Monday, August 13, 2007

Instinct rules trauma victims

A slide of a baby appears behind Dr. Bruce Perry as he addresses a family violence conference at the Holiday Inn Grand Montana.

The power of the lizard brain cannot be overlooked in treating victims of childhood trauma.

That was the message delivered Friday by Dr. Bruce Perry, a senior fellow at Houston's Child Trauma Academy, during the 18th annual McGuire Memorial Conference on Family Violence in Billings.

The lizard brain, known more formally as the human brainstem, is the part of the brain that controls our most basic instincts.

Information can be absorbed, processed and acted upon by the brainstem before the cerebral cortex - the thinking part of the brain - has any idea something has happened

That's how combat veterans can find themselves on the ground after a car backfires without any clear idea of how they got there.

The way you react to a traumatic event blazes neural pathways through your brainstem that are hard to consciously access - the trailblazing goes on below the thinking brain's radar - and even harder to repair.

Trauma that is recorded in the lizard brain can pollute the rest of the brain's ability to function, leaving victims of childhood trauma woefully disadvantaged to handle what others consider simple social interactions, Perry said.

"You're going to get a whole stew of alterations in how the brain organizes and a whole constellation of symptoms," he said.

Because of that, trauma victims tend to collect psychiatric diagnoses and, despite various treatments, fail to get better.

Traditional cognitive therapy can't really help the lizard brain, Perry said.

"We can talk and talk and talk and talk and yak, yak, yak, yak, yak, and what happens?" he asked. "Nothing. We tread water. These children stay the same."

When talk therapy doesn't work, providers often turn to another relatively ineffective means of treatment, Perry said.

"Our solution in the field for dealing with a disorganized set of (brain) systems is to use tons of medication," he said. "You cannot change that part of the brain with medication."

It can be temporarily quieted, but a medicated lizard brain cannot establish new neural pathways.

And that, Perry said, is what it takes to reverse the negative effects of trauma - blazing healthy trails through the brainstem.

Overriding trauma-formed neural connections is an uphill battle, sort of like trying to unlearn how to ride a bicycle. Once a pathway is established, it's extremely difficult to erase.

But it can be done, Perry said. With repetition, lots of repetition.

If you want to learn a new golf swing, it can take 10,000 tries before the new neural pathways your brains uses to form the swing are established.

Use your old swing just once before you reach the 10,000 mark - thus lighting up the old pathway - and it's game over, Perry said. You have to start over.

For victims of childhood trauma, learning how to react rationally to everyday stimuli is a similar process.

"I'm not saying it's hopeless," Perry said. "I'm telling you this is a neurobiological challenge that is absolutely overwhelming."

Source: Billings Gazette

Also See:

Dr. Bruce Perry and the Developing Mind

Leaders are mindful of kids' needs

An open letter to all responsible politicians from Alice Miller

The Wellsprings of Horror in the Cradle


MICKY said...

About 3 years ago I dropped into a black hole – four months of absolute terror. I wanted to end my life, but somehow [Holy Spirit], I reached out to a friend who took me to hospital. I had three visits [hospital] in four months – I actually thought I was in hell. I imagine I was going through some sort of metamorphosis [mental, physical & spiritual]. I had been seeing a therapist [1994] on a regular basis, up until this point in time. I actually thought I would be locked away – but the hospital staff was very supportive [I had no control over my process]. I was released from hospital 16th September 2004, but my fear, pain & shame had only subsided a little. I remember this particular morning waking up [home] & my process would start up again [fear, pain, & shame]. No one could help me, not even my therapist [I was terrified]. I asked Jesus Christ to have mercy on me & forgive me my sins. Slowly, all my fear has dissipated & I believe Jesus delivered me from my “psychological prison.” I am a practicing Catholic & the Holy Spirit is my friend & strength; every day since then has been a joy & blessing. I deserve to go to hell for the life I have led, but Jesus through His sacrifice on the cross, delivered me from my inequities. John 3: 8, John 15: 26, are verses I can relate to, organically. He’s a real person who is with me all the time. I have so much joy & peace in my life, today, after a childhood spent in orphanages . God LOVES me so much. Fear, pain, & shame, are no longer my constant companions. I just wanted to share my experience with you [Luke 8: 16 – 17].

Colette Mengiles said...

I'm sorry for the trauma you have been through and are feeling better now. I feel what would be of greater help to you and has saved my life is the books of Alice Miller:

I was brought up in the Catholic doctrine, it was the cause of a lot of my trauma. The Catholic church still advocates violence against children and many other abusive measures.

I'm glad for you have found some benefit, but if all children were loved instead of abused like we are told Jesus was. What a wonderful world it would be.

The pope has the power to stop violence against children but chooses not to why?

One word from him and many children would stop being abused.

Good luck in your healing.