There are no single brains

In the book “The Neuroscience of Human Relationships”, one idea jumped out at me. There are no single brains. What does that mean?? It means that a single brain, by itself, without positive interaction with other human beings, or at least other living creatures, cannot develop. It cannot develop because while the basic blueprint and sequence of brain development is laid down by our genes, it is interaction and experience that will impact it’s expression.

That is why you see children raised in orphanages with very limited interaction with caregivers who cannot walk or talk, or even sit up. Their brains are simply not developed properly.

Can that be fixed? That is the million dollar question and the one that researchers are feverishly trying to answer. We do know that the younger the child, the greater the plasticity of the brain. So if  a two year old child from the orphanage gets adopted by loving parents who play and interact endlessly with the child, will the child catch up in his or her development? Undoubtedly, but maybe only up to a point. Early childhood is a time of extremely rapid brain development so early experience has a disproportionate impact on the development of neural systems.

It is my strong belief, backed up by research, that the brain remains plastic to some extent throughout the lifetime. Perhaps not to the extent of the brain of the child, but healing is possible, neural networks can be healed, or redirected.

Teens who started out life having to cope with abuse or neglect, or even abandonment have to struggle with more than just a bad set of circumstances. They are dealing with brain systems that may not be working properly because of improper development. Their inability to control impulses, anger and rage, and mood disorders are all related to faulty brain circuitry, as well their life circumstances.

So healing traumatized teens must involve healing the brain.

Healing Trauma, Healing the Brain

Experiencing abuse, neglect or abandonment early in life can make life’s journey very difficult even long after the abuse or neglect has stopped. Anyone who loves, or works with, a teen who endured childhood trauma knows just how difficult life can be. Depression, anxiety, anger, aggression and emotions that are difficult to control are hallmarks of early abuse or neglect.

Typical treatment for children and teens include talk therapy and psychotropic medications. While both of these treatment choices can have beneficial effects, they are typically insufficient to produce lasting relief from the emotional roller coaster, and/or behavioral outbursts that these teens experience.

There is a very good reason for this. It has become increasingly clear through research that having very negative experiences as young children can impact the development of the brain. The brain develops both through biologically pre-determined sequences, and in interaction with the environment. Caregivers in particular, have enormous impact on brain development.

This blog will highlight the latest research findings, explore various treatment alternatives and help to educate those who care for traumatized teens regarding brain impact and brain healing of trauma. Hopefully, the blog will be the bridge between academics who show the way to promising treatment practices, and parents and those who work with traumatized teens.