the pets

Michael Brown, LCSW, MSW, MA

I am an optimist, and I firmly believe people can change. I have seen people change who absolutely believed they never would, and I feel privileged to have been a part of their journey.

Although I specialize in the treatment of trauma and its effects, I also help people resolve a wide variety of problems (see Services).

My style of therapy is very collaborative. I see my role in therapy as that of a guide. We will work together, just as you would work with a guide if you were traveling in a foreign country. You would tell the guide where you want to go, and you would trust that the guide would know how to get you safely and quickly to those locations. A good guide listens to you and helps you achieve your goals. A good guide is someone with whom you feel comfortable enough to share your concerns as you travel together, and the two of you would find a way to address your concerns so that your journey is successful.

That is how I see myself as a therapist. You are in control, and you decide where you want to go. My skills can help you get there quickly and safely.  Moreover, my job is to create a space that is safe and respectful, so that you will be able to do the necessary work and make progress. This is necessary for change to occur. Let me talk a little about change.

It used to be thought that once we passed through childhood, the brain pretty much stops developing, and once that early period is over there is no hope of altering the brain in any significant way. We now know — and have scientific proof — that this is simply not true.

The current advances in neuroscience and neurotechnology demonstrate very dramatically that the human brain is very “plastic.” The brain is capable of making new connections and changing the way it operates throughout our lives. We never lose the ability to learn and to change. This new understanding provides hope for those who struggle with emotional, behavioral, and related physical symptoms. Techniques now exist that allow us to address these issues by working directly with the brain in ways that do not involve surgery or drugs. Changing the way we function is very possible, because the brain is fully able to change itself. The methods I use take advantage of this innate plasticity, this ability to change, by gently coaxing the brain to teach itself how to operate differently.

I provide an alternative to standard “talk therapy.” The methods I use are firmly based on current neuroscience. These methods use the brain itself to do most of the work to bring about change. But let me back up for a moment to explain how I came to offer this clinically effective alternative form of therapy.

We are very complex creatures. Billions of events inside us need to be precisely timed for us to be able to exist day after day. Our ability to mostly function just fine most of the time is nothing short of amazing to me. Because we are not simple, because we are complex, there are many ways for things to go wrong and cause problems in our lives. Often these problems show up as problems in behaviors and/or emotions. Also, because the mind and the body are connected, when we are having psychological difficulties, we almost always will experience physical problems, too, such as migraines, fibromyalgia, chronic pain, and/or other symptoms. This can be very difficult to sort out and turn around.

Because I like to tackle difficult problems, I was attracted to working with people who had difficult childhoods, especially adults who have a history of significant childhood abuse, neglect, and/or trauma. People in this group are the most challenging to work with. I reasoned that if I could be successful with the most challenging people, I could be successful with people who were spared such difficult experiences in life. So I eagerly sought out and worked with this therapy resistant group of people, but things did not go so well initially, much to my chagrin.

Early in my career I used the usual talk therapy approaches but found these to be cumbersome to use in practice, and the work typically took a very long time before it resulted in any significant improvement. I would commonly see people who already had  decades of standard talk therapy of one form or another, and all I was providing at that time was more of the same. It was no wonder that I did not fare much better than the previous therapists. Clearly, providing more of the same was not working. The methods of standard talk therapy were the problem. I learned that they are not an efficient way to go after trauma. Standard talk therapy was the wrong tool for the problem at hand, so success was hard and even impossible to achieve in any efficient way.

This kind of talk therapy, too, was hard for many people, since it required them to talk about things they would rather avoid talking about. Many people found this kind of work emotionally overwhelming and physically draining. At first I thought my lack of skill was the problem, but the more I read, attended various conferences, and spoke with other therapists, I came to understand that these kinds of results were the norm. This did not seem like productive therapy to me, and I became disenchanted with the “therapy-as-usual” methods. I wanted people to get better, to change, and to do it quickly. I knew I had to develop an approach that was different and that was much more effective. People who know me, know that once I set my mind to a task, I do not easily give up.

I started to look into more alternative methods, and I came upon EMDR to help with trauma, which became a specialty of mine. EMDR is probably the best method out there to quickly and effectively deal with PTSD and single incident trauma, like a car crash, bad fall, or an assault. EMDR involves very little talking, and it is very fast compared to the standard talk therapy methods. In just a handful of sessions, the trauma is almost always resolved. Studies show about a 90% success rate, which is phenomenal in the world of trauma interventions. As a result of consistent success with this, I became certified in EMDR. I am a current member of EMDRIA, the international EMDR organization, which allows me to stay abreast of the current developments in this field. I have attended all of the EMDR international conferences since becomming trained. I have also attended innumerable advanced trainings as well.

