Biofeedback For Children & Youth

by Bill Barton, PhD, © Copyright 2008.

Biofeedback Has Helped Kids With

  • Anorexia/Bulimia
  • Anxiety
  • Asthma
  • Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD)
  • Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)
  • Cancer
  • Chronic fatigue syndrome
  • Dental problems (TMJ)
  • Depression
  • Diabetes
  • Digestion problems
  • Epilepsy
  • Hyperactivity
  • Learning difficulties
  • Migraine headaches
  • Rage
  • Seizures
  • Sleeping difficulties
  • Stress
  • Raynaud’s syndrome

Biofeedback Can Help In The Following Areas

Spirit: Yes

Body: Yes

Mind: Yes

Emotions: Yes

Social: Somewhat, as a person gains confidence in abilities to relax with others

Brief Description Of Biofeedback

  • Biofeedback is a painless, non-invasive technique for learning control of the processes of the mind and body.
  • Instruments are used that give precise, immediate and meaningful auditory and/or visual feedback of the child’s physiology.
  • Biofeedback is used to increase relaxation, relieve pain and the effects of stress.
  • Biofeedback is also used to train awareness and mindfulness for the promotion of healthier and more comfortable life patterns.
  • Each session can be fun, challenging and helpful.

Success With Biofeedback

  • Using biofeedback, imagery, and breathing techniques, a 9 year-old boy was able to reduce his frequency of asthma attacks and lessen his reliance on his inhaler. He accomplished this in eight sessions.
  • A 10 year-old girl suffering from anxiety, depression, and Raynaud’s syndrome after the sudden death of her father was helped considerably by six sessions of biofeedback. She wrote me of her success for several years.
  • Combining both brainwave (neurofeedback) and body measures, a young boy of 12 learned to effectively focus and concentrate better. The biofeedback techniques also helped him to fall asleep more easily at night. The quality of his school work improved dramatically. Many gains were noticed after six sessions but further gains continued through twenty sessions.
  • A 12 year-old boy receiving chemotherapy found that biofeedback gave him success at managing discomfort and nausea more effectively. In only four sessions he learned a sense of control.
  • A 17 year-old girl was able to reduce the amount of insulin she used after some twelve sessions of biofeedback training. This is attributed to a reduction in anxiety, as anxiety often exacerbates diabetic conditions.
  • A 9 year-old girl dramatically reduced the frequency and severity of her migraine headaches after eight sessions. She conscientiously practiced her biofeedback exercises at home.

Biofeedback Is Appropriate For Ages

  • Seven and older

Children & Youth’s Reactions to Biofeedback

  • Children report really enjoying the sessions and feeling comfortable with the therapist.
  • Children can quickly relate to challenges of self-regulation and self-quieting.
  • Children particularly like computer generated puzzles and games that are linked to their learning and mastery of these skills.
  • The child takes pride in the opportunity to train and gain control over symptoms and may be excited to tell others what they are doing.
  • The child is eager to return, as sessions are fun and meaningful.

Extra Care Is Needed

  • Anytime a practitioner is having unexpected results with a client

Contraindications: When Biofeedback Should Be Avoided

  • It should be avoided if the child is unmotivated or would be better served with medication or another intervention.
  • If a child is working on reducing seizure activity, certain biofeedback frequencies (theta and delta) should be suppressed and not reinforced.


  • In the late 1960’s several researchers were active in biofeedback research: Dr. Neal Miller at Rockefeller University; Dr. Elmer Green (all modalities) at the Menninger Clinic; Dr. Joe Kamiya (EEG) at the University of Chicago; Dr. Barbara Brown (EEG) at UCLA; Dr. Thomas Basmajian in muscle feedback (electromyography or EMG), and others.
  • Early successes in biofeedback were in addressing physical problems such as Raynaud’s, high blood pressure and other circulatory problems, insomnia, migraine and tension headaches, and other areas of pain management.
  • Since the mid 1970’s, electro-encephalogram (EEG) or “neurofeedback” has become popular for treating such conditions as ADD and ADHD, seizures, anxiety and panic disorders, phobias, acute and post traumatic stress, habit control and chemical dependency.
  • EEG feedback training is also being applied to enhance mental states such as increased awareness, focusing and improved learning states.
  • Currently, Biofeedback is being widely used to treat incontinence with electromyographic feedback and cardiac problems via heart rate variability training.

Basic Concepts And Components Of Biofeedback

  • Biofeedback uses instruments that send immediate clues to the child about how they can control their physical, mental and emotional states.
  • It is founded on two basic mind/body laws:
  1. Any change in our physical state results in a change in our mental/emotional state;
  2. Any change in our mental/emotional state results in changes in our physical state.

Description Of A Typical Session

  • Depending on the presenting problem, the most appropriate feedback tools or modalities will be selected and introduced in the first session.
  • Sensor pads are taped to the child’s skin to monitor brain or bodily activities.
  • The child and therapist use the instruments to learn how the child’s own movement, tension or relaxation, breath changes, and mental states affect the instruments and how the child can learn to control them.
  • Results are reviewed in a positive way and training goals are discussed.
  • The child or youth will have a meaningful experience in learning self-regulation. It is painless and fun.
  • Subsequent sessions focus on practice to increase skills in order to achieve the goals.

Major Differences Of Opinion Between Biofeedback Practitioners

  • Only a small percentage of biofeedback practitioners are experienced in EEG (brainwave or neurofeedback). Those who are EEG qualified often are limited in working with the whole person.

Fees /Costs In 2007

  • $75 - $150 per session (in Northern California)

Average Time Per Session

  • 45 to 50 minutes

Estimated Length Of Time Before Improvements Can Be Expected

  • 4 to 8 sessions
  • After 4 or 5 sessions, symptoms usually show some diminishing or improvement.

