The other area of new research that is crucial to our understanding of trauma and recovery in children is the work on the impact of trauma on the developing brain. The work of Bruce Perry, Allan Schore, Bessel Van de Kolk, Stephen Porges and Graham Music are key to this developing understanding as it has given us much clearer insight into the impact on the brain and the ability of traumatised children to regulate their emotions, impulses and behaviour. An understanding of brain development is key to helping us understand how we respond to facilitate recovery. Evidence suggests that relationship is central in supporting recovery in traumatised children.
Perry and Van der Kolk write of how the developing brain organizes and internalizes new information in a use- dependent fashion which demonstrates that the more children live in a disorganized physiologic state (hyperarousal or detachment), the less they are capable of dealing with stressful experiences and the more likely their development is thrown off course by exposure to traumatic experiences.
Perry continues this theme by asserting that children are most likely to reach their full potential if they experience consistent, predictable, enriched, and stimulating interactions in a context of attentive and nurturing relationships. He explains that the brain can change through the repetitive relational experiences due to plasticity of the brain.
‘It is important to understand that the brain altered in destructive ways by trauma and neglect can also be altered in reparative, healing ways. Exposing the child, over and over again, to developmentally appropriate experiences is the key. With adequate repetition, this therapeutic healing process will influence those parts of the brain altered by developmental trauma. Unfortunately most of our therapeutic efforts fall short of this’ (Perry. 2006).
Contemporary research that supports the notion that prolonged alarm reactions alter limbic, midbrain, and brain stem functions through ‘‘use-dependent’’ modifications. Chronic exposure to fearful stimuli affects the development of the hippocampus, the left cerebral cortex, and the cerebellar vermis and alters the capacity to integrate sensory input. Current research is beginning to demonstrate the underlying pathophysiology of the difficulties with cognition, impulse control, aggression, and emotion regulation commonly seen in severely traumatized children. (Van der Kolk. 2003).
Under the umbrella of interpersonal neurobiology, Siegel’s approach (2012) applies the emerging principles of interpersonal neurobiology to promote compassion, kindness, resilience, and well-being in our personal lives, our relationships, and our communities. Seigel emphasises the importance of integration so that separated areas with their unique functions, in the skull and throughout the body, become linked to each other through synaptic connections. These integrated linkages enable more intricate functions to emerge—such as insight, empathy, intuition, and morality.
Other researchers are currently adding to the work highlighting the essential elements of trauma recovery work are Stephen Porges, Allan Schore, Graham Music, Louis Cosolino and Joyanna Silburg. Each of these offer essential theories and good practice models to enable children to recover from trauma.