One physiological method of treatment is Biofeedback. Physiological methods help people cope with the effects of stress by changing the way the body responds to it. With biofeedback, the aim is to teach the client how to relax. The person learns how to regulate the symptoms of stress in real-life stressful situations.
There are 4 steps involved. Firstly, the person is attached to a machine that monitors the body’s response to stressors and then gives feedback on heart rate and blood pressure etc. The person then learns to control these symptoms and reduce the effect that stress has on blood pressure etc. They may learn to take deep breaths which slows down the heart rate and makes them feel relaxed. Relaxation acts as a reward and encourages the person to repeat this as an involuntary action. As a final step, the person is then taught to use this in a real-life stressful situation.
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It has been discovered that biofeedback is especially useful for children and teenagers where drug therapy would not have been suitable. Children who went through biofeedback have gained control over the symptoms of stress such as migraines and also showed an increase in enthusiasm and more positive attitudes. It is also an effective treatment as it aims to treat the cause of the problem as well as the symptoms. It can give clients a greater sense of control over themselves as well which can have many longer-lasting benefits.
Another advantage would be that it has no side effects or harmful addictions attached etc. It is also voluntary and not invasive for example in drug treatment withdrawal symptoms may be distressing. Biofeedback can be used for an unlimited time, as it is not addictive in the way that BZ’s (for example) can be (as they are only used for a maximum of four weeks to prevent this) so biofeedback is seen as more of a long term cure of stress.
However, biofeedback has the drawback of being extremely costly and time-consuming. It needs specialist equipment and expert supervision, although attempts have been made to produce a more accessible therapy by using cards – the client would put their thumb on a card and it would measure the stress levels (stressed, tense, normal, calm) etc. Some also argue that the benefits of biofeedback can be achieved from other relaxation techniques and so it is an unnecessary expense.
Another method of stress includes the psychological technique of stress inoculation training (Meichenbaum). The training was introduced as a type of immunization against the effects of stress. The training involves preparation to deal with stress before it becomes a problem. There are 3 steps to the preparation.
Conceptualization is the first process the client goes through. With the therapist’s help, the client’s fears and concerns are identified. The second step is ‘skill acquisition and rehearsal’ where the client trains with the therapist to develop skills in positive thinking, relaxation and try and increase self-confidence. The third step is to try and put these new skills into a real-life situation and apply what they have been taught. They still maintain contact with the therapist so the support and backup are sustained.
This method has been shown to work for both short-term stressors such as preparing for public speaking, and for long-term stressors such as medical illness, stress at work or divorce.
However, despite the proven effectiveness of such treatments, it can be argued that this type of training would only suit a small band of individuals who are very determined and able to cope with the long-term application of this training. Also, the research done into stress inoculation training was done on those who could afford it, like white-collar businessmen so any results should not be generalized – as this therapy may not be effective for all social groups. Also, it has not yet been applied to other cultures, and procedures are extremely lengthy and costly and require considerable time and effort from both client and therapist.
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