Having Problems? Maybe Your Brain’s Not Working: An Interview with Bette Lamont
“Feeling ‘good enough’ is about the fundamental right
to be here. If our brains are fully functioning, the feeling
of being “good enough” should be present without effort.
We shouldn’t have to work at it.” —Bette Lamont
By Cat Saunders
Seven out of ten people—around the world in every culture—suffer some amount of brain trauma just being born. After that, people may get hit on the head, fall off a bicycle, or have a car accident. Or perhaps they just collide with a cupboard door so that they “see stars.”
In addition to these mishaps, people may grow up in families where there is abuse, physical or emotional neglect, or severe repression. Or there may simply be a lack of knowledge about what children need to grow and be healthy.
All of these factors can affect the development and functioning of the brain. In innovative research, scientists have been discovering more about how traumatic childhood experiences can actually alter the chemical makeup and synaptic functioning of brain cells. In addition, this research is revealing how these alterations in brain function can result in a wide variety of physical, mental, and psychological difficulties later in life.
Thus, many issues that people suppose to be purely psychological, can also have an important neurological component. Since the late 1970s, a form of therapy called Developmental Movement Therapy has begun to address this overlap between brain function and psychological health.
Developmental Movement Therapy began in the late 1940s as a way to help people with significant brain injury. A neurosurgeon named Temple Fay and a nurse named Florence Scott pioneered this work.
Several people in the United States, including Florence Scott, have continued to develop this work. One such practitioner is Bette Lamont, who apprenticed with Scott for many years. Bette later founded the Developmental Movement Center and Developmental Movement Consultants in Seattle.
In the following interview, I asked Bette about her work with Developmental Movement Therapy, also called neurological repatterning work.
Cat: In very simple terms, the work you do involves the brain stem or pons level, the midbrain, and the cortex. Would you talk first about how pons level problems can show up at the psychological level?
Bette: People who have brain stem—or pons level—dysfunction often don’t have good self-caretaking skills. If you have pons level damage in the extreme, you will stop breathing and die. But pons level issues run on a continuum.
Frequently, people who have these issues may report that they don’t know why they’re alive. Or they may not feel very interested in being alive. They may feel isolated or alienated from other people, or they may have suicidal tendencies. They often don’t have good life-preserving skills because they literally can’t perceive what is a threat to them.
People without a good sense of physical pain often don’t have a good sense of emotional pain, either. They may be in a horrible relationship, but not realize they’re in pain until they do neurological repatterning work. One of our basic functions neurologically is to be able to feel pain. The healthy ability to feel pain is accompanied by the ability to take ourselves out of painful situations.
Healthy babies have a powerful knowing of their right to be here. They may not look very powerful because they are so tiny. But when you look at what they’re doing, their actions are all life-preserving. Their brains tell them to cry when they’re hungry, demand help if they are in some discomfort, or crawl to get away from danger. Everything about these babies says, “I have the right to be here. I deserve to live.”
Cat: After I completed my brain work, I noticed I didn’t have that persistent “I’m not good enough” thought anymore. By the time I found out about your work, I’d already done more than 20 years of work on myself. I’d worked with all kinds of therapeutic disciplines, bodywork techniques, and spiritual practices. But I still did not feel “good enough” until I got my pons level “hooked up.”
Bette: Feeling “good enough” is about the fundamental right to be here. Pons level function can be disrupted—for all kinds of reasons—early in life. So people don’t realize this foundation piece is missing, because it has been missing since the very beginning of their lives. But we all deserve this fundamental knowing of our right to be.
If our brains are fully functioning, the feeling of being “good enough” should be present without effort. We shouldn’t have to work at it.
Cat: Another thing that fascinates me about the brain is its relationship to bonding. You described the bonding process to me in terms of three stages. When you’re first born, you don’t know the difference between yourself and your mother (or other primary caregiver). At first, there is no sense of separateness.
Then, sometime during the first year, you go through a separation stage—which causes a lot of anxiety—when you realize that you and your mother are separate. If you continue to get everything you need to develop in a healthy way, you will progress to the third stage of bonding. This third stage involves the development of your capacity to perceive your separateness and still feel safe.
At that point, you can love and be loved, without having to “merge” with the other person. You also mentioned that a disruption in these developmental stages of bonding could contribute to codependent behavior later in life. Would you say more about that?
Bette: There is no absolute distinction between neurologically based responses and psychologically based responses. It is a continuum. We therefore advise clients to do therapy for a year or two. That’s how long it usually takes to do their neurological repatterning work. Lots of feelings can come up when you do this kind of work. People often need help to consciously sort through and express all these feelings in a safe way.
We generally only reevaluate clients every two months, aside from brief appointments to check their repatterining movements. Since their movement work is done daily on their own, it’s helpful to have the support of a good therapist. It’s especially helpful if the therapist is knowledgeable about developmental stages.
It is typical for dysfunctional families to have many levels of dysfunction happening simultaneously. A child who grows up unable to bond will typically have parents who don’t know how to appropriately nurture a child. Such parents probably never finished their own developmental integration. These parents may be remote and unresponsive or have a “flat affect.” Or they may be disinclined to reach out to meet the baby’s needs.
