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Self-Regulation Doesn’t Exist!!

January 29, 2018

Self-regulation isn’t the goal.

No really.  It’s not.

Not only is it not the goal, I actually wonder if it even exists.

Self Regulation Doesn't Exist

Regulation circuits are built INSIDE relationship.  We aren’t born with them.  They are created inside of repeated experiences with a bigger, stronger, wiser, and kind (thank you, Circle of Security) grown-up.  Over and over, the regulated adult goes to the dysregulated baby, lending their regulation through presence, attunement, and reflection.

The baby’s brain is literally shaped and built inside relationship.  Those experiences of co-regulation are imprinted in the brain.  And because of mirror neurons and some other complicated neural happenings, the baby creates a neural net of their own regulation AS WELL AS a neural net of the OTHER’S regulation.  BOTH happen.

When this happens over and over, the other person becomes internalized and we carry their offers of coregulation with us- all the time!!!!

Eventually this experience of coregulation is so strongly imprinted that we begin to access the coregulation EVEN WHEN THE OTHER PERSON ISN’T THERE!!!!!!!

Whoa.  Think about that.

We ALL have internalized others.  Bring your primary person to mind.  The person you would turn to in times of dysregulation.  For me, it’s my husband.  When I’m in distress, my first thought is to reach out to him.  But I don’t need him to be present for me to bring him to mind and start to feel his coregulation.  Because after 22 years, I have internalized his coregulation.  We coregulate even when he isn’t with me.

Self-regulation is really internalized co-regulation!!!!

This is especially important to remember with children.  Yes, we can teach them skills to help calm and regulate.  Yes, this is important.  But skills live in the neocortex- the highest part of the brain.  Dysregulation lives in the limbic system and brainstem- lower parts of the brain.  The cortex can help to regulate the lower parts of the brain, but it is much more effective to regulate those lower parts without involving the ‘thinking brain.’

Over and over again I hear about kids who “know” all the right skills but don’t use them.  YES!  In children especially (but adults too) the dysregulated brain isn’t able to retrieve all the smart information in the cortex.

What really works isn’t teaching self-regulation.  It’s giving children experiences of co-regulation over and over and over again.  Until their brains literally take in and imprint the regulated adult.  Then the coregulation becomes internalized…but it’s still coregulation.


Like what you read here?  To get even more support, click here to sign up for my newsletter! I try to send it out monthly. Sometimes I succeed. Mostly I don’t 🙂

Therapists!!! Come play with me in Austin on March 2 & 3 for “Beyond Bowlby: Applying the Neurobiology of Attachment to Play Therapy.”  CLICK HERE for all the details!


Beyond Bowlby- Applying the Neurobiology of Attachment to Play Therapy

January 22, 2018

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Super exciting news here. I’ve teamed up with my dear friend and colleague, Marshall Lyles, LPC-S, LMFT-S, RPT-S and soon to be PhD, to create this whole-brain workshop on attachment and play therapy!

Marshall and I have delightfully spent many many hours together in the past 18 months, studying, consulting, and laughing our heads off.

We both LOVE therapists who love kids. We both LOVE attachment theory. We both LOVE teaching.

So this dynamic duo seems like a real no-brainer.

Y’all, Marshall is the best. Funny, smart, down-to-earth. This is going to be a fantastic two-day training, if I do say so myself.

CLICK HERE for all the details and to register!!!!

Here’s the gist….

March 2 & 3, 2018

12 CEUs, including APT

Austin, TX

$340 ($310 earlybird before Feb. 10 so don’t delay!!!)

At the beautiful Sol Healing Luna Studio

I always have plentiful, yummy, and healthy snacks (and COFFEE!!!!)

We might even have queso. Which is plentiful and yummy but NOT HEALTHY.

Come play! It will be fun and loaded with science, but it was also be nourishing and cup-filling. Promise.

CLICK HERE for all the details and to register!!!!

This intermediate training is open to therapists, pre-licensed therapists, case workers, social workers, and other professionals who work with children who have experienced complex trauma.


Like what you read here? To get even more support, click here to sign up for my newsletter! I try to send it out monthly. Sometimes I succeed. Mostly I don’t 🙂

Connection or Protection???

January 17, 2018

Connection or Protection.

The brain has essentially two settings- connection or protection.  Yes or no.  Safe or not safe.  Connection or protection.

It’s either on or off.  There’s no in between.

But it does have a dimmer switch.  Like your kitchen.  So sometime it’s on, but just a little.

