The History of the CB-Meter

Adapted from an article
by Gregory Mitchell

Today the Clearing Biofeedback Meter is one of the simplest and most effective tools of modem psychological research, but historically it was also one of the first. Its development and use has grown from its first beginnings in 1888, when Tarchinoff discovered the phenomenon of skin resistance. He found that a person’s resistance to the passage of a tiny electric current through hand held electrodes would vary according to the subject’s emotional state. The simple psycho-galvonometer he invented to investigate this phenomenon was one of the earliest tools of psychological research.

One of its earliest applications was in the work of Wilhelm Wundt in his Leipzig laboratory in the late 1890’s, where he used an early form of CB-Meter to measure body electricity, as part of his line of research known as psychophysics.

…we are restricted from realizing more than a fraction of our full potential, because of the repressed negative content of the unconscious mind…

The modern CB-Meter, or Clearing Biofeedback Meter, is a specialized form of biofeedback device: an electronic instrument designed to measure mental state and changes of mental state accurately and quickly. It is a modified version of what is known to psychologists as the psycho-galvonometer, which measures the relative magnitude of the electrodermal orienting response, that is, the changes of skin resistance that occur when external stimuli are applied to a subject.

A basic axiom of psychoanalysis as originated by Freud is that we are restricted from realizing more than a fraction of our full potential, because of the repressed negative content of the unconscious mind: negative fears, resentments, motivations and dislikes. Although much of this unconscious content may have been correct at the time it was formed, this content is often no longer valid from the viewpoint of an adult. When the content is made conscious and confronted by the adult mind, it dissolves and loses its power to restrain thought and action, and there is release of positive creative energy.

The CB-Meter is one of the most effective diagnostic tools in locating this negative content-a real time saver. The therapist does not have to spend years of blind probing to find out the root of a problem. With the CB-Meter he can tune into and identify any negative energy, then discharge it.

The first reference to the use of this instrument in psychoanalytic research is in the book by Carl Gustav Jung, Studies in Word Analysis, published in 1906. Here the Swiss psychologist describes a technique of connecting the subject, via hand electrodes, to an instrument measuring changes in the resistance of the skin, while words are read to him from a prepared list. If a word on this list was emotionally charged, there was change in body resistance, causing a deflection of the needle of the galvanometer. Thus, Jung worked on locating and discharging negative unconscious material.

The CB-Meter is one of the most effective diagnostic tools in locating this negative content-a real time saver.

This method of research, which Jung had been using at least since the early 1900’s, was again referred to in a basic psychology text of 1926 entitled Experimental Psychology, by Mary Collins and James Dreaver, lecturers in psychology at the University of Edinburgh. Also at this time other early psychologists were researching the electrical characteristics of emotion and thought. Semon, in his book The Mneme (circa 1915) defines an engram as the permanent change produced within an organism from a stimulus, wherein a trace of the experience of that stimulus is “written on” the organism and forms part of memory. When the stimulus is repeated, the energy which it sets free flows through this new engram with the result that it takes a more or less different path, and consequently leads to a more or less different form of reaction. Knowledge of these findings was widespread in the 1920’s. They are referred to again in a classroom text called The Psychology of the Thinker by l.B. Saxby, Lecturer in Education at the University College, Cardiff.

However, the early psycho-galvonometer was not at all simple to use, because it had no amplification. It remained as a specialized laboratory instrument only, until the development of more sophisticated amplifiers in the 1930’s. Its use in specialized laboratory research in the fields of medicine and psychiatry continues to the present day. Electrodermal response is used in many areas of psychology and psychiatry, for example in the diagnosis and treatment of schizophrenia, as evinced by A.S. Bemstein’s paper entitled “The Galvanic Skin Response Orienting Reflex in Chronic Schizophrenics” (Psychonomic Science l), and further publication of his research on electrodermal orienting and habituation in the treatment of schizophrenia done at Charing Cross Hospital Medical School was published in Psychological Medicine, Cambridge University Press, 1981.

Since the time of Jung and the other early researchers, a number of other biofeedback instruments have been invented, including the ElectroEncephalograph or EEG, which is used by a wide range of therapists and psychologists. For example, Janov used the EEG to evaluate the effectiveness of cathartic therapy, and, at the other end of the spectrum, osteopaths have used a modified form of skin resistance meter for diagnostic purposes.

As most early research in skin resistance phenomena was done in Germany, the war curtailed further development in these areas, apart from some work in America on lie-detectors. So it was not until the late 1940’s that some applications of an independent American researcher, Volney Mathieson, working with the polygraph lie-detector as used in courts of law, kindled a renewed interest in the earlier German work of Jung and others.

Now advances could be made in the technology of psychotherapy using the earlier discoveries that all fears, feelings and resentments in fact, all thought and emotion were electrical in nature. When a person was reminded of certain past events, or when a change of mood was induced in him/her, the needle in the detector would jump erratically; the degree of jump was in proportion to the strength of the unconscious reaction. In skilled hands the meter could be used to locate a particular content, the nature of that content, the location of that content in space and time, and the amount of force contained within it.

This work led to the development of the modem type of CB-Meter a type that has survived, with very little modification, until the present day. Specifically, this was a meter designed to simply and clearly register the mental and emotional response of a person to a word, question or situation, rather than as a lie-detector. The CB-Meter is several times as sensitive as the lie-detector and is able to indicate the intensity of response.

Volney Mathieson presented these ideas to Ron Hubbard, the inventor of Dianetics, in 1952. A version of the meter known as the E-Meter (Electro-psychoMeter) was later put into widespread use in Scientology and Dianetics, in conjunction with procedures which are essentially and recognizably Jungian.

In many modern types of Clearing the practitioner would use Jung’s method of presenting a list of words in conjunction with the meter. He would ask the subject under analysis to take hold of the meter electrodes, then he would read this list of words to him. Without fail, some of these words would trigger a response on the meter, sometimes violently. When this happened, the therapist would know that these words were associated with violent and negative fear or resentment, that had its origin in various unconscious thought complexes in the subject’s mind. Usually the subject was quite unaware that he was reacting on the meter in this way.

The therapist would record all words that produced erratic meter readings, then have the person talk about them. As the subject discussed his associations with a “charged” word, the meter would gradually become less erratic and settle down to a normal reading.

Once the locked-up energy has been discharged, the meter no longer responds to the word or concept under discussion. The complex or block had discharged, rather like discharging a car battery.

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