Biomonitoring as an Aid to
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
1. The area to be examined must be
charged and accessible.
2. Proper procedure must be
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
THE FIVE MAJOR GSR METER
Typical GSR Meter Baseline Settings
High Baseline Sleep
deprived, on drugs or alcohol, or too much to confront.
Low Baseline Overwhelmed, anxious, hyper-vigilant.
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.
Rising Needle See above,
under "Rising Baseline."
Failing Needle The presence of
something charged that is close to awareness.
Smooth Needle Viewer in
good communication with the facilitator.
Viewer not in good communication with the facilitator; viewer
has undelivered communications.
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.
© 2001 Free Spirit Journal All Rights