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Deep in the middle of our brains, we have these teeny tiny almond shape structures- one on each side- called amygdala.  One of it’s most important jobs is as a watchman.

Four times EVERY SECOND the amygdala is scanning both our internal and our external word.

That’s once every ¼ of a second.


Not safe???


Not safe???

And the amygdala isn’t really a risk taker.  So if the answer is “Ummm….maybe….not sure???” it’s going to go with “not safe.”

When the amygdala decides ‘not safe,’ it sends a message VERY QUICKLY to the brainstem, which then launches the cascade of fight/flight/freeze.  It sends this message so quickly that even if the thinking, rational part of the brain knows the amygdala got it wrong, it cannot intercept the message fast enough.  (Psst…this is why coping skills stored in the thinking part of the brain often get tossed out the proverbial window).

A few days ago I got up earrrrrrrllllllly to work-out (seriously, it starts at 4:45am) which means it was still very dark.  I stepped into the hallway and jumped a mile in the air when I saw what appeared to be a 4 to 5 foot snake.

Now, I live in Texas.  In the country.  A 4-5 foot snake has never appeared in my house before, but this is not outside the realm of possibility.  Last summer, my husband and friend had to deal with a copper head that was resting next to the pool in our friend’s back yard.  At a pool party.  With children.  So.  Big dangerous snakes are not impossible here.  (My husband has kindly pointed out that it actually is almost 100% impossible.  It’s cold here right now AND our dogs would go ballistic if there was a snake in our house.  REGARDLESS I think you are getting my point here….)

My amygdala went “NOT SAFE!!!!!!!!!!!!!” It made me pay extra close attention to the snake-like object and gave me enough energy to get out of dodge if that ended up being necessary.

Luckily, my amygdala is also happy to receive new information that says “Oh wait.  Oops.  Actually yup, that’s safe.  Carry on here.”  So almost immediately I was able to process the information that this deadly venomous snake was actually just the tie to my bath robe.

But my thinking brain couldn’t get the “It’s your bathrobe tie” message to my amygdala faster than my brainstem got the “DANGER DANGER!!!!!!” message.  The message from my thinking brain- OH! This is the tie to my bath robe!!! – came AFTER I had already launched into fight/flight/freeze.

I still have no idea why it was in the middle of the hallway, but my best guess is that my 1-year-old labradoodle was the culprit.

Because I don’t have a brain that is constantly bathing in stress hormones (like the children with a history of complex trauma who come to my office), my amygdala was open to the new information and I quickly settled back down.  If my brain was already alive with stress hormones, I wouldn’t have settled down so quickly.  I might have run back to bed to wake up my husband.  I’d like to think I might have dealt with a deadly venomous snake on my own with some really great quick thinking, but the truth is I would have got my husband up.  (Later we’ll see how ‘danger danger’ signals send us going TOWARD our connection figures).

You see, my amygdala is quite desperate to keep me alive.  It’s really it’s top priority.  I like that about my amygdala.  So it would rather give me a fright and believe there is danger when there isn’t any than accidentally ignore or miss something very dangerous and then be killed by a copper head in my own hallway.  It was so early in the morning!!  My family wouldn’t have found me for hours!

Safe or not safe.  Off or on.  Connection or protection.

The next thing to know about our brilliant brains is that under the right (well actually they are very very wrong) conditions, our stress response system becomes highly sensitized.  If I’m in a state of almost constant danger (and neglect is constant danger), my brain gets ultra-sensitive to stress.  Remember I said our ‘on’ switches are like dimmer switches?  The sensitized brain sort of loses it’s dimming feature.  It goes from OFF to ON FULL BLAST.  The teeniest tiniest bit of stress activates all the alarm bells and we go right to “I’m going to die.”

This sensitization doesn’t have to be the result of trauma or abuse directed toward me.  It could be that I live in a verrry stressful environment and all the grown-ups are constantly stressed, violent, or using drugs.  Or the grown ups could be gone.  I could be all alone and this leaves me in a state of constant terror, too.

I’m imagining this is starting to sound extremely familiar to you.  Like you might know someone in your home who seems to have a broken dimmer switch.

