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Childhood Trauma and the Developing Brain

By Tim Hannan

A new study has identified the neurological basis for why some adolescents who have experienced childhood trauma are resilient while others are prone to mood disorders.

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Psychologists have long recognised the challenges inherent in treating children who have experienced trauma during childhood, especially where this has been repeated in occurrence, extended in duration, or severe in impact. The effects of such early experience include a range of emotional, behavioural and cognitive symptoms, presumed to result at least in part to trauma-induced changes in the developing brain. A new study has identified specific brain mechanisms that are affected by early trauma and associated with successful adaptation and vulnerability to mood and anxiety problems.

The term “complex trauma” is commonly employed to refer to the experience of distressing adverse events, such as physical, sexual or psychological abuse, emotional neglect or abandonment, or exposure to violence at home or in the community. These events are often interpersonal in nature, may be frequent or continual, and can give rise to diverse consequences ranging from specifically trauma-related symptomatology (traumatic stress disorders) to behavioural disturbances (oppositional and antisocial behaviours), emotional problems (impulsivity, suicidality), educational difficulties, and broader interpersonal and personality problems.

It is well established that a key factor in child development is the quality of the relationship between the child and the primary caregiver in the...

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.