Biomonitoring as an Aid to Viewing

by Frank A. Gerbode, M.D.

Dr. Frank A. Gerbode is a physician, a psychiatrist, and was also trained in philosophy. He is the author of the book Beyond Psychology, an important and comprehensive work on Traumatic Incident Reduction (TIR)–a style of clearing which is becoming widely known. He is the founder of the Institute for Research in Metapsychology, which has recently evolved into the Traumatic Incident Reduction Association (TIRA). In this article, Dr. Gerbode explains the utilization of the Clearing Biomonitor in TIR.

Various applications of metapsychology are intended to help a client improve the quality of her world of experience. In doing so, we must observe her carefully–her words, intonation, emotional state, and body language. We want to know when her attention is still focused on an issue she is addressing and when she has reached an “end point”–a point of resolution when she is feeling happy and relieved (see “Knowing When to Stop,” below). We also need to know when something catches her attention and interest, and for this we must depend on the viewer’s facial expression and, perhaps, a certain glint in her eye. While simple observation can go a long way toward finding out these sort of things about the viewer, it is helpful to have a “sixth sense” with which to augment ordinary perceptions. Galvanic skin response (GSR) provides additional indicators that are extremely helpful.

We also need a good theoretical base from which to operate, and a systematic and effective approach. Metapsychology–the science that unifies mental and physical experience and seeks to discover the rules that apply to both–provides the strong theoretical base. Viewing–an application of metapsychology consisting of an array of procedures a person can use to observe and modify her own experience–provides a workable approach. As a matter of terminology, we refer to the person who is working on observing and modifying her own experience as a “viewer,” since the main action she is engaged in is viewing. And the one who is helping to make the process of viewing easier for the viewer we call a “facilitator.” For simplicity, I will refer to the facilitator as “he” and the viewer as “she.”

The galvanic skin response meter (GSR meter) is probably the oldest biofeedback and biomonitoring device known, having first been described in 1888 by C.S. Fere, a French physician. Since then, it has been extensively used in psychotherapy. Carl Jung, for instance, used it in connection with word-association tests. It has also been used as one of the measurements taken in a polygraph (“lie-detector”) recording, and for assisting clients to learn how to relax. It has the advantage of being inexpensive, accurate, and easy to use, but only fairly recently has it been used to assist in facilitating the process of viewing.

Whenever we use a GSR meter, we use it as a biomonitoring device, rather than for biofeedback. The facilitator observes the viewer and the meter, and uses the data to decide what to do next in the session. The viewer needs all of her attention focused on the charged material she is viewing and would be distracted if the facilitator were to keep giving her feedback about what the meter was doing.

Description of the GSR meter

The GSR meter (Figure 1) works by measuring the electrical resistance from an electrode in contact with one part of the skin surface to another electrode on another part of the skin surface. The palms seem to work best as contact points, although other contact points can be used. Cylindrical, handheld electrodes seem to work best. A very small voltage (about 0.5-3.0 volts) is applied to the contacts, sending a tiny, imperceptible and harmless current through the body, and the resistance between the two contacts is measured. The resistance measured in this way varies widely–from about 600 ohms to over 200,000 ohms (Figure 2), depending on a number of factors. In most people, under ordinary circumstances, the resistance will be found to be in the range of 5000-15,000 ohms. Meters commonly used have a control that compensates for the baseline resistance, numbered rather arbitrarily to indicate the different possible baseline values (Figures 1 & 2). The meter also has a galvanometer circuit that drives a needle to display moment-to-moment fluctuations in resistance from the baseline. The baseline value is found by rotating the baseline control until the needle is pointing to a “set” position on the dial. GSR Meter Phenomena.

The GSR indicates the level of skin resistance and changes in that level. There are five major parameters to look for in reading a GSR meter (Figure 3):

  • 1. Galvanometer needle motion (rising or falling)
  • 2. Baseline motion (rising or falling)
  • 3. Baseline value (high or low)
  • 4. “Smoothness” of the needle (smooth or rough)
  • 5. Range of needle motion (tight or loose)
  • Skin resistance seems for the most part to be an indicator of awareness or alertness. An increase in alertness or awakeness is manifested by a fall in skin resistance. If the response is short lived and relatively minor, it shows up as a sudden fall in resistance, manifesting as a movement of the needle to the right. If the response is major and prolonged, we will see a major motion of the needle to the right that carries it completely off the dial, necessitating an adjustment of the baseline control to bring the needle back onto the dial. We call this a “baseline drop.”

    Baseline drops are not minor or subtle changes in skin resistance; it is not uncommon for the skin resistance to drop by a factor of five or six in a few seconds (Figure 3). Often the baseline will have to be lowered suddenly from, say, 4.5 to 2.5 in order to keep the viewer’s rapidly falling needle on the dial–a drop from 40,000 Ohms to 8,000 Ohms. In general, the larger and more prolonged the drop in skin resistance, the greater the alerting response is. The GSR meter does not really detect lies; it only detects changes in awareness.