The other possibility is that the amygdala is so used to being “on” that it decides it’s best to just make “on” the default mode.  To live always in ‘danger danger’ mode.  I mean- take the amygdala’s perspective.  Why rest into ‘off’ mode if you are constantly being launched into ‘on’ mode?  It’s a lot of work to go from ‘off’ to ‘on’- even from a caloric perspective.  So it makes good sense to just stay on.  Sometimes dimly on (think the way we leave our kitchen lights at night).  Sometimes most of the way on.  But if you’re chronically in ‘danger danger’ mode, it sure is easy to misread something as dangerous when it’s actually not.  A neutral look on the face.  A raised voice (that isn’t yelling).  An arm movement that looks like it could be a smack across the face.  A sigh of exasperation from your mom when she forgets about the chicken nuggets in the toaster oven and they burn to obliteration.  (Hypothetically speaking).  And suddenly we’re in Armageddon because your child’s amygdala thought you sighed at them, and you’re exasperation equals rejection and abandonment.

Two settings.  Yes or no.  Safe or not safe. CONNECTION OR PROTECTION.

Chances are, you know a lot of what I already wrote.  But here’s the kicker.  The piece I reallllly wanted to share with you today.

When the amygdala is resting- the switch is off- because it has decided that everything is safe, we are open and available for connection.  For relationship.  Not only are we open for it, we are constantly seeking it.

Connection is a BIOLOGICAL IMPERATIVE.  When the amygdala is off, we want to move toward it like a heat seeking missile.  Without connection, we will die.  In fact, lack of connection turns the amygdala on!!!  When we are seeking connection and can’t find it, we switch into “not safe” mode.  This helps us know how important it is that we find connection ASAP.

The opposite of connection mode is protection mode.  When I’m in protection mode, I’m doing two things- protecting myself from danger and LOOKING FOR CONNECTION.  I’m going to go away from the danger and toward connection.

If I’m in connection mode, my nervous system- and subsequently my behaviors- is inviting connection and relationship.  Remember.  It’s a biological imperative.  We actually need connection.  Like food.  So by DEFAULT, if my amygdala is off and I’m in connection mode, I’m behaving in a way that is inviting connection.

So the opposite is true, too.  If I’m behaving in a way that is not inviting connection, behavior that is actually encouraging people to get away or leave me, then I am clearly in protection mode.  My amygdala is ON and believes there is danger.

Let’s repeat that.

If I’m behaving in a way that is NOT INVITING CONNECTION, my amygdala is ON.  I am in protection mode.

If I have a history of secure attachment, my intuitive response is to protect myself and find connection (often they are the same thing, especially if I’m a toddler).  Once I am soothed and safe, my amygdala turns off and I’m open and available for connection again.  Which means, behaviors that invite connection emerge.

If I have a history of attachment trauma, things get a little complicated.  When my amygdala is on, I still have the biological drive to find connection, but I have a messy relationship with connection.  Connection is what was actually dangerous.   This is an exhausting and confusing internal battle, and it’s a battle that is relentless inside our precious children who experienced trauma inside relationship.  But this doesn’t change that connection is a biological imperative.

There is a part of your child that is seeking connection, I promise.  You might not be able to see that part.  It might be covered up by layers and layers and pounds of debris and protectors that will not allow that connection-seeking part to ever ever ever be hurt again.  But I promise you it is there.

Connection is a biological imperative.

Your child isn’t manipulative or controlling or considering you to be the nurturing enemy.

Your child IS seeking connection.  Is desperate for it.  But is also terrified.

Stay firmly planted in the truth that connection is a biological imperative.  When the amygdala is OFF, it is open and available for connection.  When the amygdala is ON, our nervous system closes down and we are not available for connection.  We are always SEARCHING for connection (remember, it’s a biological imperative) but do not become available for connection until the amygdala turns off.  REMEMBER.  Behaviors that drive AWAY connection and relationship are the result of a closed nervous system and an ON amygdala.

When your child (or spouse or colleague or check-out lady at the grocery store) is not behaving in a way that invites connection, know that their amygdala is on.

When your child’s amygdala is able to rest into “safe” mode, connection is possible.  It’s imperative.


Like what you read here?  To get even more support, click here to sign up for my newsletter! I try to send it out monthly. Sometimes I succeed. Mostly I don’t 🙂

Therapists!!! Come play with me in Austin on March 2 & 3 for “Beyond Bowlby: Applying the Neurobiology of Attachment to Play Therapy.”  CLICK HERE for all the details!



Online, small group training for therapists

December 18, 2017

One of my biggest passions right now is to nurture and mentor therapists looking to grow their confidence in working with children who experienced early, complex, developmental, attachment trauma.  I absolutely ADORE this population (and their parents) and know there are a lot of therapists out there who feel like they are floundering with these complex, highly dysregulated (or completely shut-down) children.

regulating the brainstem

I also know that it can be a real challenge to access affordable, high quality training- especially therapists who live in less populated areas.

