Bronwyn Robertson, LPC

Integrative, Mindfulness-based, Wellness-oriented

Tele-Counseling For Personal Growth and Healing

Blog

Blog

Treating Trauma: Body, Brain and Behavior

Posted on 10 July, 2016 at 9:55

Joey is a quiet and shy child. The 5-year-old is prone to daydreaming and seems content to play alone. He rarely gets into trouble, unlike his 11-year-old brother Jonathan who is easily agitated and always seems to be angry. The brothers were removed from their biological parents two years ago and placed into foster care. They are now with loving foster parents who want to adopt them but are concerned about Jonathan’s aggressive and destructive behaviors. The boys’ social worker has referred Jonathan to a therapist but not Joey. He seems to be adjusting well, quietly settling into his adoptive family.

The American Academy of Pediatrics reports that virtually all children who have been adopted and/or have been in foster care have experienced trauma. They all have experienced some form of maltreatment, neglect or abuse. At least one fourth of these youth will eventually be diagnosed with Posttraumatic Stress Disorder. But for some youths, symptoms of trauma-related disorders may be missed. They will go undiagnosed, or even misdiagnosed. When trauma goes unrecognized and untreated, “the lifetime consequences of early trauma are often severe,” the American Academy of Pediatrics notes.

According to the National Child Traumatic Stress Network, traumatic stress occurs in youth when they are exposed to traumatic events or situations which overwhelm their ability to cope. Abuse, neglect, removal from biological parents, multiple foster home placements and even transitioning into adoption can be very traumatizing to children. Depending on the youth’s age, and the type and severity of trauma experienced, they may respond in different ways. As noted by the Network, youth may show signs of “intense distress—disturbed sleep, difficulty paying attention and concentrating, anger and irritability, repeated and intrusive thoughts, withdrawal and extreme distress.” They can become stuck in fight or flight, like Jonathan, or shut down and frozen in fear, like Joey.

Fight, flight and freeze responses are activated when we feel threatened or in danger. These primitive responses were helpful to our ancient ancestors during their encounters with hungry predators. Fight or flight activates intense, automatic responses in the brain and body. The rational, reflective, and verbal part of brain, known as the prefrontal cortex, shuts down while the reactive, emotional limbic area of the brain becomes highly activated in preparation to fight or flee a predator. The body prepares itself by releasing adrenaline and cortisol, tensing muscles in the arms, legs and torso, elevating heart rate and respiration, and shutting down parts of the body not essential for flight or flight, like digestion.

Fight or flight served our ancestors well while they were trying to avoid being eaten by predators like saber tooth tigers. But when they were cornered or captured, with no real hope for survival, our ancestors’ only option was the freeze response. During the freeze response, an individual can become paralyzed, like to a deer in headlights, unable to move or respond. Freezing helped our ancestors avoid detection by predators. But when under direct attack with no hope for survival, they collapsed into a “profoundly altered state of numbing,” according to Peter Levine, renowned trauma expert and co-author of “Trauma Proofing your Kids”. In this state, our ancestors were not fully conscious and were numb to pain. Children who have experienced chronic trauma can also collapse, becoming “lost in a kind of anxious fog,” Levine notes. “Being scared stiff or frozen in fear, collapsing and going numb, describe the physical, visceral, bodily experience of intense fear and trauma.”

Young children and females are most likely to go into a freeze response when under stress or triggered by reminders of past trauma, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics. Like Joey, these children can appear quiet, passive and spacey. They can also be misdiagnosed as having an attention deficit disorder. Older children and males are more likely to respond via fight or flight. Like Jonathan, they can become highly reactive, destructive and aggressive, and may attempt to flee challenging situations. These individuals are often misdiagnosed as having disruptive, impulse-control or oppositional defiant disorders.

The temporary states of fight, flight or freeze/collapse can become “long-term traits” of traumatized youth, according to Levine. These youth can become “stuck in in habitually ineffective and often compulsive patterns of behavior.” The chronic activation of the freeze/collapse response “gives rise to the core emotional symptoms of trauma; numbness, shutdown, entrapment, helplessness, depression, fear, terror; rage and hopelessness.” Chronic activation of the fight or flight response becomes a “vicious cycle of intense sensation, rage, and fear.”

The American Academy of Pediatrics notes that “traumatized children do not have the skills for self-regulation or for calming down once upset” and “don’t always know how to say what they are feeling.” Given these unique needs and challenges, youth who have experienced trauma may not always respond well to traditional talk or cognitive therapies because they may not have the ability to process their trauma verbally.

