by Megan Wilson, Child Counselor/Outreach Coordinator, Rape/Sexual Assault Counseling & Advocacy Program, Family Resources
David Lisak, Ph.D. was the featured presenter at our conference titled “The Neurobiology of Trauma & Healing: How Trauma and Treatment Alter the Brain.”
Trauma — both physical and psychological — is handled by the human mind and body in ways that can remain hidden for years. Research has shown that even infants who suffer trauma, such as abuse, can show behavioral or emotional issues later in life even if they don’t remember the event.
Trauma can be stored in the mind and body, and can erupt years later, triggered by a memory, a smell, or even a person’s name. This can trigger a “fight or flight” response. If trauma happened at a very early age, the person experiencing this reaction may not understand why it’s happening. Sometimes, the reaction may be as “mild” as headaches, neck or back pain, but it can also be expressed in panic attacks, anger, or violence.
On May 2nd, Family Resources co-sponsored a conference featuring David Lisak, Ph.D., a leading researcher in this field, specializing in the causes and consequences of interpersonal violence.
The room at the iWireless Center was packed with doctors, nurses, psychologists, counselors and social workers, educators, court representatives, and even the Arsenal (military) was represented. Each of these professions deal with people who have experienced trauma — either violence or other forms, including emotional violence.
Dr. Lisak’s presentation focused on what happens in the brain — how trauma is encoded and how it shows up later. For example, people who become murderers often have complicated pasts that include domestic violence when they were children. The public may think that this is a very bad person, but the story isn’t usually quite that simple. Most of them represent one more phase in a cycle of violence or neglect that may have begun with their parents — even their grandparents.
Dr. Lisak showed that in the developing brain of children, trauma can cause the brain to become hyper-sensitive and hyper-reactive to trauma cues, including the facial expressions of people around them. Children become extremely sensitive to expressions that they perceive as threatening, for example.
Trauma and neglect also has an impact on the frontal cortex of the brain, resulting in a weakened capacity for impulse control and possibly anger or violent behavior.
A study of men on death row shows a clear pattern of three family backgrounds:
- Abuse and domestic violence
- Alcohol and/or substance abuse
- Chaos, instability or mental illness
This type of training conference is important in educating professionals to ask the right questions and learn to diagnose trauma so their clients can be treated.
It’s also important for people who have grown up in abusive households or those who have experienced abusive or violent relationships to talk to a counselor, psychologist, doctor, or any professional who can help you find treatment.
Family Resources co-sponsored the conference along with Illinois Health Cares, Trinity Regional Health System, and the Family Violence Coordinating Council.