Wanting to learn more about more complicated types of trauma, such as childhood abuse and neglect, I attended the nine month certificate program of Bessel van der Kolk, the top trauma specialist in the world. This helped me better understand the complexity of developmental trauma and also gave me significant tools for helping people resolve the effects of these early traumatic experiences.

I found that people who had experienced childhood trauma, abuse, and/or neglect, usually referred to as “Developmental Trauma,” have symptoms very different from someone with single incident PTSD. As a result, and unfortunately,  EMDR had only limited success with these folks.

Their biggest challenge was getting in contact with their emotions, and this is a very common feature of people with this kind of history. They simply could not do it because their brains did not have the necessary nurturing environment for the development of the circuits that regulate the emotions. The part of the brain that generates emotions and the part that controls them do not get hooked up. Emotions for such people are the enemy, and this causes profound problems.

The good news is that because the brain is plastic, because it can change, the link between these two brain areas can be created even in an adult. A person who has never been comfortable with his/her emotions can learn to not only tolerate them but to appreciate them and to use them in the way nature intended.

Early in my career, I tried many things to help people regulate their emotions, because until they could feel in control when contacting difficult emotions, the therapy would stall. I found that all of the usual things therapists use to help people over this emotional barrier either took too long or simply failed to work.

The biggest problem with these emotional tools was that they required the person to think about or to feel their emotions. But these people simply could not do this. They were as fearful of their emotions as someone with claustrophobia is of being in small spaces. For them, emotions were not welcomed, and they had found all kinds of ways of keeping them away. Alcohol and drug addiction is almost always rooted in this emotional avoidance. I felt stuck.

Then I learned about ILF HD neurofeedback as a method that could instill emotional regulation by working on the brain itself. Neurofeedback simply monitors the electrical activity in the brain, shows part of this back to the brain, and the brain appropriately alters itself, restoring function. To state it simply: The brain, once it can see how it is ineffectively communicating with itself, will change what it does not like.

It quickly became clear to me that neurofeedback held the promise of achieving, quickly, what other methods could not. The best part is that neurofeedback does not require the person to feel, think, or talk about anything disturbing. The person simply watches a pleasant video image with information about brain activity — the feedback — contained in the image. The brain sees what it is doing in this way, and makes appropriate changes.

The effects are usually felt immediately, but it may take many sessions for the effects to more fully develop and to sustain themselves. It can be likened to exercise; it may take several trips to the gym before you notice much. But then one day you do notice the change, and the more you keep going, the more fit you become, and the better you look.

Once the brain has learned to operate in this new way, neurofeedback is no longer necessary.  Typically, people wanting to address trauma are ready to do EMDR after about 15 to 30 neurofeedback sessions. It all depends on the person.

Neurofeedback provides the therapeutic solution I had been looking for. The method of neurofeedback that I use has over 30 years of clinical success. Of all the various forms of neurofeedback, this is the most mature and the most effective.

I quickly received the extensive training and acquired the state-of-the-art equipment to provide ILF HD neurofeedback.  I am currently a member of the International Society for Neurofeedback Research, which allows me to stay in touch with other neurofeedback providers and to keep up with the latest developments in this field. Neurofeedback has been a critical game changer in how I conduct therapy. I have not looked back since.

The models used to explain how the effects of neurofeedback happens are rather complex and difficult to explain in detail, but the bottom line is that neurofeedback is an excellent way to quickly and effectively restore emotional regulation. This provides the foundation for using EMDR and other methods to work on the deeper trauma issues. The resolution of these typically goes relatively quickly.

Thus, the main tools I use are ILF HD neurofeedback and EMDR. The EMDR is excellent for working on a wide variety of issues including but not limited to trauma. Neurofeedback is excellent for restoring emotional regulation, which means it can help the brain put the brakes on emotions, such as anger, aggression, anxiety, depression. It is also an excellent tool for addressing a whole host of other symptoms, which you can read about under the Neurofeedback link.

Although I specialize in trauma, I also have the skills to address a whole host of other issues. Please read about these under the “Services” tab.

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