Traumatic memories are not stored in areas of the brain associated with language and verbal expression. They are stored in more primitive, reactive and emotional areas of the brain, and in the body itself. “For this reason, behavior and memories cannot be changed by simply changing one’s thoughts,” according to Levine. He notes that most traditional trauma therapies also involve the individual’s reliving of his or her traumatic experiences through various forms of exposure. “Just exposing a client to his or her traumatic memories and having the person relive them …. is at best unnecessary (reducing feelings of mastery and goodness) and at worst re-traumatizing. If trauma is to be transformed, we must first learn not to confront it directly. Therapeutic approaches that neglect the body, focusing mainly on thoughts, will consequently be limited. One must also work with sensations and feelings … the totality of experience.”

Levine has found that psychotherapeutic treatment of traumatized youth is most effective when it helps to “cultivate and regulate the capacity for tolerating extreme sensations through reflective self-awareness, while supporting self-acceptance.” Therapies which integrate experiential, such mindfulness and movement based approaches, along with expressive art approaches have been proven effective in this regard. The use of mindfulness, movement and expressive arts in therapy enhances the individual’s ability to identify, express and release traumatic stress. Neuroscience research also shows that mindfulness and expressive therapies are effective in activating and strengthening areas of the brain responsible for reflection, self-awareness, self-regulation and positive emotions. Levine’s treatment approach, Somatic Experiencing (SE), was specifically developed to do this. This novel form of therapy helps youth gradually develop capacity for self-regulation so that they can manage uncomfortable sensations and feelings without becoming overwhelmed or re-traumatized. Though SE’s gradual, balanced approach, youth can develop an awareness and mastery of their own emotions, physical sensations and behaviors.

Parents can also use the SE approach to help train their children to rebound from stressful and traumatic events, and help prevent them for developing a trauma-related disorder. In the book “Trauma proofing your Kids,” he and his co-author Maggie Kline offer a simple-to-use, step-by-step guide on “stress busting, boundary setting and sensory/motor activities” which counteract trauma’s effects on youth.

(Orginally published in Adoption Today, June 2016)

References

Helping Foster and Adoptive Families Cope with Trauma. American Academy of Pediatrics, 2013

The National Child Traumatic Stress Network: http://nctsnet.org/

Somatic experiencing: using interoception and proprioception as core elements of trauma therapy. Peter Payne, Peter Levine, and Mardi A. Crane-Godreau. Frontiers in Psychology, Feb. 4, 2015

Trauma-Proofing your Kids: a Parent’s Guide for Instilling Confidence, Joy and Resilience. Peter A. Levine and Maggie Kline. Random House, Inc. 2008.

 

Categories: Psychotherapy, Mindfulness

Post a Comment

Oops!

Oops, you forgot something.

Oops!

The words you entered did not match the given text. Please try again.

