The impact of relational trauma on development is enormous . The structure of the brain is developing during the first years of life, and any traumatic event affects all areas of its formation.

On the other hand, there is no greater trauma in childhood than experiencing abandonment . The social brain of the newborn, the baby and the child will look for known signals that can provide them with calm to feel safe, to guarantee a basic security that allows them to remain relaxed in order to attend to the world without the perception of a constant threat. If this does not happen, the nervous system experiences chronic over- or under-activation levels that remain even after adequate care and attachment.

Neuromodulation in cases of trauma

In the prologue of the book Neurofeedback in the Treatment of Developmental Trauma: Calming the Brain Driven by Fear by Sebern F. Fisher, Bessel A. Van der Kolk tells us how he met S. Fisher in 2007 at a conference on attachment and how he was confronted in that encounter with a new paradigm, a new way of understanding the mind, the brain and the body. He tells us how he interviewed patients treated with Neurofeedback at the S. Fisher centre, and how surprised he was by their statements. One of them collects and summarizes the developments described by these patients:

“Yes, I slowly became an attached person. When you are not afraid or confused you can meet people in a different way.”

The professionals at Vitaliza have been working with neurofeedback since 1999 and we have the enthusiasm of Bessel A. Van der Kolk, one of the greatest specialists in trauma, when it comes to evaluating neurofeedback. This leads us to subscribe to his words: “Probably the biggest challenge in mental health is how we can help patients with severe affective regulation problems, such as those I interviewed in Sebern’s office.

This is often the result of severe abuse and neglect during childhood – also known as developmental trauma – in which the lack of synchronicity in early relationships with the caregiver leads to abnormal brain, mind and body rhythms. “In neurofeedback, we seem to encourage the brain to establish new oscillation patterns that enhance its natural complexity and its inherent and necessary bias towards self-regulation.”

In Vitaliza Health Psychology, neurofeedback is part of our therapeutic intervention, to help and facilitate the regulation of the central nervous system.

Early abandonment trauma therapy

Two years ago we began an investigation with children who have suffered early abandonment ; we had been intervening for years with adopted children and their families, and we set out to investigate what we had observed at the clinical level until then.

One out of every four internationally adopted children between the ages of 8 and 12 in Spain presents problems of school adaptation, while more than a quarter of the parents report exteriorized and interiorized problems, as well as scarce adaptive skills, which require specialized attention. When they reach adolescence, internationally adopted minors are referred to mental health services more often than non-adopted ones.

In our psychology office Vitaliza, we frequently meet families with internationally adopted children who come to us for psychological support , especially at pre-adolescent ages. The evaluation and treatment of these cases requires an approach that takes into consideration both the difficulties of school adaptation and deficits in cognitive functions, as well as behavioural problems and the skills and capacities that the children and their families have to deal with them.

The empirical evidence available on the effectiveness of trauma-focused treatments in the infant/juvenile population is limited and tends to focus on treating traumatic symptoms, while other psychological symptoms that very often result from exposure to trauma and cause more disability tend to be relegated to the background.

Therefore, in Vitaliza we have wanted to demonstrate empirically that neurofeedback training can serve as an emotional stabilizer , combined with other therapies such as eye movement reprocessing therapy or EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing), improving emotional regulation and providing experiences of achievement and emotional connection.

Conference on Trauma and Neuromodulation

The experienced Neurofeedback professional Sebern Fisher, with whom we will have the opportunity to learn in Conferences on Trauma and Neuromodulation , expresses in his book Neurofeedback in the treatment of developmental trauma , that thanks to brain training, we can alleviate the consequences of abandonment in early childhood.

This study will be presented at the first Conference on Trauma and Neuromodulation, to be held in Madrid from April 16 to 19 organized by the Spanish Society of Biofeedback and Neurofeedback, SEBINE. In this conference we will present our research, which aimed to evaluate the emotional, cognitive and behavioral changes associated with the combined treatment of neurofeedback and EMDR in internationally adopted children aged 8 to 11 .

This Conference is an opportunity to learn how Neurofeedback works and what it can contribute to developmental trauma. The Conference will count, as we have already said, with the presence of the recognized expert in trauma S. Fisher. In that space we will have the opportunity to share the results obtained after applying the combined treatment of neurofeedback and EMDR.

These results support the hypotheses raised , finding statistically significant results reported by both children and families, in all areas evaluated. It is important to highlight that the area in which the most evidence of improvement from different sources of information is concentrated is that of cognitive functioning. Parents observed statistically significant reductions in attention problems, somatic complaints, hyperactivity-impulsivity, anger and isolation. The children reported an improvement in family relationships and self-esteem, both statistically significant.

This shows a greater adaptation to different contexts, in which both parents and children see important signs of improvement that seem to confirm each other . All this leads us to confirm that the combined intervention of neurofeedback and EMDR training improves emotional regulation in children with abandonment trauma, in addition to other cognitive areas. Quoting again the prestigious therapist Sebern Fisher “Just as emotional regulation is the first task of good parenting, it is also the first task of effective therapy”.

Authors: Anabel de la Cruz, neuropsychologist. Cristina Cortés, psychologist specializing in trauma.