Trauma CAN affect the brain of a learner

Now… this is no surprise to me.  Those who have trauma have a change to the brain and that change can effect many other things.

I worked with a student on a research paper on the effects of poverty on academic achievement at the K-8 level and to no surprise we were able to contend (with support) that the stress of poverty on a child can change the way the child perceives the world and reacts to stress.  As a result, the brain of the learner is fundamentally changed.  This paper has been submitted for publication and will hopefully aid in the awareness that school counselors have when working with children in poverty.

So when I saw this post on npr I thought YES here is some support for this claim we’ve made.  Please take a few moments to consider this for yourself.

From the report – “Chronic stress can cause deficiencies in the pre-frontal cortex, which is essential for learning.”  The functions of the pre-frontal cortex are still not fully understood, but research has documented that damage to the pre-frontal cortex can effect planning, reasoning, and problem solving (Roberts, Robbins, & Weiskrantz, 1998) .  Seems to me that all three of those are critical to learning.  We know that the pre-frontal cortex develops until we are about 25 years old.  So damage done before 25 can seemingly alter the trajectory of ‘normal’ human development.  This damage can be physical damage, but could also be damage done by excess stress (or cortisol being released into the body to halt our alarm reaction) or dare I say medication inhibiting neurotransmitters?  I don’t have the answer to the last one, but I suppose it is worth asking.

Psychotropics – what do you think?

There has always a lot of opinion about psychotropic drugs. And I am quite sure there always will be varied opinions.

My thoughts vary.  I have worked with clients for whom medications are quite needed and I have worked with clients that quite frankly probably would be able to work through some of the issues/complaints without the assistance of medications.

What I do know is that there is a lot we don’t know. We don’t have outcomes on those who have been taking medications for years. We don’t know the effect of psychotropic medications on the brains of the young.  We just don’t.  We also know that medications are made for people in general… not for specific persons.  But what if we could? Can science now help target certain irregularities in the brains of our clients? Loved ones? Selves? If that were the case, would more choose medication?  I certainly do not have the answers, but here is a look at an idea that could be coming.  And what a difference that may make.


Back to the brain.

I’ve decided to do two things, pay more attention to this site and to use it primarily for a place to focus my ever growing interest and passion in neuroscience and how it relates to the counseling profession.

I will have more to come today….

It’s Been a While

It’s been a while since I posted here and want to make this a more regular occurrence. So I will begin again, posting the things my research is grounded in or things I want to share with my students and the world.

I came across this ted.ed talk about reframing and understanding mental health issues. It’s about early intervention. We have so much remediation and reparative treatment, but not really enough to help intervene early. this could help clients and families understand the issues and treatment much earlier in the process.

Toward a new understanding of mental illness

More on the brain

If you had not noticed by now, I am intrigued by the brain. I am sure I am in the right field as I am truly fascinated and always want to know more.

Here is a TED talk regarding studies of the brain, including mapping of the brain. Take a quick look and learn for yourself. Allan Jones – A map of the brain

A moral chemical?

Do we possess a substance in our bodies that leads to morality? Paul Zak seems to think so.

I know that oxytocin is critical in breastfeeding and therefore the bonding (or attachment) of a mother and child. There are also studies that suggest a person who has had insecure attachment in infancy and childhood may have had less exposure to oxytocin. Having less of this substance may then influence a decision to use an opiate or synthetic opiate later in life. I think this is fascinating how the systems of our body all work together.

For your consideration, more on oxytocin. Trust, morality, and oxytocin – Paul Zak

It Gets Better

I don’t know how many of you follow the news, but I do and one story meant so much that I needed to say something about it.  Months ago, Dan Savage and his partner, Terry Miller, started a youtube revolution. They knew that they couldn’t speak directly to LGBT teens, but that teens will go to youtube or Facebook or Twitter so they began a project called It Gets Better. The couple wanted to share that once you graduate high school, life can and does get better. The concept is to record a video that encourages LGBT youth by telling them “it gets better,” then upload that video to youtube. Thousands of videos have been uploaded to date.

