Neurofeedback: Healing the Fear-Driven Brain

Sebern FisherPsychotherapist Sebern Fisher gave a great webcast on October 22, 2014 in the NICABM series, about neurofeedback (biofeedback to the brain), which gives us access to our brain function frequencies.

Neurofeedback, she said, is a computer program therapists use in their office, training clients on it to get them in touch with their own brain waves, learn what’s good for the brain, and calm their thoughts.

The brain is organized from the womb in oscillatory patterns, Ms. Fisher says, so we with developmental trauma, early neglect and abuse, have disorganized and dysregulated brains.  Our fear circuits dominate.  Neurofeedback can calm these erupting circuits and even grow neural connectivity, which helps us create a more coherent sense of self, so we feel safer and more centered. [FN1]

Folks with difficult parents often grow up with a “fear-driven brain” as I did — and it’s a huge relief to find out we’re not freaks — we’re a chunk of the mainstream.  In fact, maybe 50% of Americans have some degree of this “attachment disorder” due to parents who were too scary to attach to. Of course it’s not their fault either; odds are, our grandparents were too scary for our parents to attach to, and so on back, inter-generationally.

I was particularly struck watching Ms. Fisher’s NICABM video as she repeated again and again how many people are walking around with a “fear-driven brain.”  Her 2010 radio interview “Attachment Disorder, Developmental Trauma and Neurofeedback” says she spent decades trying to heal kids with early attachment wounds, but found we can’t talk to the parts of the brain formed from conception to 36 months; those parts have no speech. So she made no progress until she tried neurofeedback in 1996. It can talk to those parts: http://www.futurehealth.org/Podcast/Sebern-Fisher-Attachment-by-Rob-Kall-100516-497.html

I’d bet maybe 20% of us have “developmental trauma” like that, as I do, which means that life was one continuous trauma “since the sperm hit the egg.” For what it looks like when Mom is too scary for her child to attach, check http://attachmentdisorderhealing.com/developmental-trauma-2/

I was moved to tears by Ms. Fisher’s more recent interview “Neurofeedback in the Treatment of Developmental Trauma,” as she described how deeply necessary love and attachment are to the creation of a human brain. It’s because we crave the regulation of our nervous system which love can bring, that our brains respond to neurofeedback signals which feel calmer and even loved: http://shrinkrapradio.com/452-neurofeedback-in-the-treatment-of-developmental-trauma-with-sebern-fisher-m-a/

And: here’s an amazing blog by Dr. Tina Hahn MD, “My Neurofeedback Journey,” on the BrainPaint® home neurofeedback system she’s using.

Find a Neurofeedback Practitioner: Online Directories:
1. EEG Spectrum International [Ms. Fisher’s husband John Fisher was president of this co.] Directory: http://www.esiaffiliatesforum.com/providers
2. EEG Institute Provider Directory: http://directory.eeginfo.com/

Trauma, Up Front and Personal

Ms. Fisher got into therapy and attachment work in the first place because she herself had developmental trauma.  She also had a lot of head injury and traumatic brain injury.  One of the first things to be healed when Ms Fisher began neurofeedback herself were her terrible migraines, which have never returned.  She still uses neurofeedback because, she says, “I have had a lot of head injuries so I am at a greater risk of Alzheimer’s than other people, but all of the signs of head injury and traumatic brain injury that I had are all gone.”

Here are some salient quotes from Ms. Fisher’s  NICABM interview:

“Neurofeedback is biofeedback to the neuronal activity of the brain. It is a computer interface where you pick up the firing of the brain in the EEG (electro-encephalogram) in real-time, scrolling for a therapist and client to look at together. By challenging their brain through feedback, we can see that the EEG is changing,” she starts.

“And obviously the change that I am most concerned about is change in levels of fear. Mostly what I am concerned about is quieting fear, so let’s take that situation. We know that the fear circuits are in the temporal lobe and that survival’s fear circuit, the survival amygdala, is in the right hemisphere. We’re trying to say to the brain – not to the person– “Stop practicing that fear-driven over-arousal. Chill. Get quiet!”

“Now, if people could do this on their own, they wouldn’t need the game or the neurofeedback. [So she’s never harsh on the person; she just re-trains their brain.] We have to find the frequency that works for that particular individual – it’s going to be different for everyone. They tell me two or three days later that, on the whole, they have been calm, they have been sleeping, they are less reactive, and/or they are making easier eye contact. That is what I mean by works….

