Trauma Matters: A publication of The Connecticut Women’s Forum
A Column from Trauma Matters
A publication of The Connecticut Women’s Forum
Ask the Expert
A Conversation with Sebern Fisher
Cheryl Kenn, LCSW
Sebern Fisher is the author of Neurofeedback in the Treatment of Developmental Trauma: Calming the Fear-Driven Brain, published by Norton in 2014.
For 15 years, she served as the clinical director of a residential program for severely disturbed adolescents. She has a private practice where she works primarily with those suffering histories of developmental trauma. Integrating neurofeedback and psychotherapy. She has written many articles and chapters on the primacy of fear in psychological disorders, and on the integration of psychotherapy and neurofeedback. She trains professionals on these topics, both nationally and internationally.
- Why or how did you enter the trauma treatment field?
My first clinical job was as the clinical director of a residential treatment center facility for severely disturbed adolescents. Although they presented with many different “diagnoses”, all my patients had histories of severe abuse and neglect in early childhood. I put diagnoses in quotation marks because I agree with Bessel van der Kolk who said that if you strip neglect and trauma from the DSM, you would have a pamphlet.
- What do you consider to be the most helpful stabilization skill or tool in the treatment of a trauma survivor?
I have been serving and studying in the field of trauma for 35+ years. For ythe last 18 years, I have integrated biofeedback to the brain-neurofeedback-into my practice of trauma-informed psychotherapy. It has become clear to me that we must help trauma survivors learn to stabilize their brains before they can truly stabilize their minds. This is what neurofeedback does.
The brain functions chemically at the synapse and electrically through countless oscillating networks. Emerging neuroscience is recognizing that the brain organizes itself in these electrical networks, not through its chemistry as psychopharmacology would suggest, Neurofeedback is computerized biofeedback to the electrical domain of the brain to encourage its capacity for self-organization. Trauma can leave the brain disorganized and unable to cortically control firing of the fight-flight-freeze response generated primarily by the amygdala. The amygdala is devoted to to our survival. It is in the non-verbal, subcortical right hemisphere-meaning we can’t talk to it. With this part of our brains calling the shots in trauma, there is an inherent limit to using talk therapy for trauma.
- What is something you think all trauma=focused clinicians should know?
In a nutshell, all trauma-focused therapists must understand that the underlying problem is how the developing or even mature brain has been dysregulated by trauma. People who have suffered these histories are living in fear-driven brains. They will also want to know that with computerized feedback in the context of psychotherapy, trauma survivors can learn to quiet the limbic pulses of fear, shame and rage that overwhelm them daily. As a committed psychodynamic psychotherapist, the first to implement DBT in a residential facility and a devoted meditator, I have come to learn that while not always easy, it is certainly easier to reach the mind through the brain- by helping the brain learn to regulate, than it is to reach the brain through the mind.
I believe that the best training for therapists who wish to practice neurofeedback is offered by Ed Hamlin, PhD, His training schedule is available by contacting Patti Lightstone at firstname.lastname@example.org. Those looking for training for their own brains can visit www.ISNR.net; www.BCIA.org or www.EEGER.com.