An Interview with Bette Lamont
By Cat Saunders
Seven out of ten people-–around the world and in every culture–-suffer some amount of brain trauma in the process of being born. After that, someone may get hit on the head, fall off a bicycle, or have a car accident.
In addition to these mishaps, some people grow up in families where there is abuse, emotional neglect, severe repression, or simply a lack of knowledge about what children need to grow and be healthy. All of these things can affect the development and functioning of the brain.
Many issues that people suppose to be purely psychological may also have a neurological component. Since the mid-1970s, a form of therapy called Developmental Movement Therapy has begun to address this overlap between brain function and psychological health.
This work, originally begun in the late 1940s as a way to help people with significant brain injury, was developed by a neurosurgeon named Temple Fay, a nurse named Florence Scott, and some of their associates in education and physical therapy.
One of Florence Scott’s graduate students, (and as of 2007 a 20-year practitioner) Bette Lamont, continues the work in Seattle, Washington. In the following interview, Bette talks about physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual issues related to brain function.
In simple terms, the work you do involves the brain stem, the midbrain, and the cortex. Would you talk first about how brain stem problems can show up at the psychological level?
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. However, pons level issues run on a continuum.
Frequently, people who have pons level issues may report that they don’t know why they’re alive, 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. They may be in a horrible relationship, but not know they are in pain until they do this work. One of our basic functions neurologically is to be able to feel pain and to then be able 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, or crawl to get away from danger. Everything about a healthy baby says, “I have the right to be here. I deserve to live.”
After I completed my pons level work, I noticed that I didn’t have that self-defeating “I’m not good enough” thought anymore.
Before I met you and learned about neurological repatterning work, I had already done 20 years of every kind of therapy and bodywork imaginable. But that “not good enough” thinking never went away until I did enough creeping, crawling, and other repatterning movements necessary to “hook up” my brain stem or pons level.
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 may not realize that this foundation piece is missing, since it may have been disconnected from the very beginning. Yet we all deserve this fundamental knowing of our right to be.
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 born, you don’t know the difference between you and your mother (or other caregiver). There is no sense of separateness.
Sometime in the first year, you go through a separation stage–which causes a lot of anxiety–when you realize that you and your caregiver are separate. Then, if you get everything you need developmentally, you progress to the third stage, which involves the capacity to perceive your separateness and still feel safe.
At that point, you are able to love and to be loved without having to be merged with the other person. You said that you relate a disruption in this developmental bonding process to the psychological experience commonly known as “codependence.”
Yes. The boundary between what is neurological and what is psychological is not absolute which is one reason we advise clients to be in therapy during the year to two years it usually takes to do their developmental movement work.
Lots of feelings can come up when you do this work, and people need help to consciously sort through and express all these feelings in a safe way. Since we only see clients about every two months for evaluations, and since their repatterning work is done on their own, it’s helpful to have the support of a good therapist who is knowledgeable about developmental stages.
Usually, dysfunctional families have lots of levels of dysfunction. Often a child who grows up unable to bond will have grown up in a family that doesn’t connect very well with the child because they (the parents) probably haven’t adequately completed their own developmental integration. The parents may be remote, emotionally “flat,” unresponsive, not reaching out to meet the baby’s needs.
Then, if the baby isn’t asking for her needs to be met because she’s not developmentally healthy yet herself you can get some pretty profound disconnections.
The capacity to bond is a neurological process. You can have a wonderful family and still not be able to bond if your neurological development has been impaired through a difficult birth, a head injury, or simply because you were not encouraged to creep and crawl like babies are supposed to do.
If for any reason pons level development is impaired, people may not move out of the separation anxiety stage. If people don’t get to the stage where they can be separate and safe, they may always be trying to return to the only kind of bonding they can remember, which is the merged kind they experienced at the beginning. Also, if people don’t bond in a healthy way early in life, they will tend to become enmeshed or codependent with partners later in life.
Would you talk about how midbrain issues can show up psychologically? The midbrain is responsible for how we make the bridge 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 stimuli. At the extreme, people may be agoraphobic–-unable to leave the house because the world is too overwhelming.
Other midbrain issues include not being able being able to sort things out, or not being able to prioritize what’s important and what isn’t. This can manifest psychologically with issues around confusion, with questions arising such as, “What is important? What should I do? Where do I begin?”
Midbrain issues therefore involve organizational and focusing skills. If the midbrain is working, we can see what we want and go after it in an organic way, without having to think it out with the cortex.
The midbrain also affects a lot of body “housekeeping” issues such as body temperature and sleep regulation, weight set-point, metabolism, and the tendency to gain weight (whereas pons level dysfunction may result in weight loss or anorexia).
If these cycles are out of synch, it’s difficult to be in the world comfortably because you’re fighting your body constantly.
What about the relationship between the midbrain and boundary issues?
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’ve never worked with anyone who has boundary issues who accurately knows where their body is in space.
As these people do their developmental work and their midbrains begin to function naturally, they come back and say things like, “I’m saying ‘no’ more often” or “I’m setting better boundaries.”
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 heavy duty energy–-kundalini energy or whatever you want to call it–-they better get a neurological evaluation to see if their brains are working properly.
My analogy is that if your house isn’t wired properly, you won’t be able to turn on a switch without worryingabout blowing a fuse or starting a fire somewhere. On the other hand, if your house is wired properly, you can run a lot more energy through it without any fear.
That’s true! I hardly need to elaborate on that, but I can tell you my own experience. Before I did neurological repatterning work, my life was about looking for something outside of me–a spiritual practice or some new kind of therapy. I’d leaf through the local resource publication and think, “Oh, that’s what I need…out there.” I wasn’t trusting what I had inside myself.
When I did the brain work, the transition wasn’t immediate because the work takes some time, but I realized at some point that 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 grounded, in touch with my own wholeness or holiness–and in touch with 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 more whole.
This interview was originally published by The New Times (October 1991).
For more information about neurological repatterning work, please contact Bette Lamont through the Contact page at neurologicalreorganization.org
Feel free to contact Cat for additional resources, referrals, and consultation support.
You can also read more about Cat’s personal healing story and witness her recovery process in pictorial form by viewing the free online version of her deck of 64 drawings called “Shadow and Light: Images of Change and Transformation for Women in Recovery.”