How the Brain Helps Us to Survive Trauma

New research into brain science has shown that neuroplasticity, or the changing of the brain, is possible.

But the downside is that negative experiences also affect the brain.

Scientists have known that stress can alter the brain’s structure, but the specifics of these changes have not yet been found.

A new study out of the journal Hippocampus has helped get us one step closer to an answer.

Researchers from Rockefeller University and Weill Cornell Medical College identified a key protein that is involved in changing the brain while under stress.

Researchers under the leadership of Bruce S. McEwen, PhD, placed mice into a chronically stressful environment.

The result?

Their brains were found to resemble those of mice who had only one copy (instead of two) of the gene that produces BDNF (brain-derived neurotrophic factor).

Now normal amounts of BDNF are important because BDNF enhances the adaptability of neurons in the hippocampus. Without a sufficient amount, the brain’s plasticity is reduced.

Functioning of the hippocampus is important to the treatment of trauma because the hippocampus is the part of the brain known for the regulation of memory, mood and cognition.

John Ratey, MD in his book, Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain, refers to BDNF as “Miracle-Grow for the brain”.

Now the question arises as to the optimal amount of BDNF and whether a way can be found to supplement it.

Supplements or not, (exercise might also increase it), BDNF is important to the treatment of trauma.

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Do you want to know more about what’s going on inside the brain during trauma?

Then check out NICABM’s programs on trauma treatment.

We’ve featuring six experts discussing innovations in treating trauma that you will be able to apply directly to your own work.

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Leave a comment below and tell us about your experience in treating patients with PTSD.


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  1. I have had the same problem since I was young; I have a very strong fear of dying. Often times I will make myself get out of bed and do something to avert my thoughts; mainly I will take a shower and drink a glass of warm milk with vanilla and some sugar. If this doesn’t work, try something a little bit more stimulating that can avert the thoughts, but won’t keep you awake for hours once you lay down. Pick up one of your favorite books, or walk around in your back yard for a bit.. . If it still persists, speak with your doctor. They can prescibe something for you to take when these attacks occur that will sooth your thoughts and help you fall asleep.. . I know how horrible this is. Best of luck.

  2. Paulette says:

    Hi Ruth – you do not have a privacy policy/notice posted on your website. When personal information is collected either actively or passively people from whom you are collecting data from need to know the reason/purpose for collection, what it will be used for, where it will be stored and to whom it will be disclosed.

    A friend sent me your website as an example of how social networking could work effectively. Thought in return the favor and give you this bit of information.
    Regards, Paulette

  3. You asked for a PTSD story – here’s a condensed version of a soldier I helped keep out of jail using PEP – Psychoanalytic Energy Psychology. His sister arranged and paid for treatment – he was too non-functional to seek help himself after going AWOL with undiagnosed PTSD 2 years previously. In our first session, I mainly tapped on his finger points (from EFT system) as he cried or stared into space nonresponsively. We used the energy-based methods to work through his guilt over surviving, and came to comprehend how his father’s abandonment when he was 2 years old was holding the PTSD in place. After 3 months of treatment, he had signed up for a training course pending the resolution of his AWOL status, which I helped him do in person on base, backed up with a formal report approved by my clinical supervisor. He still has more to do; although his IESR score fell from a life-debilitating 66 (clinical cut-off is at 33) to a 24, he still had intrusive distress that included a chronic challenge opening doors. Over a year later, there has been no worsening of any symptoms that we had treated. The combination of psychoanalytic insight and careful application of various energy-based modalities, including the ability to work content-free with EFT and TFT, was synergistically vital.
    I hope this has been useful for you in some way – With kind regards, Dr Shoshana Garfield.

  4. Yvonne Magee says:

    Will you be covering the remarkable trauma relief work done with EFT (Emotional Freedom Techniques)?

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