Psychotherapy is a complex, shifting, neurobiological exchange or “dyadic dance” between two human beings. How we “dance” is determined by unconscious body and emotional memories of our early attachment experiences that have determined patterns of eye contact, proximity or distance, autonomic arousal, internal sense of safety or danger, trust and mistrust. When their early experience includes neglect and abuse, our clients find themselves driven by conflicting wishes and fears of relationship. While wishing to trust or tolerate disappointment and misattunement in the therapy, powerful emotional memories of threat, humiliation, hurt, and betrayal invade the therapeutic relationship. Rather than making things better, the therapist’s expressions of empathy or attempts to process what happened in the transference often seem to make things worse.
Interpersonal neurobiology offers therapists a new window into how we can change the post-traumatic “dance” without the need to process empathic failures and misattunements intellectually. Maintaining a smooth dance rhythm with our clients requires knowing how to monitor and regulate our own nervous systems and somatic experience, as well as theirs. Utilizing insights gleaned from the field of interpersonal neurobiology and from Sensorimotor Psychotherapy, a body-centered talking therapy for attachment and trauma, we can learn to facilitate moments of attunement and connection even with our most challenging clients.
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Janina Fisher, PhD, is a licensed clinical psychologist and former instructor at The Trauma Center, a research and treatment center founded by Bessel van der Kolk. Known as an expert on the treatment of trauma, Dr. Fisher has also been treating individuals, couples and families since 1980.
She is past president of the New England Society for the Treatment of Trauma and Dissociation, an EMDR International Association Credit Provider, Assistant Educational Director of the Sensorimotor Psychotherapy Institute, and a former Instructor, Harvard Medical School. Dr. Fisher lectures and teaches nationally and internationally on topics related to the integration of the neurobiological research and newer trauma treatment paradigms into traditional therapeutic modalities.
She is co-author with Pat Ogden of Sensorimotor Psychotherapy: Interventions for Attachment and Trauma (2015) and author of Healing the Fragmented Selves of Trauma Survivors: Overcoming Internal Self-Alienation (2017) and the forthcoming book, Working with the Neurobiological Legacy of Trauma (in press).
Financial: Dr. Janina Fisher has an employment relationship with the Sensorimotor Psychotherapy Institute. She is a consultant for Khiron House Clinics and the Massachusetts Department of MH Restraint and Seclusion Initiative. Dr. Fisher receives royalties as a published author. She receives a speaking honorarium, recording royalties and book royalties from Psychotherapy Networker and PESI, Inc. Dr. Fisher has no relevant financial relationships with ineligible organizations.
Non-financial: Dr. Janina Fisher is on the advisory board for the Trauma Research Foundation.
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