Effects of Trauma on Children’s Brains

BW portrait of sad crying little boy covers his face with hands

The following article is from Sound Medicine News, February 3, 2015, and demonstrates the profound benefits an effective trauma relief therapy like TFT can have on the life of a child who has been traumatized:

Childhood Trauma Leads to Brains Wired for Fear

Last week, a report by the University of San Diego School of Law found that about 686,000 children were victims of abuse and neglect in 2013. Traumatic childhood events can lead to mental health and behavioral problems later in life, explains psychiatrist and traumatic stress expert Bessel van der Kolk, author of the recently published book, The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma.

Children’s brains are literally shaped by traumatic experiences, which can lead to problems with anger, addiction, and even criminal activity in adulthood, says van der Kolk. Sound Medicine’s Barbara Lewis spoke with him about his book.

BRAIN REGIONS credit: aboutmodafinil.com/cc

Sound Medicine: Can psychologically traumatic events change the physical structure of the brain?

Dr. Bessel van der Kolk: Yes, they can change the connections and activations in the brain. They shape the brain.

The human brain is a social organ that is shaped by experience, and that is shaped in order to respond to the experience that you’re having. So particularly earlier in life, if you’re in a constant state of terror; your brain is shaped to be on alert for danger, and to try to make those terrible feelings go away.

The brain gets very confused. And that leads to problems with excessive anger, excessive shutting down, and doing things like taking drugs to make yourself feel better. These things are almost always the result of having a brain that is set to feel in danger and fear.

As you grow up an get a more stable brain, these early traumatic events can still cause changes that make you hyper-alert to danger, and hypo-alert to the pleasures of everyday life.

SM: So are you saying that a child’s brain is much more malleable than an adult brain?

BK: A child’s brain is virtually nonexistent. It’s being shaped by experience. So yes, it’s extremely malleable.

SM: What is the mechanism by which traumatic events change the brain?

BK: The brain is formed by feedback from the environment. It’s a profoundly relational part of our body.

In a healthy developmental environment, your brain gets to feel a sense of pleasure, engagement, and exploration. Your brain opens up to learn, to see things, to accumulate information, to form friendships.

But if you’re in an orphanage for example, and you’re not touched or seen, whole parts of your brain barely develop; and so you become an adult who is out of it, who cannot connect with other people, who cannot feel a sense of self, a sense of pleasure. If you run into nothing but danger and fear, your brain gets stuck on just protecting itself from danger and fear.

SM: Does trauma have a very different effect on children compared to adults?

BK: Yes, because of developmental issues. If you’re an adult and life’s been good to you, and then something bad happens, that sort of injures a little piece of the whole structure. But toxic stress in childhood from abandonment or chronic violence has pervasive effects on the capacity to pay attention, to learn, to see where other people are coming from, and it really creates havoc with the whole social environment.

And it leads to criminality, and drug addiction, and chronic illness, and people going to prison, and repetition of the trauma on the next generation.

TFT Relief After Decades of Flashbacks

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Like Acupuncture for the Mind

By Michelle (Miki) Butterworth

Having regressed to my life as a 4-year-old—crouched, screaming and fighting off imaginary blows—I was hospitalized for the second time in 10 years. The first time, I had been released after four days as the safety of the hospital had brought me out of abreaction (the reliving of events as if happening at the present moment), and my functions returned to normal.

This second time though, the flood gates opened and spilled over my years of insistent denial. The physical, sexual and psychological traumas of childhood poured forth.

Many devoted healthcare professionals worked with me over the next 20 years. Blessed breakthroughs did come in the way of integrating the past with the present and changes in the way I acted out that pathology.

However, after trying every new therapy for PTSD that came along—the night terrors, flashbacks and regressions continued.

After retiring to Sedona Arizona, and though living a wonderfully rewarding lifestyle, I still suffered from PTSD. Just seeing something familiarly violent on a television show might trigger days of dissociation, self mutilation (the act of inflicting pain on self by cutting) and regressions.

Having learned over the years that PTSD symptoms are never completely eliminated, I dealt with these episodes as they came by staying recluse for periods of time. After one recurrent triggering event left me suicidal, I again sought help from the mental health community.

I was introduced to a therapist who, after listening to my story, asked if I would be willing to try an unconventional therapy that involved tapping on points of the body while recalling the trauma. I politely told her, “NO!”

Spiritually devoted and as open a person as I am, I was not going to spend time and money on some ‘Sedona Woo-Woo’ technique.

I suggested we stick with regular therapy.

Two sessions later, she mentioned she would be out of town for the next month (doing her woo-woo in some other country).  Continue reading “TFT Relief After Decades of Flashbacks”

Relieving Violent Trauma of Teenager with Autism & Downs Syndrome

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It’s Not “Talk” Therapy

By Nora J. Baladerian, PhD

As the 17-year-old boy flopped into a chair in my office, I knew right away TFT was the right therapy to help him. A victim of violence by his day-program worker, he is an African-American boy, quiet, very engaging and cute!

He was also born with Downs Syndrome and Autism.

He lives with both of his parents and a younger sister in Los Angeles. To communicate, he uses sign language and a communication board to spell out, letter by letter, any words he wants to say—as his verbal output does not always match what he intends to say.  He also uses sign language (finger spelling) and some American Sign Language.

Because of the moderate level of mental retardation that he has, I knew “typical” talk therapy would not work to help him recover from his trauma. Continue reading “Relieving Violent Trauma of Teenager with Autism & Downs Syndrome”