4683 Comments

Reply supreme clothing
7:22 on 26 January, 2022 
I enjoy you because of all of your work on this blog. Betty enjoys getting into research and it is easy to see why. We notice all of the dynamic medium you offer effective techniques on this blog and boost contribution from other individuals on this concept so our favorite child is without a doubt being taught a lot of things. Have fun with the remaining portion of the new year. You're performing a brilliant job.
supreme clothing http://www.supremeclothingsstore.com
Reply kobe shoes
12:08 on 26 January, 2022 
My husband and i got very thrilled that Peter could finish off his basic research by way of the precious recommendations he had through your web pages. It's not at all simplistic to just happen to be giving away secrets and techniques which usually many people may have been selling. And we also figure out we have got you to appreciate because of that. Those illustrations you've made, the straightforward website navigation, the friendships you can make it possible to engender - it's most fantastic, and it is helping our son in addition to our family reason why that article is amusing, which is pretty serious. Thank you for the whole lot!
kobe shoes http://www.kobe-shoes.us.com
Reply pg shoes
7:21 on 28 January, 2022 
I'm writing to make you be aware of what a notable encounter my friend's princess had going through your web page. She mastered such a lot of issues, including what it's like to have a very effective helping style to let other individuals quite simply know several multifaceted issues. You actually did more than readers' expected results. Thank you for producing the useful, safe, revealing and also cool tips about the topic to Lizeth.
pg shoes http://www.paulgeorgeshoes.us.com
Reply off white
7:22 on 28 January, 2022 
I am also writing to make you understand what a nice experience my friend's daughter gained visiting your webblog. She picked up numerous things, with the inclusion of what it's like to possess an incredible coaching character to have many people quite simply comprehend various very confusing subject matter. You really exceeded our own expected results. Many thanks for imparting those essential, trustworthy, informative not to mention easy tips about this topic to Julie.
off white http://www.offwhiteoutlet.us.org
Reply supreme
12:37 on 28 January, 2022 
I wish to express my respect for your kind-heartedness supporting visitors who have the need for help with that niche. Your very own dedication to getting the solution throughout turned out to be particularly insightful and have constantly encouraged guys just like me to realize their targets. Your insightful useful information indicates much a person like me and far more to my office colleagues. With thanks; from each one of us.
supreme http://www.supreme.us.org
Reply golden goose shoes
16:57 on 28 January, 2022 
A lot of thanks for all of the work on this web page. Betty enjoys setting aside time for investigation and it is obvious why. Most people notice all regarding the compelling ways you give useful guidance via the website and therefore foster participation from visitors on this matter and our child has always been discovering a whole lot. Take advantage of the remaining portion of the year. You are doing a dazzling job.
golden goose shoes http://www.goldengoose-shoes.us.com
Reply yeezy wave runner 700
9:41 on 30 January, 2022 
I have to express my thanks to the writer for rescuing me from this type of incident. Because of scouting through the search engines and finding views that were not pleasant, I assumed my entire life was gone. Being alive without the presence of approaches to the problems you have fixed as a result of the post is a serious case, and the kind that could have in a negative way affected my entire career if I had not encountered your web blog. Your own expertise and kindness in handling all the details was invaluable. I'm not sure what I would have done if I had not discovered such a step like this. I'm able to at this point look forward to my future. Thanks so much for this high quality and results-oriented guide. I will not be reluctant to endorse the sites to anybody who requires assistance on this situation.
yeezy wave runner 700 http://www.yeezy700.us.com
Reply off white x nike
9:42 on 30 January, 2022 
I not to mention my guys have already been following the great tricks on the blog and then at once got an awful suspicion I had not expressed respect to the web blog owner for those secrets. My guys appeared to be joyful to read through all of them and now have clearly been having fun with these things. Thanks for really being indeed helpful and then for utilizing such essential things most people are really wanting to learn about. My very own honest apologies for not saying thanks to you sooner.
off white x nike http://www.nikexoffwhite.com
Reply golden goose
14:41 on 30 January, 2022 
I as well as my pals came examining the excellent advice from your web page and so the sudden I had an awful suspicion I had not thanked the web site owner for those tips. All the guys came totally excited to see all of them and already have in truth been loving them. Thanks for simply being very accommodating and also for selecting this kind of incredible subject areas most people are really needing to discover. Our sincere regret for not saying thanks to sooner.
golden goose http://www.goldengooseoutletonline.us.com
Reply kyrie irving shoes
18:55 on 30 January, 2022 
I simply desired to say thanks all over again. I do not know the things I would've worked on in the absence of the type of concepts discussed by you directly on such topic. It was an absolute fearsome difficulty in my view, nevertheless discovering the very skilled avenue you treated the issue took me to jump over gladness. Extremely happy for this guidance and even pray you realize what an amazing job you are putting in training most people by way of your web site. I'm certain you haven't come across any of us.
kyrie irving shoes http://www.kyrieirvingshoes.us.com
Reply kyrie 6 shoes
1:49 on 1 February, 2022 
I wish to express appreciation to you for bailing me out of this type of matter. Because of researching throughout the search engines and meeting methods which are not productive, I assumed my life was well over. Existing devoid of the solutions to the problems you have solved by way of your article content is a critical case, and those that might have adversely affected my career if I hadn't discovered the blog. Your good skills and kindness in taking care of the whole thing was valuable. I'm not sure what I would have done if I had not encountered such a solution like this. I can also now look ahead to my future. Thanks a lot so much for this impressive and result oriented guide. I will not think twice to suggest your web blog to any individual who would like guidance on this situation.
kyrie 6 shoes http://www.kyrie6.org
Reply yeezy
1:49 on 1 February, 2022 
I together with my guys appeared to be studying the nice tactics on your web blog while all of a sudden came up with a horrible suspicion I had not expressed respect to you for those techniques. All of the boys had been for that reason stimulated to read them and have now very much been tapping into them. Many thanks for indeed being simply helpful and also for utilizing this sort of ideal areas millions of individuals are really eager to be aware of. Our sincere apologies for not saying thanks to sooner.
yeezy http://www.yeezy-sneakers.us
Reply bape clothing
9:48 on 1 February, 2022 
I as well as my friends appeared to be following the excellent helpful tips found on the blog and the sudden I had a horrible suspicion I never expressed respect to the website owner for them. These men came as a consequence excited to read through all of them and have in effect undoubtedly been tapping into those things. We appreciate you getting really kind and also for settling on such amazing tips millions of individuals are really eager to be aware of. My personal honest apologies for not expressing appreciation to earlier.
bape clothing http://www.bape-clothing.us
Reply nike kyrie 7
0:16 on 3 February, 2022 
I simply wanted to thank you very much all over again. I am not sure the things I would have achieved in the absence of the actual tactics provided by you concerning such a topic. It became a very alarming condition in my position, however , taking note of a expert fashion you resolved that took me to weep over contentment. I will be thankful for this advice and then believe you realize what an amazing job that you are putting in teaching men and women through your websites. Most likely you haven't got to know any of us.
nike kyrie 7 http://www.kyrie-7.com