We continue talking with Dr. Eric Chamberlin about Heart Rate Variability Biofeedback and it’s usefullness in psychotherapy.
What have you noticed from working with your patients?
A suburban mom comes in distraught after not sleeping the night before. Very anxious, she has been ruminating unproductively about not being able to get her boys to camp this summer for trivial reasons. The therapist’s attempts to encourage her to think about the situation differently are no match for her urgency and desperation.
She begins HRV to try to get her into a more balanced state where she can process more effectively. After 12 minutes she states “I feel better…they can go next year…it’s no big deal right?” With her balance and problem solving capacity restored, the solution was spontaneous and straightforward.
What followed was an emotional and very productive discussion about opportunities she had missed as a child because of her family’s dysfunction. She realized that the feeling of desperation was from her experience, and didn’t apply to her children who were very well cared for.
Have studies been done that support your observations?
Its an exciting time to be involved with HRV because it is in a “Translational Phase” meaning the basic neurophysiology has been well established and that knowledge is now being translated into clinical use.
Recent studies by Reiner at NYU, Karavidas and Lehrer at Robert Wood Johnson, and Zucker demonstrate the efficacy of HRV in clinical anxiety, depression, and PTSD respectively. A PhD Dissertation by Chaudri pending publication shows the efficacy of HRV combined with Psychotherapy in depressed patients with coronary artery disease. Specifically this study documented gains in focus, awareness, and emotional regulation.
What does the biofeedback technology offer that stress reduction methods such as breathing techniques, guided visualization, and meditation don’t?
HRV allows an individual to stimulate the cardiovascular system at its resonant frequency for a sustained period of time. Deep breathing, visualization, and meditation are all useful complimentary clinical tools, however they lack this critical property. Stimulation at the resonant frequency strengthens the baro-reflex, resulting in enhanced physical and psychological resilience by influencing heart rate, blood pressure, vascular resistance, pain threshold, central nervous system processing, mood, and attention. Analogous to physical conditioning, the baro-reflex can be thought of as the “muscle” of core Mind-Body strength.
We are very interested in creating a trauma program that makes use of these techniques as well as other emerging technologies. In many cases, trauma patients struggle with substance abuse and addiction and comprehensive treatment for this would need to be available. After trying various techniques myself, I am teaching some of my addiction patients Dr. John M. Kennedy’s B.R.E.A.T.H.E. technique which, though designed for heart-related stress, has a palpable and relaxing mind-body effect.
Have you done any specific work with HRV biofeedback and psychotherapy for addiction/addiction treatment?
Trauma and addiction are ubiquitous in clinical practice. With trauma comes difficulty in modulating arousal effectively, and people frequently resort to substance use to obtain relief. I have found HRV to be a very helpful tool for developing the capacity for self-regulation in clients who are seriously compromised.
Where is HRV biofeedback available?
The HRV devices currently available on the consumer level are the emWave “Desktop” (PC/Mac), emWave PSR (Handheld) and StressEraser (Handheld). This can be purchased from the manufactures directly, or authorized resellers.
An independent review of the StressEraser vs. emWave(s) is available at www.MindBodyTechnology.com.
Thank you for your time, Dr. Chamberlin. We look forward to learning more about HRV Biofeedback.
Eric Chamberlin, MD of Chamberlin Applied Neuroscientist 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.