So I’m figuring out a way to solve those problems!

In January 2018, I’m launching a small-group training series “Bridges to Play Therapy”– which seeks to build bridges between play therapists and relational neuroscience, attachment theory, and interpersonal neurobiology.

My first group in this series is “Regulating the Brainstem in Play Therapy using Movement, Music, and Play.” 

The group is limited to 10 therapists and there are FOUR spots remaining as of 12/18/2017.

We will meet on Thursday mornings, from 10:15 to 11:45 (central time) via a HIPAA compliant video program.  This entire program will be held ONLINE in a small group format that will encourage and support discussion.

All of the details are available on my website.  Are you interested in the group but prefer an evening option?  I’m compiling a waiting list of therapists interested in a Tuesday evening, 8 – 9:30pm central time option.  Send me an email!!

CLICK HERE for more details, including registration.

Always in gratitude,


Like what you read here?  To get even more support, click here to sign up for my newsletter! I try to send it out monthly. Sometimes I succeed. Mostly I don’t 🙂

Robyn Gobbel, LCSW is a child and family therapist in Austin, Texas specializing in adoption, trauma, and attachment counseling. She is the founder of the Central Texas Attachment & Trauma Center.

Grief in Adopted Children

December 6, 2017

During my career, I’ve listened closely to adopted people- children and adults- both in and out of the therapy room.  Usually 80% of my therapy practice is comprised of adopted children and their adoptive parents or adults somewhere on the adoption triad.  For years and years, I was heavily involved with Adoption Knowledge Affiliates, an adoption non-profit education and support group that supports the entire adoption triad.  By showing up with an open heart and a curious mind, I have grown to learn much about the experience of adoption.

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We’ve also seen great advances in neuroscience in the past decade and are able to collect data about what has always been deeply felt and known by those living adoption.

Adoption and grief cannot be separated out.  Grief is inherent in adoption.  Adoption ALWAYS begins with a tragic loss.

In general, our culture doesn’t do grief very well.  But we especially struggle with ambiguous grief- when the person is gone but not dead, or when the person isn’t gone but is no longer the same (such as after a traumatic brain injury or dementia).

All hard things are tackled more easily inside connection and relationship- so I’m offering this webinar on grief, hoping we can explore the inevitability of grief in adoption TOGETHER.  In connection and relationship.

Adoption grief is sad.  Sometimes it becomes scary, confusing, and overwhelming.  But it doesn’t have to.  We can learn to do grief well.  To recognize it, make space for it, and support it.  We can’t take it away.  But we can BE with it.  And being with eases the pain and allows the hard feeling to move through.

This is a heavy topic but we can do hard things together.  And if you’ve been in a webinar with me before, you know it will probably be fun.

For all the details, including registration, CLICK HERE.

Be brave.  Come with me.


Like what you read here?  To get even more support, click here to sign up for my newsletter! I try to send it out monthly. Sometimes I succeed. Mostly I don’t 🙂

Robyn Gobbel, LCSW is a child and family therapist in Austin, Texas specializing in adoption, trauma, and attachment counseling. She is the founder of the Central Texas Attachment & Trauma Center.

Play Therapy with the Brain in Mind

November 9, 2017

You’ve been asking- it’s finally here!  Webinars for therapists- with CEUs!!


I’m so excited to begin offering distance training opportunities for therapists working with children!

***This training is sponsored by Marshall Lyles, LPC-S, LMFT-S, RPT-S.  Marshall Lyles, LPC-S, LMFT-S, RPT-S is an APT Approved Provider: 17-508.  APT Non-Contact CEUs are offered to participants who purchase the recording of the webinar and successfully complete the online quiz.***


Play Therapy with the Brain in Mind will be an introductory look at harnessing the power of relational neuroscience in our therapeutic work with children.  In one hour, we’ll cover:

  1. The definition of triune brain (and why this matters)
  2. The sequence of brain development (and why this matters)
  3. How our clients assess for safety in the therapy room (and why safety matters)
  4. What does ‘regulation’ really mean and why is this important in therapy
  5. How to change implicit memory/mental models

Whew!!!  That’s a LOT!

Please head over to the official webinar description and registration page for webinar description and objectives.

This webinar is FREE if you attend live on Thursday December 7 at 11:30am central time.

If you can’t make it during that time, or if you want one non-contact APT ceu, you can purchase access to the recording for only $10!!!

Sound good?

Please read ALL the details – including the official description, objectives, and cancellation policy- and then easily sign up by heading over to my website!

