This was a thoroughly enjoyable evening with a view into a speciality outside of the counselling arena.

Two volunteers agreed to be attached to computers with sensory pads at the start of the evening and we were able to see graphs of the two different types of feedback being collected.  As John greeted everyone, he invited people to “be a hero” by coming straight out with questions and requests for clarification if they didn’t understand what he was talking about and a humorous health warning about the fact that if something can go wrong it will be the computer!

For the first part of the evening John gave us a brief history of the development of the science of biofeedback; introducing us to some of the historical figures involved in the development of this field, such as Sir Philip Sydney, a poet and general advisor to Queen Elizabeth 1st, a man who could be regarded as something of a forerunner to the renaissance man) from the 16th century.

Another key figure, Max Cade, was an influential and internationally known British scientist, working in the 20th century.  Max believed that “Biofeedback is a new way of learning, a way of relearning, or realising for the first time, what the body already knows.”

One volunteer on the evening was being measured for galvanic skin response (GSR) which picks up such things as temperature and sweating, and is related to the right or flight mechanism.  This volunteer exhibited a good response when John mentioned chocolate cake which was a surprise to him, and caused us all to laugh, as he had started by explaining how one might anticipate a response to a threat to hit the subject but not if one spoke about chocolate cake!

The second part of the talk touched on neurofeedback and John identified some of the brain waves this science examines – delta, theta, alpha, SMR and beta.  Each of these types of brainwaves operates at different hertz and relates to such activities as day dreaming, arousal and so on.

He talked about an experiment conducted by Barry Sterman, using cats to assess activity and the links with the effects of rocket fuel leading to increased risk of fits in astronauts.  It was noted that cats taught how to produce SMR brainwaves demonstrated a delay in the development of fits or epilepsy and he thought that by training people to produce these brainwaves themselves, they would be able to reduce their own risk.  Not the sort of research experiment that would get ethical approval today!

Thank you John for an interesting and enjoyable evening with some good anecdotes and also for sharing some of your own personal history.

Karen Creed