“I had a young woman, who had been adopted from a third-world country. She had been in an orphanage after having been delivered in a shoebox from a police station. They fed her with an eyedropper, not ever expecting that she was going to live. She had every possible level of disorganization: she couldn’t read; she bumped into doorjambs; she had a very difficult time negotiating through life.

“I was now meeting her out of a mental hospital, and she was in her twenties. [After neurofeedback training] she comes in and tells me this story. She was always the last one chosen for any sports team, as you can imagine, when she was a kid, and now she’s stabilized enough to be dating. She is out with a guy, they are waiting to go to a movie, and they go to a batting cage – she hits 90% of the balls. Therapy could never get somebody from bumping into walls to being able to hit 90% of the balls! Her boyfriend was very impressed…

“Neurofeedback is deeply organizing to the nervous system. This goes deep into the nervous system; neurofeedback is healing deep into the CNS, the central nervous system, and through the brain.

“I had one patient who was given the diagnosis of Borderline Personality Disorder and had been hospitalized multiple times. She very much wanted to do neurofeedback training because she felt like she had gone as far as she could with psychotherapy, and she still wanted to drive off a bridge every day!  We used two different protocols: the eyes-open protocol – it doesn’t matter what the specifics were for her – but she got stabilized in 20 sessions, and then we did the alpha-theta protocol. She did 30 or 40 sessions. All together, she had about 60 sessions, then it was over. She did not meet any criteria for Borderline Personality and she no longer wanted to jump off a bridge.

“She actually got married and had a baby, and went on to advance her career. I saw her once after that ending, and it was when a pet that had been her primary object of attachment, was killed in a freak accident. She came back in and she was very distressed. An additional trauma can also throw the brain back into its known pattern of firing. So we trained about four times, to address the state she was in, and she very quickly reorganized and was off again.

Repair of Attachment with Neurofeedback

(Interviewer Dr. Buczynski): “How do you think of attachment and repairing of attachment in regard to neurofeedback?

Fisher: “Oh, that’s a wonderful question, and it is somewhat amazing that this happens. In my experience, what I have seen is that people always seem to want relational connection.

“Things can get in the way – if you are having something akin to a seizure and you’re constantly living in fear; it is very difficult to imagine relationship as a primary part of your life. But we are social creatures; we are meant to relate to one another. That is our safety; that is our harbor, as my patient said, and when you find a way to quiet the fear-driven brain, what emerges quite spontaneously are the attachment circuits.

“I had one patient who was self-abusing and dissociative when she came into sessions. She had not seen her mother nor talked about her mother – so this wasn’t a result of conversation – but her mother had not behaved ideally. She came in one day [after neurofeedback treatment] and said, “I think you might be interested in this: I called my mother last night.” It was spontaneous, and now we could talk about the reality of her mother’s trauma.

“Now, this had been presented to her multiple times, and it even occurred to her, but the dysregulation and high arousal of her nervous system made it pretty meaningless. I see that happening a lot. I see spontaneous family reunion that I have nothing to do with orchestrating, and often, without even talking about it, I see it happen with people who train their brains.”

———————————

Kathy’s blogs expand on her book “DON’T TRY THIS AT HOME: The Silent Epidemic of Attachment Disorder—How I accidentally regressed myself back to infancy and healed it all.” Watch for the continuing series each Friday, as she explores her journey of recovery by learning the hard way about Attachment Disorder in adults, adult Attachment Theory, and the Adult Attachment Interview.

Footnotes

FN1 “Neurofeedback: Soothe the Fear of a Traumatized Brain: How a New Intervention Is Changing Trauma Treatment,” Sebern Fisher, MA, BCN, Psychotherapist and Neurofeedback practitioner, Private Practice, Northampton, MA;  10-22-14 Webinar interview by Dr. Ruth Buczynski, National Institute for the Clinical Application of Behavioral Medicine (NICABM), http://www.nicabm.com/treatingtrauma2014/post-info/

————-
Comments are encouraged with the usual exceptions; rants, political speeches, off-color language, etc. are unlikely to post.  Starting 8-22-16, software will limit comments to 1030 characters (2 long paragraphs) a while, until we get new software to take longer comments again.

