After the Webinar: Assessing Childhood Trauma. Q&A with Duane Bowers

Webinar presenter Duane Bowers answered a number of your questions after his presentation, Assessing Childhood Trauma: A Guide for Justice Professionals. Here are just a few of his responses.


Audience Question: Is a parent who abandons their child for the rest of their lives during that child’s formative years considered neglected? Will that be trauma as defined by the way you’re defining trauma? 

Duane Bowers: I would say it is by the way that SAMHSA defines trauma. Because remember we said and included neglect as being a traumatic event. So yes I would. Because I know what happens particularly if it’s in that first two or three years of life. We talked about, you know, the receptors for oxytocin and the other parts of the brain and stuff that are affected if I don’t have nurturing. Yes, I would and SAMHSA would consider neglect as a trauma.



Audience Question: Can you explain again the difference between secondary trauma and intergenerational Trauma? This question came in during that phase where you were talking about the Indian or the Native American Elders talking about there being scooped up and sent to the schools. Can you describe the difference between intergenerational trauma and secondary trauma? Are they related? 

Duane Bowers: So, secondary trauma can be one of the forms of intergenerational trauma. So, secondary trauma is simply I’m reacting to somebody else’s trauma and I have a traumatic response in reacting to their trauma. So I’ve either seen it happen or I heard them tell stories about it or as is true with law enforcement. They may see videos out there. Or they took the reports. I have a traumatic reaction listening or being exposed to your trauma. So, secondary time is not just intergenerational but it is one of the ways that it can be passed on if older folk in the family are talking about their traumas and this also happened with Holocaust Survivors. They would share experiences and whatever but the kids started taking that stuff on experiencing secondary trauma from it and I’ll stop there.



Audience Question: I’m going to follow up on that with a question then how do then parents and grandparents and great grandparents share their experiences. So share the very real stories of their lives without conveying a conveying trauma. 

Duane Bowers: Exactly. So what tends to happen if we as adults are sitting and talking about our trauma, we talk about the trauma we don’t talk about then what happened? And how did I get to where I am today? And so if you are sharing the trauma and children are listening tell the whole story tell how you got to the place you are today because after the trauma things happened that brought you to this point. And so, the child then gets the full story. All you’re really doing is very much like viewing child sex abuse imagery, always think that child is that child being sexually abused. We don’t know that that child also goes to Sunday school and they go to school and whatever. We only have that little snippet and so the child only has the snippet of the trauma. They don’t know what else happened. That Grandma became this woman that’s sitting in this room telling this story. There have been other things that were not traumatizing that allowed me to cope and become the woman I’ve become. But I’m not telling that part of the story and so the child Only here’s the trauma in those stories. Do you see what I’m saying? Does that make sense?

Christina (host): Right? Don’t just stop the story. Just stop at the trauma keep moving on. Interesting.



Audience Question: Can you expand on the idea of a family having a culture of trauma? You talked about the community experiencing Warfare and how Community can have how a community can have a culture of trauma just by what it’s living through? 

Duane Bowers: Sure, if a family well, let’s look at the domestic violence that gets passed on from generation to generation that place that that trauma becomes part of the culture of that family a family that has a long history of generational history of perhaps drug abuse and that drug abuse leads to perhaps, you know, violent activity in the home and whatever from generation to generation. That becomes the culture of that.  So, a family can develop a trauma culture as well that gets passed on from generation to generation.



Audience Question: Anna comments many of my criminal justice clients were left alone as latchkey kids and have voiced that now they are highly codependent as adults in their relationships with their mother and other personal relationships and kind of connecting it back to that latchkey experience. 

Duane Bowers: Absolutely, there’s a statistic and I can’t remember right off hand. But what it says is that adults who were neglected or sexually abused as children are far more likely to be avoidant of confrontation and much more likely to have higher anxiety levels than the most. Well if they’re avoiding confrontation, then they’re much more likely to continue to be traumatized. They are much more likely to be victimized. And so, I hear what she’s saying. Absolutely. They’re more dependent on others because of that neglect.



Audience Question: Did you say that the amygdala will shut down the hippocampus or the hypothalamus. Can you re-clarify that about the differences between the two? 

Duane Bowers: Now what I’m saying is the amygdala then once it has made a connection starts the HPA axis, the hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal reaction, which then releases cortisol into the system. Cortisol goes to the brain and it’s the cortisol that starts to shut down the hippocampus and as it floods the hippocampus the hippocampus actually has governors in it that when they cortisol level gets to a certain level. The hippocampus says shut down the production to self-preserve basically. When the trauma is Long enough and if the amygdala is strong enough, it can overwhelm those governors and allow the production of cortisol the continue and then eventually shut down the hippocampus. And another thing that can happen. We talked about it affects the ability to remember and learn and concentrate on whatever another thing that happens when you shut down the hippocampus and you shut down its ability to regenerate cells and it actually starts to atrophy because he can’t reproduce cells to keep itself functioning. And so, if over a long period of time it’s shut down. It starts to atrophy. We saw this in a lot of Vietnam vets that came back that the hippocampus tended to be atrophied because of the high levels of cortisol for a long period of time.



Audience Question: Is witnessing or being forced to participate in pet abuse another possible ACE? So since there’s frequently co-occurrence of pet abuse and family violence both happening at the same time and in the same household. Is this possibility may allow for early identification? Would that be true? 

Duane Bowers: I think, seeing it happen, absolutely. Because if you look at the new diagnosis for PTSD, it’s seeing a trauma happened to a significant other or to someone else and a pet is certainly a significant other. I would absolutely say that if I’m forced to participate in it, not only is that traumatic but I would say that causes a whole lot of mental health issues that I can’t even imagine that child having to deal with because they’re being forced to harm the very thing that they care about.  That certainly would fall into trauma. Absolutely and I think any more things could come, could develop out of that other than PTSD response.


Click Here to Watch a Recording of Assessing Childhood Trauma: A Guide for Justice Professionals. 


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