Psychophysiology Assessments



Psychophysiology Assessment is an important component of understanding the client’s overall mental health condition. Autonomic nervous system balance is an aspect of one’s normal functioning and required to adequately cope with and adapt to daily stresses. When performing the Psychophysiological assessment, the clinician is evaluating stimulus-response patterns, the magnitude of the response being measured, the ability to maintain homeostasis in these physiological systems, how the individual orients and defends to stressful stimuli, what carryover effects may persist from the stimuli, and how much stability one has in these systems over a period of time.


The assessment typical takes 30-40 minutes and starts with recording the individual’s baseline among these variables: Forehead muscle tension, shoulder muscles tension, breathing rate, heart rate, peripheral body temperature, and peripheral sweating response. This is measured for about 2 minutes. Forehead muscles are controlled by the frontalis muscle group and reflect emotions and mood. Facial muscles are an area of the body that tell the outside world how we feel internally (sad, happy, anxious, etc.). Shoulder muscle tension and temperature reflect how much internal tension an individual is holding, either consciously or unconsciously. These variables indicate how well one recovers from stress. Heart rate and breathing are indicators of autonomic nervous reactivity and recovery from stressful stimuli, and how these systems are functioning when at rest. Sweating response is an unconscious autonomic response to acute stress and reflects activation and recovery from the stressful event. However, over time, if an individual is chronically stressed, the body will not produce sweat.

Shortly after taking the baseline measurements, a stressful mental situation is created. This is presented either by remembering something the client has experienced as stressful and uncomfortable or assisted imagery from the clinician. The stress responses from all the psychophysiological systems are measured over a period of about 2-3 minutes. Then a return to baseline over 2 minutes is measured. In some situations, the client may be asked to do a challenging mental task to see how their body reacts to cognitive stress.

The next task is to measure and record how well the client can relax. The client is asked to think of a situation that is very relaxing and if they cannot do that, the clinician will assist. Psychophysiological measures are recorded over a period of about 2-3 minutes. Then a return to baseline over 2 minutes is measured.

Typically, a subjective measure of distress is recorded for each assessment task. This is accomplished by using the Subjective Units of Distress scale, which is a scale from 1 to 10, 1 being no felt stress to 10 being so stressful they need to leave the room immediately.


The Psychophysiological Assessment is typically included with other psychological and neuropsychological assessments at Brain Health Northwest. The assessment takes about 30-40 minutes and measures the performance of autonomic nervous system components that reflect mood and emotion in the facial muscles, muscle tension in the peripheral muscles, level of anxiety from sweating response, autonomic heart and breathing rates, and peripheral body temperature. All these systems collectively reflect how well one reacts and recovers from a stressful stimulus, and how well one is able to consciously relax all these systems.


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