Suggestions To Make Biofeedback More Effective

  • Parents can make sure the relationship between child and practitioner is good and should not hesitate to sit in on the first session.
  • Parents can make sure the child gets regular appointments or uses instruments at home.
  • Parents can get to know the process themselves by having sessions on their own.

Other Methods That Are Similar To Biofeedback

  • Counseling
  • Hypnosis
  • Mindfulness
  • Autogenic Training
  • Meditation
  • Yoga

Other Methods That Complement Biofeedback

  • Physical therapy
  • Counseling
  • Massage
  • Interactive Metronome™
  • The learning is accelerated and enhanced by the use of auxiliary techniques such as Autogenic Training, Progressive Relaxation, Systematic Desensitization, diaphragmatic breathing, by practice with and without instruments, and by the expert guidance, coaching and teaching of a trained and skilled therapist.

Nature And Length Of Training To Be A Practitioner

  • A license in a counseling profession is recommended: Clinical psychology, marriage and family therapy, clinical social work, or nursing.
  • Several years of biofeedback experience is preferable.

Special Training Needed To Work With Children & Youth

  • On the job experience working with children & youth is needed.

Certification/Licenses Held By Practitioners

  • Biofeedback practitioners are not licensed but are certified. Look for a B.C.I.A. (Biofeedback Certification Institute of America) certificate.
  • Additionally, some states have their own certification (e.g., BSC: Biofeedback Society of California). Certification indicates a level of competence even in licensed professionals.

Professional Associations To Contact For Names Of Local Practitioners

  • Association for Applied Psychophysiology and Biofeedback; 10200 W. 44th Ave., #304; Wheat Ridge, CO 80033; 303-422-8436; Fax: 303-422-8894; Website: www.aapb.org
    E-mail: AAPB@resourcenter.com
  • Biofeedback Certification Institute of America (BCIA); 10200 W. 44th Ave., Suite 310; Wheat Ridge, CO 80033-2840; 866-908-8713; Fax: 303-422-8894; Website: www.bcia.org
    Email: info@bcia.org
  • Biofeedback Society of California; 1925 Francisco Blvd. E. #12; San Rafael, CA 94901; 415-485-1345; Fax: 415-485-1348; Website: www.biofeedbackcalifornia.org Email: bsc@biofeedbackcalifornia.org
  • International Society for Neurofeedback and Research; PO Box 832925; Richardson, TX 75083-2925; 800-847-4986; Fax: 972-437-1212; Website: www.isnr.org: Email: annmarie@isnr.org

Number Of Certified Practitioners In U.S., Canada, And Mexico

  • Approximately 1,600.

What To Look For When Choosing The Best Practitioner

  • Competence: practitioner should be licensed in some helping profession and certified by the Biofeedback Certification Institute of America.
  • Experience with children: practitioner needs to really enjoy working with children. Being a parent themselves often ensures greater sensitivity to being effective with children.
  • Meet and interview several practitioners to find the one with whom your child will be most comfortable.

Leading Clinics, Centers, Practitioners

  • Menninger Clinic; 2801 Gessner Drive; P.O. Box 809045; Houston, TX 77280; 800-351-9058; Fax: 713-275-5107; Website: www.menningerclinic.com
  • Scripps Health; 4275 Campus Point Court; San Diego, CA 92121; 800-326-3776; Website: www.scripps.org


Research Papers Pertaining To Biofeedback

  • “Clinical Applications of Biofeedback and Applied Psychophysiology”; a series of White Papers prepared in the public interest by the Association for Applied Psychophysiology and Biofeedback (each paper includes references to articles, and research): available from AAPB phone: 303-422-8436 (in 2001) Website: www.aapb.org


  • Biofeedback: A Practitioner’s Guide, 3rd edition, by Mark S. Schwartz and Associates, 2003 The Guilford Press; New York. “This is a gold mine of clinical chapters with tons of references.” Dr. Barton.
  • Criswell, Eleanor. Biofeedback and Somatics: Toward Personal Evolution. Novato, CA: Freeperson Press, 1995.
  • Green, Alyce and Elmer. Beyond Biofeedback. Knoll Publishing, 1989.
  • Tursky, Bernard and Leonard White (Editors). Clinical Biofeedback: Efficacy and Mechanisms. New York: Guilford Press, 1982.

Helpful Tips For Parents

  • Use home training cassettes or cd’s for guided relaxation.
  • Use simple home training monitors: temperature, muscle tension, electrodermal (arousal), heart rate monitors, EEG or neurofeedback home training devices.
  • Practice relaxed, diaphragmatic breathing.

Biography of Bill Barton, Author

William G. Barton, PhD, MA, MBA., is a clinical psychologist that has been using biofeedback in his clinical practice in San Francisco for over 35 years. He is certified by the B.C.I.A. in both general biofeedback and neurofeedback. He is a two-time past president of the Biofeedback Society of California.

To Contact Bill Barton, Who Contributed This Chapter

Bill Barton, MBA, MA, PhD; 2166 Hayes St., Suite 203A; San Francisco, CA 94117-1033; Ph: 415-775-9222; Fax: 415-775-9222; Website: www.biobill.org; E-mail: BioBill@pacbell.net

Marie Mulligan’s Comment About Biofeedback: There can be additional benefits when people get involved with biofeedback practiced by people licensed in other healing modalities. I have referred many children and adults to biofeedback practitioners.

Rick Geggie’s Comment About Biofeedback: Biofeedback has helped me on many occasions. Biofeedback has helped so many children or youth with a wide variety of problems. They enjoy learning how to control their bodies and emotions using Biofeedback. They especially like the changes they experience. I am continually impressed with the process and the potential of the many new developments in the field.

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