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Trauma & resilience

Can I tell you how fortunate I feel to have a therapist working at the RRC who loves working with kids who have experienced trauma? These kiddos are so lucky to have a professional in their corner who has expertise in treating chilldhood trauma and cares so deeply about their work. Today's newsletter is brought to you by Carrie Gardner, LMHC.

I'll leave it to Carrie here, but thanks, as always, for reading!

Dr. Kate

One of my passions in this job is working with children and families impacted by trauma (not something I had anticipated when I began this career). It’s one of those stories where you hear the phrase “and the work just found me” and I am glad it did!

There is so much wrapped up in that one word, trauma. Feelings of blame, shame, guilt, hurt, sadness, anxiety as well as negative thoughts and changes in development. Dr. Bruce Perry and Oprah co-wrote a book called “What Happened to You: Conversations about Trauma, Resilience and Healing.” This is such an accurate question when experiencing trauma. There is nothing wrong with you, something HAPPENED to you that caused your brain to react to keep you safe. And that is supposed to happen! When experiencing something unsafe and dangerous our brain prepares for protection. There isn’t anything wrong with your brain, it is doing what it is made to do. The difficulties come when we are no longer in the trauma. The same strategies that can be extremely helpful during the traumatic experience, can continues after the trauma and are often way less helpful and even problematic. Trauma can also alter the way our brains develop and change how we interpret ourselves, others, and the world.

Let’s take a quick look at brain development: our brains develop from the bottom up and inside to outside. Our primitive brain develops first to help with the basic functions of human life like breathing and heartrate. The last to develop is that awesome thinking part of the brain (this is the frontal lobe - which doesn't fully develop until mid 20s). Most of a child’s brain development (about 90%) happens in the first 3 year of life (super surprised when I first learned that). This is a time when neurons are rapidly growing, and when we have the most. Then based on our experiences and environment, a process called pruning happens.  Some cell connections are “weeded” out if not used frequently and other connections are strengthened with repetitive use.  Our brain likes to wire itself for connection with others as we need connection to thrive and survive.

When experiencing trauma our brain connections wire for PROTECTION and that becomes the path most strengthened at that time. Some reactions we see due to traumatic experience is hypervigilance, difficulties concentrating, fear of connecting to others, anger, anxiety, struggles regulating emotions, and difficulties interacting socially. These are what our brain and bodies think we need for protection (again we are all made as humans to protect ourselves!). If we experience trauma for longer periods of time our brain is quicker to interpret situations as dangerous (even if it is not). Our brain’s alarm system is on point and always looking around for that danger. Our thinking brain has a harder time coming on and going “wait, wait…it’s ok, that is not actually danger.” Children might seem to be in a constant state of dysregulation and quick to react.   

Here is the great part: because the brain connects based on experience, we can create new connections to help heal from trauma. We have resiliency factors as well that buffer the traumatic effects. For example, co-regulating with children helps them to learn new ways to respond to situations and increases resiliency. It takes some time to create those connections, but we can do it! Paris Goodyear Brown uses an analogy of creating a path through the field. If we walk through it once, the grass bounces back. If we keep walking, we eventually have a clear path we can get through easier.

I have had the privilege of supporting families as they do the amazing work of healing and using their resilience. That is one part that amazes me no matter how long I do this, these remarkable individuals and families who have so much resilience! If you know me, you know Taylor Swift’s “Shake it Off” is my jam so I leave you with this:

But I keep cruisin’, can't stop, won’t stop groovin’,

It’s like I got this music in my mind saying it’s gonna be alright”


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