New Laboratory in Parma Utilizes Biofeedback to Detect and Treat Stress and Anxiety
Parma, Italy – In the laboratory of clinical psychology, clinical psychophysiology, and clinical neuropsychology at the Maggiore hospital, researchers are using advanced instruments to detect and help resolve cases of stress and anxiety. This laboratory, located in via Volturno, is recognized as one of the six centers of excellence by the Biofeedback Federation of Europe and is one of the few in Italy with the capability to not only detect anxiety but also develop therapeutic programs to address it.
Initially, access to the laboratory was limited to university students and medical personnel. However, the laboratory now welcomes cases referred by doctors affiliated with the Ausl, particularly individuals experiencing organic disorders that do not respond to conventional medical therapies. These disorders, such as amenorrhea, hyperhidrosis, and dermatological problems, are suspected to be linked to anxiety and depression.
In addition to these cases, the laboratory has also treated children suffering from pathologies like hemophilia, which create a stressful lifestyle due to various limitations. Moreover, the laboratory has recently partnered with the San Giacomo hospital in Piacenza to address work-related stress in healthcare workers. After the evaluation phase, interventions have already begun for better anxiety management in this group.
Measuring stress is an integral part of the laboratory’s work. Through individual interviews and standardized tests, clinicians gather information on the patient’s lifestyle, life history, and personality type. In 75-80% of cases, instrumental tests are conducted to further evaluate stress levels, sometimes accompanied by blood chemistry tests.
These instrumental examinations are non-invasive and measure parameters such as perspiration, heart rate, peripheral temperature, muscle tension, and respiratory patterns. Electrodes are placed at various locations on the body, such as fingertips, earlobe, forehead, and waist, to monitor these physiological responses. The laboratory uses both psycho-physiological and clinical-psychological evaluations supported by psychologists. Upon interpretation of the results, the appropriate course of therapy is determined.
For patients whose stress originates from trauma, psychotherapy is offered. Those with personality alterations may be referred for a psychiatric consultation, which could potentially include pharmacological support. In less complex cases, the laboratory itself designs a biofeedback program with relaxation sessions. These sessions teach techniques such as breathing exercises and autogenic training to help individuals manage anxiety and stress.
The biofeedback techniques employed by the laboratory use the same instruments used to measure stress. Computer videos are utilized to provide visualizations of the patient’s mental state. For example, patients may see a hot air balloon in the air, which rises when the individual’s heart rate and sweating normalize through correct breathing. Alternatively, a roller coaster visualization reflects the individual’s ability to relax, with speed and movement increasing as the subject becomes more relaxed. Cartoons and child-friendly visuals are available for younger patients.
Typically, the therapeutic process lasts between ten to twenty sessions. The results have been positive, especially when patients continue to practice relaxation techniques at home. By utilizing advanced instruments and methods, the laboratory in Parma is making significant strides in diagnosing and treating stress and anxiety, offering hope to many individuals battling these conditions.