The news story I saw shared the story of a gay teen who had uploaded a video to the site to encourage his peers to persevere and that “it gets better.” Unfortunately, for this boy it did not get better and he ended his life.  It is heart wrenching to think that despite his outer courage, he was clearly experiencing a great deal of pain.  I think the online campaign is a positive one.  In fact I encourage you all to view the site, take the pledge, and watch some videos. But I also encourage you to do more. Talk to people, listen, and encourage someone to get help if they are struggling. We know that if we can instill some hope, we might be able to prevent a suicide. Sometimes we just need to listen to others and sometimes we need to do more. It takes a trained person to counsel someone, but it does not take a trained person to just listen and to care.  So please, look at this site and think of the people that need us.

In addition, I would encourage you to visit this site as well The Trevor Project is an organization that was developed specifically to prevent suicide in LGBT youth.


A lesson in core strength

Upon leaving Ghana, I wanted to take time to reflect on what I had experienced. As a faculty member, I knew it would be important to reflect and process on multiple levels.  The experience affected me as a person, as a faculty member on the trip, and as a faculty member with my own students.  Now that I have returned I can say more about my personal and professional experiences abroad.

I was struck by the immense core strength of the Ghanaian people.  What do I mean? Well for one, they have the physical strength to carry a lot of weight on their heads. This feat takes a great amount of core strength. I never saw any Ghanaian slouching, which also calls for core strength. I know this to be incredibly important for a number of reasons. Core strength typically means slimmer bellies and that means less weight related health issues. After working in the clinics, weight related concerns were not typically the primary presenting problems. Core strength contributed to the practice of carrying newborns and toddlers on the back. Young girls are given this task and are in “training” for later in life. Realistically, the girls are strengthening their back muscles as well as abdominal muscles so that they can support their babies later in life.

In addition, core strength can also refer to strength within.  My experience in Ghana left me with the impression that the people have a core strength that I have been lacking.  The people are patient, proud, grateful, and humble. These characteristics contribute to a sense of inner strength. On many occasions I witnessed this strength shining through. A overall lack of complaints and rudeness throughout our visit may be one of the prime examples of what I mean.  I know that I personally get agitated if I wait at a health clinic for more than an hour; the Ghanaian people, however, waited for multiple hours without complaint. In fact, they saw this as an opportunity to socialize and make the time spent waiting meaningful.  I also feel anxious if I am late to a meeting or to catch a plane. I did not experience this as an expressed emotion in Ghana.  I personally see this as a characteristic I would like to attain. As a mental health counselor, I found myself wondering what types of things I would discover working with clients in Ghana.   When people learned I was a counselor, they would all say, “I need to talk to you” or “I need advice.” While I did not engage in a counseling relationship with anyone, I did often wonder what types of things the individual might want to talk about.  I could tell that the economy, jobs, and opportunity were all on the minds of the Ghanaians, much like these issues are on all of our minds. My instinct tells me that many of the mental health issues (or ones seen by counselors or psychiatric nurses) are organic in nature (i.e., schizophrenia, psychosis, bipolar disorder, etc) and that many of the things that we experience here in the U.S. are not experienced in the same way.

I am left to evaluate my own sense of being after this trip. I am left with a desire to strengthen my core and I know that I can take a lesson from the Ghanaian people and that I will share that lesson with others.

A hiatus…

I have been on a blog hiatus.  I went to Ghana for three weeks at the end of August through the beginning of September. In hindsight, I should have blogged while I was away. Alas, I did not.  I will however post one of my musing and reflections in the next post. I wanted to post this to explain my departure from the world of blogging for a few weeks. It is my goal to post regularly. With the quarter beginning here at EWU this coming Wednesday, I am sure I will have a lot of content to share and hopefully, the time to get it out to all of you.

Are guys really that different?

Yes. I just watched this TED talk by Phillip Zimbardo (of prison study fame) about what he calls the demise of guys. For a counselor or even an educator, this is fascinating. We might know there are differences in gender, but with studies of the brain supporting this, now we know. How can we use this in working with male clients? What might this mean for young males versus older males? High school student versus college students? How might the knowledge that brain development does not truly end until age 25? I think this warrants a view and it’s under 5 minutes in length. Great talking point. The demise of guys?

Doctor Hope is powered by WordPress Services at Eastern Washington University.
Please read the EWU Wordpress Policies and Terms of Use. Questions & comments? Contact the EWU Wordpress Team.
The materials hosted by EWU WordPress Services are not endorsed, sponsored, provided by, or on behalf of Eastern Washington University.