23,261 total views, 9 views today

Share Button

23 responses to “Neurofeedback: Healing the Fear-Driven Brain

  1. I am sorry I couldn’t keep up with my posts here. The (conventional, qEEG-based, not developmental trauma-specific) protocols I was using stopped working as well. I stopped doing neurofeedback at all because I couldn’t decide which other protocols to try, and I was having power struggles in myself. I went a couple of months without neurofeedback at all and the progress I had made was eroding. My main therapist (who doesn’t yet provide neurofeedback herself) suggested I seek expert consultation for decision-making once again. I did, and now I am using the Alpha Down protocol described in Sebern Fisher’s book and documented in published fMRI research to change the connections in the brain in a therapeutic way. I just finished my fourth weekly Alpha Down session. I have found that the results from this protocol are not always pleasant or straight forward, but by the end of the week, I crave it. I am beginning to be able to sense in an experiential way what may be like to feel calm some day.

  2. Dear L., What a wonderful report! Dear Fabio, thank you for the Groupon idea. Please, L., may we get your May update, and then I can post your reports above and your May update as a terrific blog? It’s great to hear a life changing like that.
    I’ve had 43 neurofeedback sessions since October(below).
    Please forgive my absence; I’ve had to focus completing my book. Also, writing about what I went through a few years ago has brought up even deeper issues. Recently I’ve confronted infant fears so terrifying I don’t want to trigger folks by posting it here.
    This is hard on me, but it’s very good news! I’d much rather these nightmares still lurking in my subconscious, come up and show their face so we can heal them.
    I’m only able to do what I’m doing now, due to the combination of my wonderful attachment-based therapist; neurofeedback with a second excellent specialist; meditation; and continuing Peter Levine exercises and other body work.
    My neurofeedback journey?
    Unlike Tina and L., I haven’t had eye-opening experiences I can credit specifically to neurofeedback.
    Rather, my combination of treatments above — and neurofeedback has been 110% essential — has over the last six months, given me a growing overall emotional strength. It sneaks up on me; I don’t realize it’s even there until some trauma comes up. Then — yikes! Look what I can confront now! That would have dissociated me into passing out unconscious a year ago.
    For example, four weeks ago I had to “divorce” a relative very dear to me, for unacceptable behavior. I dumped them at the airport and dashed for my regular neurofeedback session that afternoon. I had a huge emotional outburst with my neurofeedback therapist (also a terrific attachment guy) and released an enormous pile of childhood grief. It was such an upheaval that I was still in his waiting room 3 hours later, releasing grief and being healed.
    Without neurofeedback, I could never have given up this relative and let go of the associated childhood grief.
    But without my attachment work, I couldn’t have, either.
    And without Levine etc. body work, I couldn’t have.
    It’s all very healing, but time consuming and exhausting.
    So please forgive my absence from the website; I’ve had my hands full, and my legs and feet kicking like a polar bear.

  3. Now I do all my neurofeedback at home and can do it as often as I like. Recently I had an unusually off day. I called my husband at work and he volunteered to come home early to let me do neurofeedback. I did and felt better immediately. The downside is that I really enjoyed my time in the neurofeedback office! I still see my neurofeedback therapist once a week as a psychotherapist to monitor my progress. Insurance pays that.
    My life is completely changed. I’m on my 12th session of neurofeedback. My anxiety is much reduced, though I still feel deep anxiety at my core. Before neurofeedback I lived in chronic high anxiety; my baseline anxiety was 7-8 out of 10, making life very difficult. Now it seems like 3 or 4 and I’m more able to enjoy life.
    Today I found myself in a situation that normally would lead me to sensory and emotional overload and I took it in stride with no special effort. My angry outbursts are greatly reduced. When they happen, they seem like less of a big deal even though they are stronger in a way. They pass more quickly with fewer side effects. They more often feel like “me being angry,” rather than “that scary alter coming and terrorizing us.”
    What hasn’t changed yet is my deep distrust of people. It’s not visible to the outside but it makes personal relationships painful. I feel less attached to what people who don’t know me think about me, though. So I feel less insecure in that sense. More comfortable with myself. At least sometimes.
    It turned out that those migraines really were from my frontal lobe not being tolerant of neurofeedback. I got significant benefit from the sessions–more self-insight, more self-control, clearer thinking and perceiving. But the headaches were disruptive, and further back in the front lobe, I was getting very uncomfortable sensations in my gut, similar to a seizure-like feeling I occasionally got.
    So we moved on to an area of my head on the midline. It made me feel freer and more relaxed, whereas the frontal lobe training gave me more of a driven quality. Now I’m in a part of the brain that has to do with sensory-motor control and perception. (C3 and C4, for those who know) the first time I tried it, my left hand itched uncontrollably. The next time that hand had a burning sensation. Next time, a buzzing sensation. Finally it had a sensation of being more “present” than usual. I find the C3-C4 training very calming. Helps me sleep better, and when I wake up in the middle of the night I can fall back asleep.
    Also since neurofeedback, my dreams have been easier to remember and less traumatic. I’m about 1/4 of the way through my recommended protocols. I’m curious to see what will happen next!