This is the just the beginning!  I’ll be launching a more in-depth online training opportunity in the next week or so.  Stay tuned!!


Like what you read here?  To get even more support, click here to sign up for my newsletter! I try to send it out monthly. Sometimes I succeed. Mostly I don’t 🙂

Robyn Gobbel, LCSW is a child and family therapist in Austin, Texas specializing in adoption, trauma, and attachment counseling. She is the founder of the Central Texas Attachment & Trauma Center.

All Behavior is Adaptive

November 6, 2017

In April 2015 I sat in the back of a large hotel ballroom with some dear friends at the Texas Association for Play Therapy Conference.  My husband was out of town for the weekend and I had hired a baby-sitter so I could attend the conference- something I had never done before.  I was NOT going to miss the opportunity to spend two days with Bonnie Badenoch, a brilliant expert in relationships and Interpersonal  Neurobiology.

All Behaviors are Adapative

Loud and clear, on day one, Bonnie stated “All behavior is adaptive.”

I was already familiar with Bonnie Badenoch.  I’d read her books and participated in a pretty intensive three-day retreat a few months prior.  But all behavior is adaptive?  This was new to me.

In all my studying and training to work with children with pretty intense behaviors, my mentors and consultants had always used the word ‘maladaptive’ to describe the lying, stealing, manipulation, and sexually acting out behaviors that were so stressful to their parents.

I liked the word ‘maladaptive.’  I thought it made clear that at one point the behavior was adaptive- it had been learned and developed for a really great reason.  It just wasn’t adaptive anymore.  This perspective usually brought up compassion in parents and helped us understand the root cause, making it easier to address.  It was my job to help kids find behaviors that could more appropriately get their needs met.

Adaptive?  How could the tantrums be adaptive?  The food hoarding?  The control? These behaviors were hurting these kid’s relationships and not actually getting them what they needed.

I went home that night and called a friend to hash this out.  Adaptive??  How could this be???

Yet I was curious.  I trusted Bonnie Badenoch.  I wanted to understand her perspective.

I dove in.  I studied.  I explored.  I got curious.  And I’ve landed on a truth that informs the way I do therapy.  In any given moment, we only behave in a way we feel we must in order to meet a need.

Humans are complex systems, and our systems know what we need.  When we are safe enough to drop a protector, we will.  Until then, all behavior is adaptive.  It all meets a need.

The need might be hard to understand.  It might be to avoid feeling an unbearable feeling.  Shame.  Aloneness.  Despair.  But not understanding what the need is doesn’t mean that the need doesn’t exist.  We can be certain it does.

We are all a complex system of parts and protectors.  My manipulative part is only forward when it feels it needs to be manipulative in order to get a need met.

This part might not actually be right (meaning, a different approach might get my need met).  But it BELIEVES it is right.  In that moment, as far as I’m concerned, the behavior is adaptive.  It believes that it’s not safe to risk trying something new (being straight forward instead of using manipulation).  This part keeps me safe.  It’s adaptive.

My husband might not find it adaptive, but that’s beside the point right now 🙂

When I’m confident in this belief- that all behavior is adaptive- I will stop trying to change behaviors (mine and my clients).

Instead I can focus more on creating a space of safety, welcoming all parts with curiosity, so that it becomes safe to risk trying something new.

This does not mean that I am permissive about bad behavior.  I can set a compassionate boundary- place a limit- and do so without judgment because I believe all behavior is adaptive.  I also believe I have a right to be physically and emotionally safe and to be treated with respect.  I can hold both truths together at the same time.

If all behavior is adaptive, I’m forced to stay in a place of curiosity.  The behaviors sometimes feel baffling and confusing.  But if I’m committed to this belief that it must be adaptive, I am committed to curiosity about why.  I am committed to gratitude for all my client’s parts and protectors- even the ones that are realllllllly hard to be with, or realllllllllly triggering.


Over the past few weeks I’ve been on a journey to solidify the core beliefs that guide my work in the therapy room. This is post #3.

You might also want to check out:

All True Selves are Loveable

We are Always Moving Toward Healing


Don’t forget to check out my upcoming training for therapists and helpers on how to incorporate Movement & Music into work with children with complex trauma- encouraging healing from the bottom up.  

Like what you read here?  To get even more support, click here to sign up for my newsletter! I try to send it out monthly. Sometimes I succeed. Mostly I don’t 🙂

Robyn Gobbel, LCSW is a child and family therapist in Austin, Texas specializing in adoption, trauma, and attachment counseling. She is the founder of the Central Texas Attachment & Trauma Center.

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