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Can Heart Rate Biofeedback Improve Therapy's Effectiveness?

Dr. Eric Chamberlin discusses his work in Mind-Body medicine, and how a relatively new technology brings something new to psychotherapy.

Welcome, Dr. Chamberlin. Can you tell us about the genesis of your work with Heart Rate Variability Biofeedback and psychotherapy?

I really enjoy seeing people get better, and am always looking for tools that will increase efficiency and enhance outcome.  In 2006, HRV Biofeedback devices became available on the consumer level. Having practiced Mind-Body Medicine since the early 90’s, I was intrigued by the possibility of individuals being able to fine-tune their nervous systems at a very deep level.  When the so-called “Autonomic Nervous System” was discovered it was erroneously believed to be out of the realm of voluntary control.

HRV represents an exciting leap forward by helping people learn to balance the two branches of the ANS—the Sympathetic “Fight or Flight” and Parasympathetic “Rest and Digest” systems.  And with balance of the ANS comes greater balance in life.

Psychotherapy can be extremely powerful, however the progress is often uneven.  A common factor is clients not being in the “right mood” or “frame of mind” to be able to engage and benefit from treatment.  For example, a person may be so anxious and preoccupied that she can’t focus effectively.  Or, in talking about emotionally charged issues she may become overwhelmed, frozen and shut down. My hope was that by using HRV to balance the nervous system that it would be possible “to keep the train on the tracks,” moving toward resolution of the problems that brought them to treatment.  It works.

Meditative techniques, breath-work and medication can all be used to address this, however, there are drawbacks/limitations to each of those methods. HRV Biofeedback doesn’t appear to have the same kinds of limitations. Can you describe the HRV technology and how you employ it?

HRV devices all work by measuring the pulse from a fingertip or earlobe. The heart rate is calculated and the data undergoes processing which is used to provide visual and auditory feedback. The client uses breathing (to control her heart rhythm), and then uses the feedback to enter a balanced state.

Clients use HRV before sessions; in the waiting room, car, etc., to balance and optimize readiness to engage in the challenging work to follow. If needed, clients will use HRV for 5 to 10 minutes to “get back on track” during a session.  (It’s disturbing to realize how much time was wasted in the past when clients “derailed,” and the rest of the session was spent just trying to get them back on track.)

In the hours and days after a session, clients use HRV to help “digest” the experience and make change.  It is a very effective “force multiplier.”

Thanks, Dr. Chamberlin. We are looking to hearing more about HRV Biofeedback in Part Two.

Eric Chamberlin, MD is currently authoring a book about his work with clients employing an unusual tapestry of clinical tools.  Inspired by changes catalyzed by Heart Rate Variability Biofeedback, it describes the power of self-transformation that comes with balancing the nervous system at a deep level.  He has served on the faculty of Harvard and Dartmouth Medical Schools, lectures on Mind-Body Medicine, and has a full-time clinical practice in Glastonbury, CT. His website is Chamberlin Applied Neuroscience.

Can Heart Rate Biofeedback Improve Therapy's Effectiveness?

Richard Zwolinski, LMHC, CASAC & C.R. Zwolinski

Richard Zwolinski, LMHC, CASAC is the author of Therapy Revolution: Find Help, Get Better, and Move On Without Wasting Time or Money and is licensed in addiction and psychotherapy with over 25 years experience as well as a consultant to organizations and companies in the fields of mental health and addiction. He is the executive director of an outpatient behavioral health program. Learn more about Richard here.

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APA Reference
& C.R. Zwolinski, R. (2010). Can Heart Rate Biofeedback Improve Therapy's Effectiveness?. Psych Central. Retrieved on November 29, 2020, from


Last updated: 23 Jun 2010
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