  4. Thanks, Fabio. I have read online that many people really like NeuroOptimal. I chose to buy my equipment for about $1500. The company I bought it from will do a kind of qEEG for $100 and give a treatment plan, but I already have a treatment plan.
    I wish you success with your attachment-based therapy as well as the neurofeedback. Please keep me updated, too.

    • I was wondering if you were still liking the machine you got for $1500. and if you are seeing any improvement in your symptoms . I also wondered if you would be willing to share the manufacturer of the device and where you purchased it. I contacted a local neurofeedback company here and they want $1200 just for the qEEG and interpretation of it! then 40 sessions at $100 totaling $5,200!! Id like to purchse a machine IF it would do the job. Any thoughts you may have would be appreciated! Thank you so much

  5. Here’s my clarified report on my start with neurofeedback:
    I have dissociative identity disorder and PTSD. What prompted me to neurofeedback were long phases of emotional distress, dissociation and confusion, which made life miserable, but didn’t respond to psychotherapy. EMDR was too overwhelming for me. Bessel Van Der Kolk and Sebern Fisher convinced me neurofeedback was worth a try.
    I had an evaluation of my brain function (qEEG). It showed my brain makes excess slow waves as Sebern Fisher said can happen with dissociative or traumatized brains. My treatment plan is psychotherapy with a trauma specialist; relaxation exercises; and 45 neurofeedback sessions with another specialist over 5 months.
    My first 5 neurofeedback sessions trained the very front of my brain associated with executive function which is also in contact with the deeper emotional brain. I noticed an almost immediate difference in my ability to have perspective on and healthy distance from daily upsets. My vision was more clear, and a particular “overwhelmed” sensation that often overtook me was reduced.
    In the first 2 sessions I had unusual persistent headaches but they wore off by the 3rd session when I felt better emotional regulation and more ability to bounce back after getting upset.
    Between the 3rd and 4th session I began having an ability to discuss some issues related to dissociative identity disorder that I hadn’t had access to previously. After that, my functioning was even more improved. I still continued to react to triggers, but my reactions were not as intense and/or they happened intensely and were over.
    After the 4th session I had a new revelation about this persistent “overwhelmed” sensation that used to happen regularly, but was now less frequent: I realized it was related to a particular dissociative part of me.
    After the 5th session today, I had a headache and felt very unfocused for a couple of hours, but I was better after a very brief nap. I’ve just been hit by a major external trigger [a stressful external event] which increased my anxiety, and is a big deal, but I’m handling it pretty well. Next session will be training two new sites in my front brain.
    Unfortunately my treatment was very expensive and mostly not covered by insurance. With the support of both therapists, I decided to buy the equipment to do home neurofeedback. I’m a technical person with some experience in this, but many without experience are also doing home neurofeedback. I’ll continue with the neurofeedback therapist until I can get up to speed.

    • Thank you L, please continue to update us. I’m very interested in hearing and learning from you and Kathy. I am ambivalently attached with a major focus on anxiety. I am in attachment-based therapy; my therapist is helping me tremendously.
      Finances in Neurofeedback is a challenge as I have no health insurance. I did find some GroupOn discounts for NeuroOptimal Neurofeedback and completed 6 sessions. I heard Sebern Fisher say in a podcast, about 43 sessions is the “magic” number for resolving deeper issues. At the rate of $100-125/session with recommended twice/week, it feels unavailable.
      I would love to hear how home sessions work for you and if that is an acceptable and feasible way to do it.

  6. It’s wonderful you’re doing neurofeedback and writing about it. You must have studied so many books on it, your first comment here is so technically sophisticated. I confess I can’t follow some of it. Please keep up the good work! But try to write for the non-technical average person and spell out acronyms so readers can follow. If as you say, Sebern says don’t start with the frontal lobes in trauma, then I’m a bit concerned your technician is doing that. If it were me and new headaches or other new symptoms become too painful, I’d have a dialog to request another approach or change technicians.

