DES MOINES – Iowa State University has opened a Biofeedback Center for students to help them deal with stress.
Directed by Student Counseling Service staff psychologist Todd Pietruszka, the center is free and open to all ISU students.
The university is first of the three Regents’ universities to offer a biofeedback service to address students’ emotional needs.
The center has adopted technologies like video games and guided meditations to teach relaxation techniques, concentration skills and healthy coping responses.
It also teaches people to become aware of their physiological responses, while providing techniques like deep breathing, visualization or mindfulness, to consciously reset the body’s conditioned responses.
Pietruszka said: “Biofeedback is a fancy name. It really means getting information about your physical responses and using that information to take action.
“For example, when you take your temperature and find you have a fever, you might call the doctor.”
The compact room of the center has three massage recliners, each facing its own wall-mounted computer monitor.
Students begin with an orientation session that explains how to check out and use the equipment, and how to navigate the computer programs.
During a biofeedback session, the room is quiet and darkened as the students sit in the recliners wearing noise-cancelling headphones and fingertip sensors, which measure skin conductance and heart rate.
Three choices of computer software offer a variety of self-guided, interactive programs.
As students practice the relaxation techniques presented, they can watch real-time graphs of their physiological responses.
This information helps them identify the activities that work best for them. Once mastered, they can use the techniques whenever needed-before taking a test or giving a class presentation, for example.
Sessions last from 15 minutes to an hour or more.
Pietruszka said: “The training module teaches how to become aware of your body, how to use breathing, how to become mindful of your thoughts.
“As you practice and use the tools and get feedback, you can see what works for you.
“Biofeedback is really a way to have a coach. It basically lets you know when relaxation techniques are working.”
Iowa State’s Information Technology Services’ Computation Advisory Committee’s fund of 4,654 dollars helped establish the center.