Biofeedback Therapist Helps Clients Learn to Manage Stress and Pain
The Crestone Eagle, July 2005
The knife was at her throat- literally. Fresh out of college, it was her second day of teaching. She was sitting at her desk before class started when suddenly there it was. The class was for emotionally disturbed or physically handicapped students. She had no training in handling them and certainly none in disarming knife-wielding students.
"Danny, put that knife down, " she recalled scolding him. "And I never want to see it again." He did, laughing condescendingly as he told her that it was not a knife. It was a switchblade.
Kelsie Kenefick's teaching days were the catalyst for the search for ways to relax and handle stress. She learned yoga and mediation for herself; eventually she went back to school for a master's in psychology to help others. Then, in 1995, she crowned her efforts by becoming a certified biofeedback therapist.
"I've just been fascinated with the mind/body connection for a long time," she explained. She chose biofeedback because it "brought it all together and proved it all scientifically."
"That's what really drew me to biofeedback, she said. "I could be working on an emotional level with people, or a psychological or even spiritual level, but the results were measurable physically. To me, that was real exciting."
Biofeedback involves the use of sensitive equipment to measure the body's physical responses to certain stimulations. The electromyograph (EMG) measures muscle tension. The GSR, galvanic skin response, measures sweat gland activity. There is also a machine sensitive to changes in skin temperature, as minor as 1/10 of a degree. It indicates changes in blood flow. Heart rate and respiration are also measured.
Each type of response relates to a way a particular person reacts to stress. With one or more of those machines wired to them, individuals work with the biofeedback therapist. They learn to control those responses and the negative effects of stress that often lead or contribute to illness.
"When clients first come in , they don't always believe it, " she said. "So I start with simple things. If they don't believe they can control their blood flow through the arteries, I'll start with muscle tension or respiration."
The machines help identify a person's neurological response to stimuli. Kelsie then suggests ways for them to manipulate the readings. Different people call for different techniques. "Sometimes I will use auditory messages, visual techniques, sometimes actual exercises (physical exercises), " she said. Practicing at home is imperative.
Apparently, repeatedly communicating to your body, at a level of deep concentration, helps you to learn what, in biofeedback jargon, is called "self regulation" -self control of what used to be called involuntary processes.
Most of Kelsie's clients are referred by physicians; medical insurance will often cover biofeedback training. However, when a person's desire to learn biofeedback techniques is not connected with symptoms that indicate a need for a doctor's attention, she will make appointments directly.
When looking for a biofeedback therapist, be sure they are certified by the Biofeedback Certification Institute of America (BCIA). Then you will know that you are seeing someone who has studied biofeedback, has passed the national exams, and has a degree in health care. Go to www.BCIA.org.
Kelsie is an enthusiastic proponent of biofeedback, believing it can provide help for problems from headaches to hypertension, from chronic pain to anxiety. She also likes the notion of individual control.
"What they do here is they accept the responsibility for their health and controlling it," she said. "I'm not doing anything to them- I'm a coach, a teacher. I guide them, and they do the work. And it is hugely empowering to people once they see just how much control they have over their physiology."
Beth Carlsen of Crestone has this to say of Kelsie's work, "My doctor and I were very concerned about my high blood pressure which was 181/76. After only four biofeedback sessions with Kelsie it was down to 120/65, and I have been able to maintain that. SHe has my highest recommendation."