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Trauma, Resilience and the Brain

Back in November, part of the team went to a really cool conference. It was the BC Association of Clinical Counsellors bi-annual conference. Around 700 professionals in the province met up and we talked therapy and listened to inspiring presentations and we connected, and it was lovely! 

There was one presentation that, for me, stood out above the rest. 

Any guesses on what it was about?!

If you guessed trauma, you nailed it! It was called Trauma, Resilience and The Brain. Dr. Pia Pechtel is a genius and this presentation was so informative. 

One of the pieces that was really mind altering was her research on how trauma impacts a developing brain. 

Now, I’m no Dr. Pia so some things are going to be lost in translation here but I can’t not at least try to tell you what she told me. But instead of getting in to the real mechanics of how the brain works like she did, I’m just going to tell you what it means for you. 

Ok here we go: 

If our trauma happens between the ages of 3 and 5 years old, our hippocampus doesn’t develop in the way it otherwise would.

If the trauma happens between about 9-13, it’s the amygdala that is most impacted.

And if we’re about 14-18, we see impacts in the prefrontal cortex. 

A doctor pointing to a series of brain scans

K, what does this mean and why do you care? 

Let me break it down for you: 

Our hippocampus is responsible for longterm memory storage and retrieval. So if your brain doesn’t develop in the normal way here, you may find impacts to your ability to recall things.

Our amygdala is all about keeping us safe and putting us in to a fight, flight or freeze response. If this area doesn’t develop properly, one is MORE highly attuned to danger and more likely to end up in fight, flight or freeze response. 

Our prefrontal cortex is all about planning and making decisions. If this area doesn’t develop in the ways it normally would, you may see some struggles and difficulty with making decisions, staying focused and overall planning.

Ok but here are the two things that really matter: 

 1.Our brain is resilient and it adapts! If one area doesn’t have the chance to develop normally, other parts of the brain can compensate and make up for it! How cool is that!

2. AND, with trauma processing, the brain can heal and the parts can learn to do what they were originally meant to do! 

So if you find yourself identifying with the struggles that I’ve shared, know that with trauma processing and healing, we can un-do the harm that was caused and our brain can learn to function the way it was meant to. 

a modernized looking brain, showing connections and synapses


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