    On the other hand, a rising skin resistance suggests that the viewer’s awareness is becoming clouded over; that she is resisting, protesting, the awareness of something; or that something is going on too long. Or it can indicate the presence of something that the viewer is finding hard to be aware of, i.e., to confront. When and if the viewer does confront it, the baseline will drop, and she will often say something to indicate that she has acquired a new awareness.

    The baseline value has important significance. People who are in a lower than usual state of awareness or awareness because of drugs, alcohol, or sleep deprivation–or who are buried in an unconfrontable amount of emotional charge–tend to have a high baseline value. People who are overwhelmed to the point of being anxious and hyper-vigilant tend to have a low baseline value.

    Besides moving up or down, the needle can display other significant characteristics. A viewer’s needle may be either “smooth” or “rough.” A smooth needle is one that is simply rising or falling but not doing much else, unless it is responding to what the facilitator or viewer is saying. A rough needle displays a lot of extra, unexpected motions. It is choppy, like the surface of a lake on a windy day. A smooth needle indicates that the viewer is in good communication with the facilitator. She is saying what is on her mind. A rough needle indicates that the viewer is not in good communication with the facilitator. Normally, if the viewer has a thought about something that is emotionally charged, the needle will continue to react to that thought until she communicates it to the facilitator. If the viewer is continually thinking thoughts she is not talking about, that fact will show up as apparently “random” movements of the needle, unrelated to what is being said. The facilitator can smooth a rough needle by having the viewer tell him any undelivered communications. In the absence of excellent communication between viewer and Facilitator, the meter will become much less useful. We use specific communication exercises to teach facilitators how to manage and maintain such communication smoothly.

    Finally, the “tightness” or “looseness” of the needle indicates the state of the viewer’s attention. A tight needle is one that does not move very much, or moves only very slowly (usually rising). A loose needle moves around a great deal. When attention is fixed on something, the needle tends to be relatively still. When attention becomes free and can be directed freely at will, the needle becomes looser and, finally, becomes a “floating” needle. As we shall see, the floating needle phenomenon is useful in determining when an “end point” has been reached and it has thus become both safe and desirable to cease working on a particular viewing action.

    Since downward motion of the baseline is an indicator of increased awareness and reduction of charge, the total amount of downward movement of the baseline gives a rough approximation of the amount of charge addressed and resolved in a session.

    Application to Viewing

    Merely “poking around” with a GSR meter, hoping to find something interesting, is an unrewarding activity. To make proper use of a meter, we integrate its use into a systematic and effective approach, and here is where specific viewing procedures come into play. The meter is useful in two major ways: 1) assessing for issues to handle, and 2) knowing when to stop.

    1. Assessing

    The meter is useful in discovering which of the themes or issues that concern the viewer to address first. As mentioned above, a drop in skin resistance reveals an alerting response. The meter responds to things that are just a little way below the viewer’s “awareness threshold”, things of which the viewer is just barely unaware or not fully aware. If the meter responds when an item is presented to the viewer, it indicates that there is something the viewer is not yet fully aware of but that lies just below the surface–and that she will be able to find it by looking. It also indicates that the item is charged. In other words, the meter responds to items that will be fruitful to address. If something is uncharged, the meter will not respond. If the viewer is already fully aware of it, the meter will not respond. Also, if the item is too heavily charged and too far below the viewer’s awareness threshold, the meter will also not respond to its being presented. So the meter is very helpful in enabling the facilitator to decide what to work on. Moreover, by noting differences in the sizes of responses, it is easy for the facilitator to decide which item to address first: the one with the largest response, because that is the one that lies closest to the surface. Once the viewer has handled one item, she is now capable of becoming aware of something else that might hitherto have been inaccessible.

    If a facilitator tries to handle an unresponding item, he will either be

    a. Trying to fix something that doesn’t need fixing, or
    b. Trying to unearth something the viewer is not yet ready to confront.

    Either she will not be able to find what she is looking for, or, when she finds it, it will be too overwhelming to handle, and the session the facilitator is giving will itself become yet another traumatic incident for the viewer.

    Empirically, we have found that the meter responds virtually instantaneously (within a quarter of a second) at the moment the viewer’s attention goes to a charged item. Normally, this is at the exact point when the item is mentioned by either the viewer or the facilitator. In the former case, it might precede verbalization if the viewer thinks about the item before she mentions it. In practice, it is usually easy to see to what the meter is responding.

    As you might imagine, we have found that using a meter for assessment avoids all kinds of difficulty and saves a lot of time wasted in going down blind alleys. Sometimes a patient allows himself to be convinced (by a therapist or otherwise) that a certain incident or issue is central to his difficulties when, in fact, it is not. Such “authoritative” evaluations can produce unwarranted and sometimes unmanageable feelings of guilt or confusion in the recipient.

    Therapists, for instance, had told one Vietnam PTSD survivor, repeatedly and emphatically, that the majority of his difficulties stemmed not from his combat experiences in Vietnam at age 18, but from the “fact” that he had never “properly processed” the death of his mother. When his facilitator told him that the incident of his mother’s death was not responding on the meter (and thus did not appear to have significant emotional charge connected with it), the vet experienced enormous and quite visible relief. His feelings of guilt–over not having been traumatized by something he had been led to believe should have traumatized him–vanished, and for the first time, he became able to address effectively the issues and incidents that truly were the source of his unhappiness.

