Research has shown that psychotherapy patients experience increased physiological responsivity to stress which might negatively impact their experience in psychotherapy and their overall progress and outcome. The purpose of the present study was to investigate the effect of a heart rate variability biofeedback intervention on the physiological stress responsiveness and the psychotherapy outcomes of participants in psychotherapy. Forty college students attending psychotherapy at their university counseling center were divided into an experimental group and a control group. The experimental group participated in a 6-week biofeedback intervention and we assessed their physiological stress reactivity before and after implementation of the intervention, compared to a matched control group. The Trier Social Stress Test (TSST) was administered pre- and post-intervention to induce a stress reaction. It was hypothesized that psychotherapy patients involved in the biofeedback intervention would show decreased physiological stress reactivity to and faster physiological recovery from a laboratory induced stressor post-intervention compared to psychotherapy patients in the matched control group. It was also hypothesized that these participants would demonstrate larger distress reduction after implementation of the intervention. Results of the study found no significant main effect of the TSST on systolic blood pressure, heart rate, and HRV. There however was a main effect on diastolic blood pressure. The only variable that significantly differed between groups was the LF/HF ration. The results also revealed no significant change from pre-intervention baseline to post-intervention heart rate, blood pressure, and HRV, suggesting that the HRV biofeedback intervention was not effective in changing the stress response over time. Regarding levels of distress, results also revealed no statistical between group differences post-intervention, although the biofeedback group appeared to report significantly lower levels of distress post-intervention.



College and Department

Family, Home, and Social Sciences; Psychology



Date Submitted


Document Type





stress, psychotherapy outcome, heart rate variability biofeedback, stress management



Included in

Psychology Commons