Category Archives: Effect Of Childhood Trauma On Brain
Articles about how severe and protracted childhood trauma can detrimentally interfere with the development of various regions of the brain, particularly the amygdala and prefrontal cortex, and the implications of such damage with regard to cognition, emotion and behavior, including emotional dysregulation, impaired judgment and diminished ability to make rational decisions.
A study by Lanius et al.was conducted to cast light upon why many with individuals suffering from posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), including those suffering from complex-PTSD, often find it excruciatingly uncomfortable every time the rules of social etiquette compel them to make eye to eye contact with another human being (I, myself once attempted to circumvent this
Furthermore, it is now also known, thanks to neuroscientific research, that those who have suffered childhood trauma and have, subsequently, been diagnosed with a depressive illness are at risk of also having suffering
One of the most effective therapies for those suffering from borderline personality disorder (BPD) – as we have seen, BPD is closely linked to childhood trauma) is called dialectical behavior therapy (DBT).
What Is DBT?
DBT is based on the person’s need to change their behavior and their need to be accepted. The therapy was devised by Marsha Lineham, PhD.
What Does DBT Involve?
Typically, DBT involves :
individual psychotherapy (usually once per week), starting with changing the individual’s most concerning behaviors, then changing behaviors hindering therapy (e.g. missing appointments), and finally with ‘quality of life issues.’
skills training (within a group-therapy context). The four main skills that are taught are :
For many, adolescence is a very difficult and stressful time, not least because of the neurological and interacting hormonal changes that occur during the period.
Changes In The Brain :
Between the ages of about ten and early adulthood, the brain undergoes three major periods of dramatic physical development as described below :
Between the ages of 10 years and 12 years : during this period there occurs a massive increase in neurons (a neuron is a brain cell that receives, processes and transmits information via chemical and electrical signals) and synapses (connections between neurons) in the brain’s FRONTAL CORTEX (the brain’s frontal cortex is involved in reasoning, higher level thinking, decision making, logic, judgment, impulse control, emotional control and planning). However, it is important to note that the FRONTAL CORTEX does not become fully developed until the early to mid-twenties (Kotulak).
Between the ages of 13 years and 15 years : during this period there are qualitative changes in nerve pathways which allow the ability to perform abstract thinking to develop.
From the age of 17 years upwards : continued development of the brain’s frontal lobes increase the individual’s ability to plan and think logically.
Lack of impulse control, poor judgment, poor planning and illogical thinking can, of course, lead to the kind of dangerous, impulsive risk-taking behavior often seen in adolescents
Childhood Trauma May Damage Development Of Certain Brain Structures, Including Prefrontal Cortex :
We have seen from other articles that I have published on this site that severe and chronic psychological and emotional trauma in early life may adversely affect the physical development of various structures in the brain, including the prefrontal cortex. In individuals who have gone on to develop borderline personality disorder (BPD) or complex post traumatic stress disorder (cPTSD) following childhood trauma, such impairment to the brain is thought to be particularly likely.
What Is The Prefrontal Cortex And What Is Its Function?
The prefrontal cortex is a brain region located in the front of the skull (see diagram below) and its main functions include :
complex planning and decision making
self-control in the context of social behavior
setting and achieving goals
ABOVE : Position of frontal cortex in the brain
Evidence For Damage To The Prefrontal Cortex In Individuals Diagnosed With BPD:
MRI Studies : have shown that individuals with BPD have reduced volume in the brain’s frontal lobe and left orbitofrontal cortex (although further studies are required in order to ascertain if this link is causal).
fMRI Studies : have shown thatBPD sufferers experience abnormal
The brain is divided into two halves called the RIGHT HEMISPHERE and the LEFT HEMISPHERE. These two halves are connected by a structure called the CORPUS CALLOSUM.(It is located above the thalamus, underneath the cortex, see image below)
Above : The location of the corpus callosum (marked in orange). Of all the brain’s white matter structures, it is the largest.
It has recently been discovered that chronic, unpredictable, psychological stress in early life can lead to inflammation in the brain. This has come as something of a surprise to many researchers as it had previously been believed by most of those working in this recondite field of neurology that such inflammation of the brain had to have a physical (rather than psychological) cause such as a head injury or an infection.
According to McCarthy, an expert in this area of study, chronic and unpredictable
The term neurocounseling refers to a form of therapies that seek to take advantage of the relatively recent neuroscientific discovery that the human brain has far more NEUROPLASTICITY than was previously believed to be the case.
What Is Neuroplasticity?
The brain’s quality of neuroplasticity can be defined as its capacity to be physically changed, not only during childhood, but over the whole life-span ; it is only relatively recently that the extent to which the adult brain can be physically altered (both in terms of its structure and its pattern of neuro-pathways) has been discovered.
Why Is The Brain’s Neuroplasticity, And Therefore Neurocounseling, Relevant To The Treatment Of Complex-PTSD Resulting From Childhood Trauma?
Neurocounseling and the phenomenon of neuroplasticity have important implications for the treatment of post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and complex-PTSD as sufferers of both types often have incurred damage to certain brain regions as a result of their traumatic experiences.
These brain injuries can include a shrunken hippocampus ( the hippocampus is a brain region involved in the processing of memories, including differentiation between past and present memories);
The brain is divided into two halves called the RIGHT HEMISPHERE and the LEFT HEMISPHERE. These two halves are connected by a structure called the CORPUS CALLOSUM.(It is located above the thalamus, underneath the cortex, see image below)Above : The location of the corpus callosum (marked in orange). Of all the brain’s white matter structures, it is the largest.
What Is The Function Of The Corpus Callosum?
The function of the corpus callosum is to allow communication to take place between the left hemisphere and the right hemisphere ; it facilitates this communication by transmitting neural messages between these two parts of the brain.
What Does The Corpus Callosum Communicate Between The Brain’s Right And Left Hemisphere?
The corpus callosum is responsible for the communication between the two hemispheres of emotion, arousal, sensory information, information relating to motor functions and higher cognitive abilities (including working memory, imagery and consciously controlled – or willed’ – action, amongst others).
The Effect Of Parental Maltreatment On The Corpus Callosum :
A study conducted by McCrory et al., 2001, found that children who were significantly maltreated by their parent (or parents) over a protracted period of time had corpus collosa that were, on average, significantly smaller than those found in children who had been fortunate enough to have experienced relatively stable and happy childhoods.
In more specific terms, their (i.e. the maltreated children’s corpus callosa had less thickness of the white fibre area.
Children Who Are Constantly Humiliated By Their Parents May Be At Particular Risk Of Incurring Impaired Development Of Their Corpus Callosa :
However, we have also seen, thanks to a quality in the brain known as neuroplasticity, that it is now known that, under certain conditions, the brain has the potential to recover from the damage it incurred during early life.
If we have suffered severe and chronic childhood trauma, there is a risk that an area of our brain called the limbic system may have incurred developmental damage which severely affects how we feel and behave as adults.
What Is The Limbic System’s Normal Function?
The limbic system is a region of our brain that experiences emotional reactions to information relayed by our five senses : taste, touch, vision, smell and hearing. These emotional reactions are strongly shaped by the memories stored in the limbic system connected to past experiences
We have seen from many of the articles that I have previously published on this site that significant childhood trauma can actually physically damage the developing human brain; in particular, it can adversely affect the development of a brain area called the amygdala, which is involved in emotional processing.
However, we have also seen that, because it is now known the brain can change itself in positive ways when we are adults (due to a property of the brain