Marjorie Toomim: A Remembrance
M. R. Smith
Researcher and therapist,
Biofeedback Institute of Los Angeles, 1983-1993
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Originally published in Psychophysiology today –
the magazine for mind-body medicine © by BFE 9 Vol. 2 – Issue 1/2006
The Career of Marjorie Toomim
Marjorie Toomim, Ph.D., died on January 18, 2005. Dr. Toomim was a pioneer in the use of biofeedback instrumentation, especially in psychotherapy and pain treatment. She was a clinical psychologist, licensed to practice in California since 1966. She began practicing biofeedback in 1970, less than a year after the founding conference of the Biofeedback Research Society, the first professional society in the field. She developed a strategic approach for using biofeedback instrumentation, especially the Galvanic Skin Response (GSR), during sessions as a guide to enhance the practice of psychotherapy. That approach is introduced very well in the following article originally published in 1975. Dr. Toomim’s career was deeply intermingled with that of her husband and collaborator Hershel Toomim, who is the co-author of this paper.
Marjorie and Hershel Toomim founded the Biofeedback Research Institute, later known as The Biofeedback Institute of Los Angeles. Together they gave selflessly of their time, teaching and mentoring several generations of students and professionals in the practice of biofeedback.
When I was in graduate school in 1976, Albert Ellis’ rational emotive therapy was beginning to have an impact on the practice of psychotherapy and I was well-schooled in how present experiences, filters through a rigid belief system, could strongly influence subsequent thinking, feeling and behavior. My professors, however, also admired Carl Rogers, so the phrase “empathy, congruence, and unconditional positive regard” was given equal emphasis as being critical to effective therapy. My practicum professor drilled us in the use of Cakhuff ́s scale of empathic responding, and I became fascinated with how delicate the dance of human interaction can be, how a simple verbal response can either invite people to risk revealing themselves or can shut down the process of self-disclosure altogether.
When I first read that a voice stress analyzer could not only detect deliberate falsehoods but could register the stress of self-protective denial as well, I immediately set about researching how biofeedback could be used to guide therapy, like an emotional Geiger counter, by gauging the level of empathic exchange between therapist and client. A number of articles focused on the use of biofeedback to measure and reduce the physical markers of tension and stress, particularly Budzinsky and Stoyva ́s idea of generalized muscle relaxation.
Only one article, “GSR biofeedback in psychotherapy: Some clinical observations”, by Marjorie Toomim and Hershel Toomim (1975), had what I was looking for. The article spelled out in detail the principles and process of feedback-directed, continuously monitored therapy. The death of Marjorie Toomim on January 18 brought a flood of memories and emotions, and made me realize how much this remarkable and generous woman had taught me and given to me, and how extensive her contribution to the biofeedback community and psychology, in general, has been.