  7. Thank you for your website, especially for hosting Tina’s experiences with neurofeedback. Besides Sebern’s book, it has been hard to get information. My diagnoses are DID/PTSD. I’ve not had much luck with trauma therapy, following a crisis of awakening a few years ago. My daily functioning isn’t great, and I need to be well for my family. I can’t get to a level of basic trust with anyone. With my therapist’s blessing, I’m seeking neurofeedback. I plan to make notes online so others can benefit. Could I send you notes on my sessions and progress so you can share here? Thanks!

    • Thank you, I am SO glad you’re doing neurofeedback. Great idea to write up your experience on my website. Please post notes as comments on this same blog, so we can keep them together. As they add up, we can consider posting a guest blog by you. So many have benefited from Tina’s guest blog here.

  8. Is there a place on your website where we readers, can leave other healing modalities we have used and found helpful?
    I have been compiling my own self-regulating list of tools over the past few years (essential oils, breathing practices, acupressure Jin Shin Jitsu, 5 rhythm dancing, TRE)
    A few years ago as an undegraduate, I made a youtube video with some of these (at the time I was just beginning to scratch the surface in my understanding of attachment and trauma) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=21sPHnX6vG0

  9. Pingback: Healing the Fear-Driven Brain | Counselling, Em...

  10. Great info. I have been considering GSR and/or EEG with an AVS or light sound or mind machine for biofeedback training for my fear-based trading actions. First in practice sessions in simulated trading and then repeat in live trading after results.
    Fear has caused me more damage than it could to a person in my life trajectory so if fear is threatening my trading results, I take it as normal. The only difference is this time I have decided to get rid of it for good. Please guide if I am on the right track? Thanks, Manoj

  11. I know the mother of an adopted child who had trouble sleeping through the night due to her trauma history. Once her daughter began neurofeedback that changed. She sleeps through the night now. Which is amazing considering adopted children undergo terrible trauma when shifting moms and families, however necessary that may be to save their lives.

  12. In 1978 when I was working on the Neurology Unit of our State Hospital, psychologists were using biofeedback with quite positive results. I saw some relatively amazing things there.

  13. For those with severe epilepsy seizure disorders, the only options used to be hemispherectomy (removal of part of the brain) or neurofeedback. Many using expert neurofeedback had complete resolution of seizures. Then the pharmaceutical companies came up with drugs which appear to work, but the patient has to buy drugs the rest of their lives. More effort and funding needs to be put into expanded availability of neurofeedback.

  14. Thanks for the post; I really hope more work gets out there with neurofeedback … I believe it has lots of potential to integrate those non-integrated circuits in those of us with attachment disorders and developmental trauma.
    I’ve used the HeartMath devices myself; they are Biofeedback devices. You hook a little sensor to your ear and you breath with the device. A simpler one works with an app on my phone; I work on proper breathing trying to improve heart rate variability to calm the autonomic nervous system.
    Neurofeedback works in the brain with sensors on the head; I have a Muse device for that. These home devices are currently nothing like working with the electrodes all over your head.
    I had one professional neurofeedback session, but I live too far away from practitioners to make it practical. However Ms. Fisher does say it helps most with really severe trauma! Also Dr. Bessel van der Kolk completed part of a study that found it to be effective in CBT /medication non-responders who are adults with developmental trauma. There’s more info on his JRI website.

  15. I worked with a neuro psychologist who gave me neurofeedback for several months. Then I purchased a home unit. I used it for sleep until I didn’t need it any longer. Mind Alive out of Canada sells units like the David Delight. I used mine to reprogram my brain to sleep after 16 years on psych meds which I quit. Neurofeedback works!

  16. Lisa Schiro, M.S., LPC

    Thank you so much for your informative article. I am a believer in neurofeedback and have witnessed it helping many kids.
    Neurofeedback alpha theta protocols is where psychology and science meet and that can be a remarkably healing tool.
    I was trained on the Brain Paint System and look forward to incorporating into my eventual private practice. Keep the good information coming, Friend.

  17. Estimados Colegas: Quisiera saber sobre neurofeedbak: sanado el cerebro miedo.Como hacer para recibirlo? Ana Sutton, Athena Drewes, formar parta de la Asociacion Argentina de Terapia de juego, y necesitamos material.En Argentina hay mucho por hacer.
    [Rough translation: “Dear Colleagues: I’d like to know about “Neurofeedback: Healing the Fear-Driven Brain,” what to do to receive it? Ana Sutton, Athena Drews and others are forming an Argentina Association of Play Therapy. Please send me material.” ]

  18. Thank you very much for this very valuable information!
    With gratitude: Magdi

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

 characters available