Today was officially the first day of the childhood trauma conference and the full weight of the presence of 2500 people was felt as I stared at the inaccessible coffee queue upon arrival! There were several Masterclass sessions on through the day and I chose to move between two masterclasses today, Lou Cozolino’s session and Kim Golding’s.

My first stop was with Lou where we looked at The Social Brain. The key issues for the day were the evolution of the social brain, how evolution has made adaptive choices creating psychological pain and keeping therapists in work (!) and the impact on ageing healthily when we are designed to be in tribes and as we age, we are losing our tribes.

As we begun, Lou reminded us to think about his work as a model of a way of thinking rather than ‘the truth’. We are learning all the time. These are helpful tools to enable the people we work with to understand that …. Not so much as a ‘how to’ more a chance to ask what the common factors are across all the different therapies rather than trying to know all the different therapies before feeling competent.

We are born to live in tribes, we are part of a larger organism and there is a such as huge focus on individualism in Western culture. The key question … what more do I need to know to better understand you? Where there is trauma, they were actors in someone else’s trauma not being understood.

The broad landscape – Biology, psychology, social relatedness, which is the Bio psycho model…. but we need to add development in to the mix as they all interpenetrate each other. They are not compartments which is also a very Western approach to understanding.

The social context of trauma:

(1) Our brains are social organs,
(2) our brains connect with one another across the bandwidth of the social synapse,
(3) we build and shape each other’s brains via the process of epigenetics,
(4) we regulate each others brains via sociostasis,
(5) social interactions are the main nourishment for our brains,
(6) negative interactions and neglect create stress/adaptational challenge.

Interesting thoughts around abuse and neglect in terms of brain development….From a neurobiological perspective there is a difference between abuse and neglect. The brain needs something to adapt to which neglect just doesn’t give and abuse does. A strange conversation to have but it kind of made sense from that perspective.

Observations:

(1) the western mind favours straightforward cause and effect relationships,
(2) We’re not as good in the West at thinking about interdependence and complexity
(3) we are better at discovering the pieces than putting them together. Its good news that we are malleable, its good news that we are often wrong… what do we really know? The Eastern world has openness to complexity and multiplicity. Trauma separates you from others and alienates you from yourself. Trauma uncouples us from the tribe. The brain is a hub of energy and imagination not an organ, like the liver or kidney floating around.

There are no individual neurons and there are no individual infants. Unconnected neurons die, abandonment of humans equals death. Apoptosis…. the natural dying of neurons that haven’t wired together. (Interestingly, people with autism don’t have this process, Lou observed). Attachment equals survival, abandonment equals death.

Lou Cozolino (drawing on A. Schore)- shame can be understood as rapid shift from sympathetic to parasympathetic dominance (emergency shutdown) conditioned response to anticipating contact & being met w indifference or harm.

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I also took a mini break from Lou and sneaked into  Kim Golding’s session who focused on parenting support interventions for children who have experienced trauma. Short term interventions are of no use as there are no quick fixes. We need to go on a journey with children supporting them to adapt to the new world they living in. If we can get the emotional support right for the parents, the therapeutic intervention is going to be beneficial. Let’s be present with the carers so they can be present with the children. This is challenging because of resistance due to loss of trust , controlling relationships feel safer than reciprocal relationships. It is hard to stay open and engaged with the child when you’re also feeling hurt by the child’s apparent rejection. The child picks this up and a cycle can commence. Parents need support to move out of that cycle because the child won’t move out of it.

“Let us not underestimate how hard it is to be compassionate” Henri J. M. Nouwen

DDP informed practice involves the use of PACE (playful, accepting, curious, empathic)  supports co-regulation and co-creation new meanings of child’s behaviour.

Exploring attachment history of parents and care givers, noticing tendencies like avoidance overwhelmed, and triggers caused by child’s behaviour. Then help that parent to find a balance between those tendencies. This support the parents to be open and engaged towards their children. It is easy to talk about this and very hard to implement especially if they feel like a failure or it is activating unresolved experiences from their attachment history. Parents have to have PACE for themselves before they can do this with the child. If you only take away one thing from a session, take curiosity. A parent working with a child who has developmental trauma needs support to have (1) good reflective functioning (2) ability to emotionally regulate when feeling under stress.

When we’re defensive, we can only think about what is our own mind rather than the mind of the child – mind minded parenting which is an act of discovery.

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I found myself drawn back to Lou after lunch (and a very sneaky power nap on a sofa far away from people) and we started to visit self awareness.


The many faces of trauma, not a one off event necessarily rather a spectrum, from temperament based parent-child mismatch (everyone trying their hardest but it just isn’t a match) all the way through to the other end of the spectrum, sadistic ritual abuse.

That is about it for today. Tomorrow at the Childhood Trauma Conference, we are blessed with keynotes from people such as Peter Fonagy, Helen Milroy, Allan Schore, Jennifer Freyd and Theresa Kestly to name a few so the blog post tomorrow should be packed full with a plethora of ideas, research and good practice. Until then, have a beautiful day/night depending where you are in the world!

Read Day Two’s blog post here.

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