A neurologically compromised baby may not demand that her needs be met in the insistent way healthy babies do. When both parent and child are unable to go through the steps of bonding, some pretty profound disconnections can develop over time.
The capacity to bond is first of all a neurological process. You can have a wonderful family and still not be able to bond, if your neurological development has been impaired in some way. This can happen because of a difficult birth, a head injury, emotional trauma, or a lack of developmental opportunity.
Babies who have gone through all of their developmental stages have a better chance to integrate healthy emotional responses. It is these movements that support healthy brain development. Developmental Movement Therapy uses these same movements to help clients restore full functioning of their brains.
If pons level development is impaired, we may not move out of the separation anxiety stage. If we don’t feel separate and safe, we may always try to return to the only kind of bonding we remember. That would be the “merged” kind of bond we experienced at the beginning of our lives.
If we didn’t bond effectively early in life, we tend to repeat the pattern of wanting to “merge” to feel loved. This may show up later in life as the tendency to become enmeshed or codependent with partners.
There is good news, though. If the brain remains physically undamaged, it retains the information necessary to learn how to bond. Our developmental stages can be completed anytime in our lives. The same movements that infants use to “hook up” their brains can be used to heal the brain later in life. The result will be that we can then bond with partners in a healthy way.
Cat: Would you talk about how midbrain issues can show up psychologically?
Bette: The midbrain is responsible for how we make bridges to the world and how we make buffers from the world. When I work with adults with midbrain dysfunction, there can be lots of problems with processing stimuli. At the extreme, people may be agoraphobic-unable to leave the house because the world feels too overwhelming for them.
Stimuli issues arise from not being able to sort things out, or not being able to prioritize what’s important and what isn’t. This can manifest psychologically with confusion about questions such as, “What is important? What should I do now? Where do I begin?”
Midbrain issues therefore involve organizational and focusing skills. If the midbrain is working, we can see what we want, and we can go after it in an organic way, without having to think it out with our high brain, or cortex.
People with midbrain issues might complain about procrastination or staying stuck in ruts. Or they may say they can’t seem to get on with their lives. This can show up in terms of not being able to set goals and follow through with actions to reach them.
The midbrain also affects a lot of body “housekeeping” issues. These issues include body temperature and sleep regulation, weight set point, metabolic function, and the ability to respond appropriately to “enough” in terms of eating.
For example, people with only midbrain dysfunction may have the tendency to gain weight. But people with pons level dysfunction might experience weight loss, and even anorexia, if their ability to feel hunger—and respond appropriately to it—is neurologically impaired.
In terms of the midbrain housekeeping functions, people with impairment at this level might experience a whole range of physical and psychological problems. It’s difficult to be in the world comfortably if you’re constantly fighting to regulate physical processes that should take care of themselves naturally.
Cat: What about the relationship between the midbrain and so-called “boundary” issues that people so often struggle with in relationships?
Bette: Yes, boundary issues! The midbrain tells us, through very specific visual and sensory cues, where our bodies are in space and where the world is in relation to us. I have never worked with anyone who has boundary issues who accurately knows where their body is in space. In simple terms, they don’t know where they end and the other person begins. It’s no wonder they have boundary problems!
When people do their developmental work, their midbrains begin to function normally. They come back and say things like, “I’m saying ‘no’ more often.” Or they say, “I’m setting better boundaries for myself.”
Cat: Something I’ve been noticing recently is the relationship between spiritual work and the brain. I tell my clients that when they start working with powerful energy at spiritual levels, they better get a neurological evaluation.
Consider the wiring of a house. With bad wiring, you can’t turn on a switch without worrying about blowing a fuse or starting a fire. But with a correctly wired house, you can run more energy through it without fear.
Bette: That’s true! I hardly need to elaborate on that, but I can share a story from my own experience. Before I did this work, my life focused on looking for something outside of me—a spiritual practice or a therapy. When I leafed through the local resource publication, I thought, “Oh, that’s what I need—or that.” I always looked for something out there. I didn’t trust what I had inside myself.
Neurological repatterining changed that. The transition wasn’t immediate because the work took some time. But at some point I realized I wasn’t looking through the resource guide anymore. I had a sense of my own self-worth, and I didn’t need anything “out there” anymore. I felt strongly grounded and in touch with my own wholeness—or holiness. Best of all, I felt connected to my own god within.
We are always in the process of trying to make ourselves whole. The more you feel whole on the inside, the less you need from the outside to feel whole.
This interview was originally published by The New Times (October 1991) and updated in June 2017.
For more information about Bette Lamont and neurological repatterning work, please visit Neurological Reorganization.
Cat Saunders, Ph.D., is a counselor in private practice in Seattle, Washington. She is also the author of Dr. Cat’s Helping Handbook: A Compassionate Guide for Being Human (available through Amazon). Contact Cat by emailing her or by calling 206-329-0125 (24-hour voicemail).