Trends and Influences Part 3

Slide 19: The Decade of the Brain, 1990-2000, funded by the federal government, produced many research studies that showed how early experience affects our biology. 

Slide 20: Researchers in neuroanatomy made new discoveries in how we are hardwired for survival. These patterns are often coupled with emotions. Neuroscience has made great strides in the study of our emotions in connection with our brain, discovering more and more how interconnected our neurons and emotional states are. The Triune Brain theory was one of the more powerful theories developed, and showed that we had survival physiology like mammals. Our early brain development begins in the first trimester. During the second trimester, 250,000 neurons are made every minute. The Triune Brain showed us that we have three distinct parts of our brain, developed like an ice cream cone, with the survival physiology (fight, flight, freeze) in the brain stem, then our limbic or emotional brain in the middle with our cognitive neocortex on top. Further research has found that we a little more complicated than that, with interconnections between brain sections and neurons throughout the brain and body. The Connectome Project, developed in 2005, sheds light on this connectivity. It starts in utero.

Slide 21: Neuroscience and epigenetics show that our life experiences can change our physiology and even our genes. This decade also discovered mirror neurons or how specific neuroanatomy will fire in our brains as the brains of someone we are watching. This is one of the ways we learn. We also learned that our neuroanatomy is plastic, meaning it can change, which gives rise to hope when healing early trauma, or even any trauma. Best practice includes combining how we think, feel emotionally and the sensations we notice in our body. Current trends in therapies combine these three ways of being for an integrated approach. For healing this early place, you can’t just think and talk about it; it involves a bodily felt sense of what happened, and what is possible now.

Slide 22: After the Decade of the Brain, our approaches and therapies for healing work to integrate the many fields that influence human development: Neuroscience, attachment, somatics, psychodynamic work, movement, meditation, mindfulness and more. We are currently in this trend, and the work continues to evolve. We have a deeper understanding of trauma, and trauma informed care, as well as ways to help people make sense of their experience. It is an exciting time to study prenatal and perinatal psychology and health, as it is a holistic approach that combines the mind and body. 

Slide 23: New trends focus on trauma resolution. We know that trauma is everywhere and can happen every day. Even though our understanding of post traumatic stress and trauma began with studying war veterans, we now know much more. As said previously, these trends combine and integrate different approaches: Touch with mindfulness, meditation with psychodynamic approaches, talk therapy with touch and movement therapy, energy therapies and trauma resolution approaches. The person seeking deeper understanding and healing has options that are holistic, or treatments for the mind and the body.

Slide 24: Foremost in working with early developmental trauma or overwhelming experiences starting in utero, during birth or in the first 18 months of life are the somatic therapies that combine touch, the felt sense, and verbal skills. Our pioneers in this field studied how animals recover from near death experiences and stress, like be chased by a lion or a tiger and surviving. We found that humans have the same physiology but with less of a capacity to recover quickly from overwhelming events. Our capacity to heal lies on a continuum and involves our ancestral health, our early experience, our environment, our relationships, and our nervous system’s adaptability and responsiveness. 

Slide 25: The combination of talk, touch and movement applies to everyone: Adults, children, families, and babies. It involves a wide range of professionals as well: bodyworkers, psychologists, mental health workers, physical and occupational therapists, family therapists, energy medicine professionals, movement and yoga therapies. The blend of therapies and approaches yields to a sense of being cared for on a deeper more integrated level.

Slide 26: Through research and science, we also know more about the patterns of early life. This study, the Adverse Childhood Experiences study (ACEs) by Vincent Felliti and Robert Anda at Kaiser Permanente involved 17,000 patients. They saw patterns of disease connected to 10 early adverse childhood experiences that emerged in the people they studied. These early experiences were put in the categories of abuse, neglect and household dysfunction. Lasting effects from this early trauma showed up later in life as diseases during adulthood. Based on this study, the CDC redefined the causes of addiction to be connected to ACEs. The higher the number of adverse experiences, the more likely you would suffer one of these illnesses.

Slide 27: So, how does the impact of adverse early childhood show up? It may be mental illness, substance abuse, domestic violence, parent incarceration or divorce, or sexual, physical or emotional abuse. The next level where it will show up is in disrupted neural development. What does this mean? These are children who can’t sit still in class, or who can’t sleep well or digest their food. They will show up in their doctor’s office with stomach aches, growth disorders, immune deficiencies, or neuroendocrine disorders. Their social, emotional and cognitive functions will be impaired. What does that look like? Their friendships will be affected. They will have mental and emotional difficulty; they won’t be able to concentrate or make sense of the information they are receiving because their body is telling them they are not safe. No one can learn when they are not feeling safe because the priority of the nervous system is to fight, flee or freeze for self-protection. Eventually, these people will select behaviors that help them cope, either by using substances or adopting behaviors that help them feel better or not at all. This is where addictions may come into play, or chronic conditions where the person is not safe because that is what they know. Finally, these people start to show signs of disease, specifically auto-immune disorders, digestive issues, cardiovascular issues like heart conditions and high blood pressure, and metabolic conditions that play a role in obesity and diabetes. Finally, people who have many adverse childhood experiences often die early. 

We can influence this pyramid.  

We can start with psycho-education and health interventions starting preconception, and bring awareness to the developing baby, and we can create conditions for safety and connection so that children and adults feel safe. One of the key factors in early life that protects us from the impact of the toxic stress of ACEs is having one person who is present, understands the life of the child and helps his or her make sense of their life experience. We can start with our children in utero.