“Trauma victims cannot recover until they become familiar with and befriend the sensations in their bodies. Being frightened means that you live in a body that is always on guard….” Bessel van der Kolk
In last week’s blog post on the 5 Nuts and Bolts of the Traumatized Brain (Part 1), I talked about the role of the amygdala in the stress response of individual’s with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). One in four survivors of trauma will develop PTSD (van der Kolk, 2015). Our brain’s amygdala runs in overdrive like a fire alarm gone awry when triggered by trauma. Other parts of the brain are also impacted by trauma in the delicate orchestra of cerebral neurocircuitry.
6) The hippocampus is akin to the brain’s librarian, holding the responsibility of storing and retrieving memories. Located in the limbic (emotional) part of the brain, the hippocampus reduces in size in individuals with PTSD and gets confused with interpreting past and present memories (Wlassoff, 2015). For example, a rape victim may not be able to distinguish between a past trauma (the rape) and a rape scene in a movie (present) because of the re-wiring that occurred in the hippocampus during the traumatic event (Shin et al., 2006).
7) The prefrontal cortex is the higher reasoning area of the brain where processing, consciousness, language meaning, and logic are located. When a trauma occurs, this part of the brain goes “offline.” Many survivors of trauma report not being able to access language because the brain goes into “fight or flight mode,”(amygdala fire alarm) and the language center shuts down.
8) Neuroplasticity is a key component of healing in the aftermath of trauma, meaning that the brain has the capacity to form new neural networks throughout the lifespan and heal. The brain has an innate capacity to mend itself and is remarkably resilient even in the adult years, moreso than was previously thought. (van der Kolk, 2015).
9) Survivors of PTSD can be hopeful that their brains can heal by engaging in trauma-informed and brain-wise therapeutic interventions like EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing). Studies show that the hippocampus can regain its normal size after trauma-informed interventions (Shapiro, 2017).
10) When working with deeper regions of the brain where trauma is buried and utilizing “bottom-up” strategies for accessing and healing trauma, the brain can be re-wired to store memories in a more adaptive, less activating fashion (van der Kolk, 2015). Traditional talk therapies are helpful when the prefrontal cortext is back “on-line,” but first the brain heals by addressing calming the nervous system and approaching the interventions on the level of the somatic and emotional brain.
*Stay tuned for more blog posts about the Nuts and Bolts of the Traumatized Brain*
Retrieved from: September 16, 2018: http://brainblogger.com/2015/01/24/how-does-post-traumatic-stress-disorder-change-the-brain/
Schneider, Andrea (2018). 5 Nuts and Bolts of the Traumatized Brain, Psych Central.
Shapiro, Francine (2017). Eye movement, desensitization and reprocessing (emdr) therapy, third edition : basic principles, protocols, and procedures, The Guilford Press.
Shin LM, Rauch SL, & Pitman RK (2006). Amygdala, medial prefrontal cortex, and hippocampal function in PTSD. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, 1071, 67-79 PMID: 16891563
van der Kolk (2015). The body keeps the score: brain, mind, and body and the healing of trauma, Penguin Books.