    2. Knowing When to Stop

    When the viewer has reached a good point of resolution on a viewing procedure, we say that she has reached an “end point,” in which certain phenomena appear that show that she has completed the procedure. These phenomena usually appear in the following order:

    1. Floating Needle. The first sign of an impending end point is usually the appearance of a floating needle, one which is loose and moves freely back and forth with no particular directionality to it. A floating needle is often immediately preceded by a major baseline drop. The floating needle indicates that the viewer’s attention has become un-fixed from an issue on which it had been fixed.

    2. Realization. The viewer will usually voice some kind of realization or insight, a reflection of the fact that she is becoming more aware.

    3. Good Indicators. She will appear happy or relieved. Sometimes she will laugh or say something cheerful. In the absence of good indicators, no end point has occurred. In Traumatic Incident Reduction (TIR), we commonly see two additional parts of an end point:

    4. Extroversion. The viewer, who has had her attention fixed on a past incident during the procedure, now opens her eyes or otherwise indicates at her attention is now back in present time. She will usually look at the facilitator or at the room, or make some comment about something in the here and now.

    5. Intention Expressed. Often, the viewer will explicitly voice one or more intentions she formulated at the time of the traumatic incident. When the facilitator sees an end point, the most important thing he must do is to stop. In most of the activities of life, it is recognized as a general principle that there is a good point at which to stop doing what you are doing. When you are baking a cake, you wait until the indicators appear that show that it is done the right amount: it should be a certain degree of brownness; when you stick a toothpick into it, it should not come out gooey, etc. It would, of course, be wrong to think that because the cake has become nicely baked after an hour, that it would be even better if you let it go for two hours! And that’s true in viewing as well. This may seem to be an obvious point, but surprisingly it neglected in many forms of therapy.

    When the facilitator sees a floating needle, it alerts him to look for the other indicators of an end point, and if those indicators appear, he must stop. If the facilitator continues past the end point and goes on asking the viewer to look for more charged material, she will start to wander around more or less randomly in her mind, and will end up restimulating a lot of things that she will not be able to resolve with the current procedure. If the facilitator overruns an end point in this way, the floating needle will cease and the baseline will start to rise rapidly as the viewer contacts charged material. If the facilitator sees this rapidly rising baseline, he can resolve it by having the viewer spot the end point that was missed earlier. That should bring the baseline back down and recover the floating needle.

    Ingredients Essential to Viewing

    Success in viewing has three major prerequisites:

    1. The area to be examined must be charged and accessible.
    2. Proper procedure must be used.
    3. A safe environment must be established.

    In this essay, I have limited myself to discussing the first two points, but the third is equally important and is a major focus in our TIR courses and workshops. It is necessary to establish a completely non-judgmental, person-centered environment in which there is no interpretation and no statement of the facilitator’s opinions about anything. All insights are spontaneously generated by the client. Only in such an environment can GSR biomonitoring be helpful at all to the client, and observing changes in the GSR manifestations can help to show the facilitator when he has done something to sabotage the safeness of the session. That also gives the facilitator the opportunity to correct his mistake rapidly and completely before continuing.

    ILLUSTRATIONS WITH ABOVE ARTICLE


    [Figure 1]

    THE CB-METER


    [Figure 2]

    BASELINE VALUE OHMS


    1.0 600
    1.5 2,500
    2.0 5,000
    3.0 12,500
    4.0 26,500
    5.0 62,000
    5.5 100,500
    6.0 280,000





    [Figure 3]

    THE FIVE MAJOR GSR METER PARAMETERS
    Typical GSR Meter Baseline Settings

    BASELINE VALUE
    High Baseline Sleep deprived, on drugs or alcohol, or too much to confront.
    Low Baseline Overwhelmed, anxious, hyper-vigilant.

    BASELINE MOTION
    Rising Baseline Protest, resistance, decreased awareness, or an effort to repress. Or something is going on too long.
    Falling Baseline Increased awareness, successful confronting, discovery, insight.

    NEEDLE MOTION
    Rising Needle See above, under “Rising Baseline.”
    Failing Needle The presence of something charged that is close to awareness.

    NEEDLE SMOOTHNESS
    Smooth Needle Viewer in good communication with the facilitator.
    Rough Needle Viewer not in good communication with the facilitator; viewer has undelivered communications.

    NEEDLE FREEDOM
    Tight Needle Fixed attention or something unresolved.
    Floating Needle Resolution achieved, attention free.





    Permission was granted by TIRA (Traumatic Incident Reduction Association, formerly the Institute for Research in Metapsychology) to reprint ‘Biomonitoring as an Aid to Viewing’ by Frank A. Gerbode, M.D., in this issue of The Free Spirit. It originally appeared in the Winter ’92-’93 Newsletter of the Institute for Research in Metapsychology. Please do not reproduce this article without written permission from TIRA.
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