Early in my internship, circumstances led me to pick up the thread that would later lead to my life’s work, that of understanding the effect of trauma on both adults and children. Later points in my career emphasized for me the trans-generational aspects of this problem as well as the interconnected effects on offenders, victims and witnesses. Over the past ten years, I have studied the powerful neurological connections between traumatic stress and a number of seemingly unrelated symptoms.
In this development of my practice, I have found most valuable inspiration and exchanges with fellow clinicians through attendance at the Annual International Conference on Trauma, now in its 22d year. To quote the introduction to the 2011 Conference:
“ Within the disciplines of psychiatry and psychology, the study of trauma has probably been the single most fertile area in developing a deeper understanding of the relationships among the emotional, cognitive, social, and biological forces that shape human development. Starting with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in adults and expanding into early attachment and overwhelming experiences in childhood, this endeavor has elucidated how certain experiences can “set” psychological expectations (…)
“The study of psychological trauma has been accompanied by an explosion of knowledge about how experience shapes the central nervous system and the formation of the self. Developments in the neurosciences, developmental psychopathology, and information processing have contributed to our understanding of how brain function is shaped by experience, and the understanding that life itself can continually transform perception and biology.
“ We have learned that most experience is automatically processed on a subcortical level, i.e., by “unconscious” interpretations that take place outside of awareness. Insight and understanding have only a limited influence on the operation of these subcortical processes. Traumatized people … in a myriad of ways, continue to react to current experience as a replay of the past… interpreting innocuous stimuli as threats. (… ) Traumatic memories often are dissociated and may be inaccessible to verbal recall or processing. Therefore, close attention must be paid to the development of inner resources to deal with dysregulation and helplessness, as well as the careful timing of the exploration and processing of the traumatic past…. (The goal is) to restore active mastery and the capacity to focus on the present.