About Christine Sutherland

Hi, and a bit about me so you know where all this is coming from and why. I am a clinical researcher and behavioural therapist who has identified and refined a methodology for rapidly and permanently extinguishing unwanted thoughts, feelings and behaviour, utilising Sensory Disruption of Reconsolidation (of conditioned responses), known by the trademarked acronym SDR. By now this work has been developed far beyond a conceptual stage and is soundly and comprehensively anchored in the most robust neurological research.

Because of my claim that many thoughts, feelings, perspectives, beliefs and behaviours can simply be rapidly eliminated, I’ve been called “mechanistic” and worse by some colleagues, especially those more interested in the psychoanalytic schools, and in turn I admit to a dislike of theoretical frameworks that can’t be realistically tested, and also to painting those frameworks over and through the client’s psyche as part of a protocol or therapeutic approach.

However, I am definitely not advocating blind elimination of maladaptive conditioning without consideration of the entire personal/individual ecology in which they reside. I am just saying that these things are not the person in front of us, but are merely random neurological pathways that have been created either via repetition or significant emotional impact. They are not of themselves meaningful and therefore do not need to be “mindfully contemplated” for example.  Having worked with the client to understand the whole picture, we can just get rid of the maladaptive conditioning, with obvious constraints (for example the prior work that may need to be done when we’ve discovered that the maladaptive material is a critical dynamic within a greater issue, such as control within a relationship. While the dynamic of the conditioned response requires deep understanding (so that we’re not just dabbling in people’s lives) the conditioned response itself is something I give little to no respect.

If you’ve known me for any length of time, you’ve seen that I can get a bit snarky when I see health misinformation of all kinds, or when I see treatments promoted that evidence shows are just not effective. Please forgive me my ranting – I’m trying to rein it in because cranky old ladies don’t make many friends.

How I Got to this Point

Since starting my adult working life in 1971, I’ve done a lot of different stuff, including check out chick, sandwich shop assistant (I quit when the boss told me the eggs were still runny because I’d cooked them too long), roof inspector, small business entrepreneur, etc etc. But mostly, since age 18 through to 35, I trained and worked as a teacher in schools and colleges.

Of course psychology is an important part of teacher training and I probably should’ve gone straight into psychology instead of teaching because it really is my first love. In the late 80s my teaching work began to involve more and more pastoral care and my fascination with psychology went into overdrive.

I dug into all kinds of schools starting with Freud (who I thought was full of it) moved on to Jung and Adler and then the behaviourists. I also went full steam ahead into the wild and woolly world of woo – attempting to find some theory or framework which actually stood up to scrutiny and which “worked” in terms of reliably and consistently achieving results for clients. I was so fortunate to have really great mentors, including a very experienced psychiatric nurse, and my friend Allen Gomes, a PhD Psychologist.

The more I read, the more I was disappointed at the fairly extreme lack of efficacy of psychoanalysis, CBT, etc etc. I felt surely there must be something out there which did work, and believe it or not I found the clues amongst the putrid mess that was woo. This included “thought field therapy” (thank you Monica Pignotti for bringing down that steaming pile), “emotional freedom techniques”, BSFF and a host of others too numerous to list here.

I experienced dramatic and satisfying outcomes, for myself personally and also working with my clients. And so I believed the BS theories behind the mechanism driving the change. Meridians, anyone?

But. Around the year 2000 I became aware that the theoretical bases I’d been fed were pure and utter bunk and had been roundly and soundly debunked. I learned about research design and analysis and I began to see that very many claims made in psychological papers were not warranted. I saw that the vast array of worthless papers included conventional interventions as well as junk such as EFT, ACT, acupuncture and others.

This was when I began to design and run my own clinical trials: clinical depression in the moderate-to-severe range, chronic pain without adequate explanatory pathology, and academic and behavioural performance of children deemed “at risk”.  At this point I was asked to become a registered supervisor with the Australian Counselling Association, on the basis of my clinical work and my research papers.

So my question became “What’s really happening here when people do make these dramatic changes”. The answer quickly became obvious. The one and only thing these techniques did, when applied with skill, was to extinguish conditioned responses. (They certainly didn’t cure cancer, heal the family cat, or cause the computer to stop malfunctioning – believe it or not some of the wilder claims.) So my next question was “What’s the mechanism for this rapid and robust extinction of conditioned responses?” because that type of outcome was not being seen with ANY inhibition therapy (eg CBT, exposure therapy, etc).

I formulated a theory that conditioned responses rather than being robust and challenging to work with, were in fact extremely fragile, and that if we deliberately interfered with the “replay” of the conditioned response we’d substantially weaken it and even extinguish it altogether. I called it “interruption of the replay” of the conditioned response.

Literally no-one was interested in my theory and I was basically singing into the wind for a long, long time.

But! I kept searching the literature hoping that others were on the same track, and indeed from the mid 2010s a number of researchers were investigating and explaining “disruption of reconsolidation” which is a much nicer and more accurate way to describe the mechanism. Unfortunately till now the disruption factor which has been utilised has been pharmaceutical or electrical (giving shocks), both of which are entirely unnecessary because it turns out that any disruptive factor that is sufficiently intense, works perfectly well. As long as that disruptive factor is presented simultaneously with a conditioned stimulus.

And Now?

A few of my research papers are listed here in the “Research” section, and some of my books have been translated to several European languages as well as Arabic, published by McGraw-Hill and Jarir.

Over my career I’ve consulted in the corporate, medical and military sectors, including in the area of behavioural change for peak performance. I’m a fan of TQM and QA (qualified to audit level), and like to tinker with systems and processes generally. I have a deep interest in culture and branding, as well as the psychology of sales and marketing. Aren’t all of these things are essential if we’re going to have an effective health system that works for everyone?

The upshot of all this is that I very much want to see effective therapists being more strongly promoted to the general public which is why these days my primary focus apart from research projects is empowering psychologists to master and integrate the SDR Therapy strategy  in their practices, and to assist those practices to thrive to a far greater extent than they currently do (honestly, when you look at the average clinic’s revenue and compare that to costs you can see that psychology is practically a charitable endeavour) and without burnout.

And yes, I’m well past retirement age (my photographer is better than a plastic surgeon) but will probably still be doing this to my last breath as my mission in life is to do everything I’m capable of to end human suffering by working with valued colleagues to change the face of mental health care world wide. A good reason to keep breathing and keep working, don’t you think?

On a more personal note, I live in Perth Western Australia with husband John, and have 4 very grown-up kids and so far 6 gorgeous grandkids, the oldest being 17 and the youngest being brand new. May there be more! Apart from work I play tennis (when I’m not injured), and like language (just started Italian, after studying French before visiting that beautiful country). I was using Duolingo but got a bit obsessive (Diamond League status is very seductive!) and decided that was working against actual language acquisition – now it’s a good text book and videos.

And talking of books, text books still seem more interesting to me than most novels. Right now as I write, I’m ploughing through James Coyne’s excellent treatise on depression, Barry Blackwell’s “Treating the Brain”, and Jay Haley’s “Strategies of Psychology”.

I hope you’re feeling curious about SDR Therapy, and whether or not it at least begins to make sense, perhaps we can chat some time.

All the best

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