Friday July 21, 2017

All in the family, Part 3: Understanding and healing childhood trauma

(Mary O'Connell/CBC)

Listen to Full Episode 54:00

Trauma is not a story about the past — it lives in the present: in both the mind and body. Left untreated, it has no expiration date, whether it's trauma arising from childhood abuse or PTSD suffered as an adult. In recent years we've heard a lot about how resilience and character can mitigate the effects of trauma. IDEAS producer Mary O'Connell considers some case studies and the insights they may contain for us in healing childhood trauma.  **This episode originally aired April 21, 2016.  


This episode is the third of a two-part series. It was recently awarded a gold medal at the New York Festival. 

All In The Family, Part 3 - Bessel van der Kolk

Bessel van der Kolk

While the context may differ — childhood abuse, PTSD, rape or extreme poverty — Bessel van der Kolk ultimately believes trauma is a story about relationships.  

A case in point: Five-year old Noam was gazing out his kindergarten classroom window one day and witnessed a plane flying into the World Trade Centre, just 1,500 feet away. The next day, Noam showed Bessel van der Kolk a picture he'd drawn: it was full of fire and horror, yet at the bottom of the page was a trampoline. Noam explained: "the next time people have to jump, they'll be safe." Despite the horror Noam witnessed, he's now okay. But there are two things to keep in mind, says Bessel van der Kolk.  Noam's experience was a one-time event, not years of abuse and, more importantly Noam has family who love and cherish him. The feeling of being loved can bolster character and mitigate trauma. And even if one's own parents are the abusers, just one other person in a vulnerable child's life can improve that child's outcome.  

And they'll need every bit of help they can get. Every year, 3 million children are abused In the U.S. and childhood trauma is heavily correlated with adult drug addiction, unemployment, and the perpetuation of violence. And even if that abused child grows up to be successful, they may have an anxiety disorder or depression lurking in the background. That's why America's continuing military interventions alarm trauma specialists like Bessel van der Kolk: 25% of returning American soldiers will develop PTSD — often creating home lives that are dysfunctional at best, or full of rage and distance at worst, and resulting in more trauma, both for their partners and children. Trauma has become a cultural feedback loop. It's sometimes referred to as 'secondary traumatic stress disorder', the American military's hidden mental health crisis. Bessel van der Kolk calls it the single biggest health problem in the U.S., and that it should be front and centre in a presidential debate.  

Participants in this episode:       

  • Carol Redding is a consultant and trauma survivor based in San Diego. 

  • John Medina is a developmental molecular biologist and best-selling author. He is also an affiliate Professor of Bioengineering at the University of Washington School of Medicine.

  • Kenneth Kunz is a Victoria-based oncologist and lecturer. 
  • Shanley Knox is a freelance writer and social entrepreneur based in New York.  

Infographic: The Truth About ACEs (click on the image)

Related websites: 

Reading List:  

  • The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind and Body in the Healing of Trauma, Bessel van der Kolk, Penguin Books, New York, 2014. 
  • Trauma and Recovery: The Aftermath of Violence - From Domestic Abuse to Political Terror, Judith L Herman, Basic Books, New York, 1997.  
  • Childhood Disrupted: Your Biography Becomes Your Biology, and How You Can Heal, Donna Jackson Nakazawa, Atria Books, 2015 
  • Felitti, VJ and RF Anda. "The Relationship of Adverse Childhood Experiences to Adult Medical Disease, Psychiatric Disorders, and Sexual Behaviors: Implications for Healthcare," in The Hidden Epidemic: The Impact of Early Life Trauma on Health and Disease, eds. Ruth A. Lanius, Eric Vermetten, and Clare Pain. Cambridge University Press: 2010
  • Teicher, Martin H. "Scars that Won't Heal: The Neurobiology of Child Abuse," Scientific American, March, 2002.  
  • Perry, Bruce Duncan, and Maia Szalavitz. The Boy Who Was Raised as a Dog: And Other Stories From a Child Psychiatrist's Notebook- What Traumatized Children Can Teach Us about Loss, Love, and Healing. New York: Basic, 2006. Print.
  • Brain Rules: 12 Principles for Surviving and Thriving at Work, Home, and School, John Medina, Seattle Washington Pear, 2008. 
  • Brain Rules for Baby: How to Raise a Smart and Happy Child from Zero to Five, John Medina, Seattle, Washington, Pear, 2010. 

**This episode was produced by Mary O'Connell.