in severe pain from undiagnosed leukemia.
“I’m outraged that this fraudulent device is still out there,” Burggraf told the Times. “If my mom had gone to the hospital earlier, there may have been hope. If nothing else, she would not have died in incredible pain.”
The device Burggraf refers to is an Electro-Physio-Frequency Xrroid (EPFX). It has other names as well, such as Quantum Xrroid Consciousness Interface (QXCI) in Europe. Practitioners call them biofeedback devices. People use many different machines to make the same claims—that their device uses energy medicine to heal any kind of ailment.
What Is Energy Medicine?
Energy medicine is an unproven alternative therapy that is said to use energy to heal. This energy, often called chi or qi, is at the heart of Reiki and other energy healing disciplines, which practitioners say direct the energy that the body produces naturally to heal.
With EFDX, the energy is said to come from a machine that “zaps” healing energy into a person’s body. Practitioners say it can heal diseases from high cholesterol to cancer.
These treatments can be expensive, but the real money is in selling these “biofeedback devices” to people who are often desperately ill. They can cost anywhere from hundreds of dollars to $20,000 or more.
But do they work? According to Al Bergstein, another person who also lost his mother to cancer following EPFX treatment, “It’s a complete fraud.”
These machines generate images, somewhat like CT scanning, as the “feedback” the user sees. Bergstein, who is a retired Microsoft manager, told the Times that he inspected the software source code for these images and found that the images were generated entirely at random.
What’s more, the “patient” has no interaction in the process.
This is not biofeedback.
Medically Reviewed Biofeedback Therapy
If this “healing energy” isn’t biofeedback, then what is?
“Biofeedback is a technique you can use to learn to control some of your body’s functions, such as your heart rate,” according to the Mayo Clinic. While users are attached to a machine with electrical sensors, just as with EPFX, the similarities end there.
True biofeedback is administered by a certified health professional, while anyone can purchase and use any type of device and call it biofeedback therapy.
Legitimate biofeedback is often described as “mind over matter.” It’s a relaxation technique that measures muscle movement, brain activity, and other physical responses. It “feeds back” that information to the user (usually with visuals the user can see), who then interacts with that information to change their responses to stress.
Types of Biofeedback Therapy
The exact nature of the therapy will depend on what the primary issue is. The most common types measure skin temperature, heart rate variability (HVB), muscle tension (electromyography/EMG), and neurofeedback for brain activity (electroencephalogram/EEG).
Whatever the type, the therapist guides the user through techniques such as deep breathing and guided imagery in 30- to 60-minute sessions. The patient can see on the screen the areas of the body the device is targeting and learns to control these body functions with the mind. The ultimate goal is to learn to do this without the aid of the machine.
Biofeedback for Chronic Pain
The ability to treat themselves independently is particularly relevant to people with chronic pain. Research shows that biofeedback can be helpful for pain from many medical conditions. These include migraines and tension headaches, symptoms of chronic disease such as multiple sclerosis and rheumatoid arthritis, and many others. Sometimes biofeedback is combined with virtual reality techniques for controlling pain.
What’s more, a type of biofeedback called neurofeedback can help the anxiety and depression that often accompany chronic pain. Neurofeedback techniques train patients to control the brain activity involved with mood and emotions.
How to Spot Fake Biofeedback
So, we know there are people selling biofeedback devices and services. But how can we tell the difference between the real and the fake?
- Look for language associated with quantum physics. According to RationalWiki, “when an idea seems too crazy to believe, the proponent often makes an appeal to quantum physics as the explanation. This . . . is an attempt to piggy-back on the success and legitimacy of science by claiming quack ideas are rooted in accepted concepts in physics.” You may also hear the phrase “quantum healing” and other physics-related terms. Many call this misuse of science “quantum woo.”
- By law, biofeedback practitioners without medical credentials can’t claim they can diagnose or heal medical conditions. They are only authorized to claim their machines can reduce stress. If anyone promises to diagnose or cure an ailment, ask for their medical credentials.
- Ask about the process. According to the Association for Applied Psychophysiology and Biofeedback (AAPB), there are three differences between “real” biofeedback and a phony device or one that’s misused:
- Genuine biofeedback devices use well-understood medical parameters that can be measured, such as blood pressure or heart rate.
- The individual (not the operator) is “in the driver’s seat” and does the actual work; they are not “acted upon.”
- Under their own conscious will, the individual uses deep breathing, guided imagery, and other techniques to bring about specific positive changes in the body.
How to Find a Reputable Biofeedback Therapist
These practitioners must have biofeedback training and meet minimum standards of knowledge and experience. BCIA maintains a directory of certified practitioners on their web site.
Another option is to call your local hospitals. Many now offer biofeedback as complementary medicine.
In the meantime, if you would like to learn more about JoAnn Burggraf’s story (and others) or about biofeedback scams in general, visit the Seattle Times news story here. It’s an eye-opening read.
What has your experience with biofeedback therapy been?
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What questions do you still have about alternative chronic pain treatments?
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