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Kerr, M.E. (1977). Aspects of Biofeedback Physiology and its Relationship to Family Systems Theory. Am. J. Psychoanal., 37(1):23-35.

(1977). American Journal of Psychoanalysis, 37(1):23-35

Aspects of Biofeedback Physiology and its Relationship to Family Systems Theory

Michael E. Kerr, M.D.

This paper grew out of research aimed at linking Bowen family systems theory1 with concepts from the natural sciences. Bowen has consistently emphasized the importance of anchoring his theory in the natural scis — that is, keeping the concepts of his theory consistent with concepts about related phenomena derived from the natural sciences. Many years ago, the concepts related to biofeedback captured his interest as one such bridge between his theory and physiology. Bowen theory emphasized emotional self-control, while biofeedback emphasized physiological self-control. Since emotion is a physiological process, the parallels were apparent.

In line with the goal of creating bridges, this paper poses and attempts to answer three questions about biofeedback: (1) What does biofeedback instrumentation measure or reflect at a physiological level? (2) What are the goals of biofeedback techniques in physiological terms? (3) What are the parallels between biofeedback and the clinical phenomena observable through the lens of family systems theory?

The progression of this paper is from a review of some physiological concepts basic to understanding biofeedback to focus on specific aspects of biofeedback instrumentation and techniques to the drawing of some parallels between biofeedback and Bowen family theory.

Review of the Autonomic Nervous System

The autonomic nervous system is divided into sympathetic and parasympathetic divisions. The sympathetic division, which includes the medullary portion of the adrenal gland, is directed toward strengthening the animal's defenses against the various dangers that beset it, for example, extremes of temperature, water deprivation, and attacks of enemies. The parasympathetic division has a more localized response, more discrete control.

Most organs are dominantly controlled by one or the other of the two divisions, and rarely, but occasionally act in opposition.

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