Webinar presenter Duane Bowers answered a number of your questions after his presentation, Causes and Conditions of Childhood Trauma: A Practical Approach for Justice Professionals. Here are just a few of his responses.
Audience Question: Are there ways or strategies to reverse the effects of ACES experiences?
Duane Bowers: That’s a very good question and we’re actually going to cover that as we get to the third part which is going to be interventions. For example, remember we talked about the oxytocin receptors? After the age of two, there’s nothing you can do to help develop those any further. Damage to the hippocampus; if the cortisol stops it from growing then it atrophies. In childhood, yes, if you reduce the cortisol levels early enough then the hippocampus would start to replenish its cells and it will start to grow again. But once you get past puberty, what we find is that the older you get, if the hippocampus is overwhelmed by cortisol and stops functioning and then we remove the cortisol, it’s atrophied. It’s not going to grow. So some of the damage we’ve talked about can be repairable, some not. We’re going to look at that when we have that third part. The third part is actually on the 5th of May. (Click here to register for Part 3 of this series.)
Audience Question: You talked about a variety of different types of traumatic events but does the traumatic events necessarily have to be sexual or physical? So for example, one of the things we’ve often heard about is children who came of age during the Great Depression or the Great Recession, they also have been traumatized in different ways, does it always have to be physical violence or sexual violence to be considered traumatized?
Duane Bowers: No. This idea of traumatized, how do you define that? We only have one diagnosis for trauma in the DSM and that’s Post Traumatic Disorder. When I say “traumatic response” I mean an event that causes a release of cortisol into the system to affect the behavior. What kind of events affect that? There are many things that cause a traumatic response that some may call traumatic and some may not. The examples that you give are good. While a child may not understand “The Depression,” what The Depression meant economically, they may understand that I don’t have enough food to eat, my parents are fighting more than they were, or we lost our home. Those things, in themselves, are a traumatic events. While I’m going to say the idea, the concept of “The Depression” may not itself be traumatic, certainly the results of it are traumatic events. Whatever causes that child to have the traumatic response of the release of cortisol, their amygdala has connected with something that says, “You’re in danger.” They release the cortisol. That’s a traumatic response. Depending on how severe that response is, how much cortisol in the system is going to affect their behavior in their development. In short, my answer is: No, it doesn’t have to be what we consider abuse, sexual abuse or physical abuse. It’s anything that causes a traumatic response is going to be a traumatic event.
Audience Question: Duane, you’ve talked about how trauma affects and how the body reacts to trauma. This is true for not just kids. For example, it applies to a cop reliving a shooting. It applies to a woman who’s reliving the domestic violence that she might’ve experienced. Or it actually could apply to crime techs working a scene or reviewing crime scene photos on a computer screen afterward. It’s all the same bodily reaction, right?
Duane Bowers: It is all the same bodily reaction. The thing to remember with children is, if it starts an early age that becomes their normal. As they grow and as they develop into adulthood, they become much different kinds of adults because cortisol, high cortisol levels in traumatic response and all those symptoms we’ve looked at are normal for them. They don’t know our normal. They don’t know that there’s another way to feel, to act, to function. So when we talk about this child that can’t modulate their anger and fear, they cannot bond, they need high intensity in order to focus, that’s normal for them. They don’t know that there’s another way to live. So when they hurt somebody, they go hit somebody because they can’t bond, you say “Didn’t you feel bad for that person?” “No. I didn’t.” We don’t know how to deal with that. That’s their normal so this is the important thing to understand. Yes. Similar things happen to adults. But we know what “normal” is to get back to. A child doesn’t. To work with a child later in life, to try to help them understand what normal is, our “normal” is just abnormal to them. It makes no sense to them.
Christina (host): Almost like we’re speaking a different language in a lot of ways.
Duane Bowers: Yeah. Absolutely.
Audience Question: If a mother gives birth prior to the 37 weeks would this cause their child to have stress?
Duane Bowers: It certainly causes the body to have stress, the child’s body because it’s not fully formed and can’t function necessarily on its own. I’m going to go even further, and I’m certainly not an expert in premature birth, that sort of thing. I’m going to say this from a trauma perspective; “If this child is incubated and does not have that necessary nurturing, that physical and emotional proximity to a caregiver in those first few weeks, that’s definitely going to have an impact on this baby. That’s why it’s so important to have a facility that allows the mom to interact or the parents to interact with the baby while it is perhaps being incubated or whatever. But also think of the trauma the mom’s experiencing and then say the baby does develop and can come home. Mom’s still has this traumatic reaction so guess what happens every time the baby coughs, every time something happens to baby, Mom kind of slips into a traumatic response. Baby picks up on that. Absolutely. While you look at the particular events, that may not cause it, look at these secondary and tertiary things that happen around it that are going to cause a traumatic trigger. That baby’s brain’s going to find a connection and say “Mommy’s acting this way, that means something is wrong and I go into my own traumatic response.” I hope that helped.
Click Here to Watch a Recording of Causes and Conditions of Childhood Trauma: A Practical Approach for Justice Professionals.