Trauma, Brain and Relationship Helping Children Heal
From NEURONS TO NEIGHBORHOODS
Second Annual Conference
Interview with Marti Glenn, Ph.D.
DR. GLENN, FOR OUR RECORDS, CAN YOU PROVIDE US WITH VERBAL SLATE: TELL ME YOUR NAME, YOUR TITLE, WHO YOU'RE ASSOCIATED WITH, AND YOUR ROLE WITH THIS CONFERENCE?
My name is Marti Glenn. I'm with Santa Barbara Graduate Institute. I'm the founding president. I'm also one of the co-coordinators of the Neurons to Neighborhoods conference.
Well, there are several things. One is we have a convergence of a number of fields that are coming together that have never really talked to each other before. The '90s were known as the Decade of the Brain. There was also a lot of trauma research that was coming out in the '80s, the post-Vietnam era, and those began to come together. Then people began looking earlier and earlier and asking why are we were not responding in the ways that we should to trauma.
Right now we have a tremendous convergence of information that's coming together from a number of different fields such are the trauma research, the brain research, infant mental health, attachment research, and all the psychological fields. There are many, many fields inside of psychology that are just now coming to the forefront. The trauma research and the brain research really kind of hit a pinnacle in the '90s. Then in 2000, because of the technology that we have now, we can measure things we've never been able to measure before. We can measure with FMRI studies, CAT scans, and we can measure certain parts of the brain that light up when we're having certain interactions. In addition, because of technology we can look, and are looking, earlier and earlier at babies. We're looking at what happens to babies before they're born. We never had that technology before. So what's happening is a lot of fields are beginning to converge and come together. We're just at the cusp of beginning to create a language that bridges some of those things.
WHAT IS THE POTENTIAL OUTCOME OF THIS MERGING OF TECHNOLOGY?
The potential of the convergence of this is hopefully some changes in our society in ways that we are with children, in ways our families operate, and in ways we are with each other. We can become kinder and gentler, as we were. We can, also, begin to really relate to each other. As human beings, we have a biological imperative. Our survival depends on relating to each other. The way we're acculturated in this society is by separation. Everything from John Wayne on down, we are instilled as the rugged individuals. We put the babies in their cribs and we train kids to be by themselves. But, that's not what our biology wants.
What our bodies need most for development is relationship. Every neuron in our brain develops most optimally through a loving relationship. From the very beginning, we need to have babies that are wanted, mothers and fathers that are supported, and people who understand what's going on in a child's life and therefore in the adult and family life. We need to understand the cross disciplines, what the whole spectrum is, so that individually we might begin to look at our own lives and make that little bit of change that's going to make a difference with the person next to us.
Why is the child important? It's a very good question. Our culture is not focused on children. We're focused on material things, on adults, and on having things. Children, however, don't earn money and they consume resources. So, we can look at two things. One, we look at what's happening in our culture. We have so many people who are maladapted. We have more people now who are addicted and we have more children now. We also now have children killing children. We have children with problems in school when we've never had these issues so much before. We have more special education teachers needed than ever before. As a result over what's happening is we're looking earlier and earlier at babies and children.
In the state of California recently, Gov. Gray Davis mandated that we do a study about the readiness of children for school. We asked, "What does it take for a six-year-old to be prepared to enter school?" In finding the answer we looked earlier and earlier at a child. Many fields are investigating early childhood, in search looking for the cause of problems. It doesn't really matter what the problems are; we have to look earlier and earlier. First, they said we needed to start looking at kids at age three or four. Then they said there's a little more happening before that time. Now we're going back even earlier and earlier.
In the governor's report, there is information about how to treat babies before they're born in order for them to have optimal readiness for school. That's very exciting. Anybody who's looking at, for example, Vietnam vets and trauma, or people who have experienced acute traumas with school shootings or terrorist attacks, you'll find two people, adults or children, experiencing the same thing. Obviously, they're not experiencing it in the same way. We look at the difference. The major difference is they had a different experience of early relationship in their lives. One child who has a parent who's present and available, who has consistent caregivers, is much better equipped to deal with stress later in life than the child who didn't have that. A child who had multiple caregivers isn't nearly as well equipped to deal with a stressful situation in school, on the playground, or in another stressor that might come up in their life.
WHAT ARE YOU FOCUSING ON IN ORDER TO POTENTIALLY CHANGE THE NEXT GENERATION? IN ORDER TO START WHERE IT'S MORE EFFECTIVE, WHY FOCUS ON CHILDREN UTILIZING THIS INFORMATION FROM TECHNOLOGY OR PHYSIOLOGY?
We're starting with children because if you want to make a bigger difference, you start earlier. For example, let's say you have a rosebud, you take a pencil, and you just touch it. That tiny touch with the pencil is going to make a difference. As that rosebud grows, you're going to see the difference all the way throughout the life, the lifespan, of that flower.
I think it's a very important question to ask, "Why are we starting with children?" One of the reasons that we start with children is because the work we do later, takes more and more effort. It takes much more money to keep someone in prison than it does to keep them out. It is very clear that the earlier you give children and families support, the more productive they're going to be. A child who has support as an infant is going to be productive, earn money, and pay the social security system. A child who is not supported is going to cost society a lot of money through special services in school and the public service arena in some way. So even just economically, we need to get to our kids as early as possible.
In the past, we've only guessed about what worked. We had a lot of studies in psychotherapy that relationship was important. We did a lot of behavioral studies, we knew that that was important. Now we can understand what exactly is happening in psychotherapy when a therapist and a client or parent and child sit together and they're in sync, they're in harmony. We can see now that the right orbital frontal cortex of the therapist is lighting up or the parents' and baby's brain, that same part, is lighting up.
As therapists in training we were trained to use more of our neocortex, the thinking part of the brain. We weren't really trained as therapists to use the heart. So, in using more of our harmonious, resonant kind of communication, we can get more effect. We know now the particular part of the brain that's being affected, and we can go directly to the parts that need to be changed. It used to be that someone had to be in psychoanalysis for 20 years or more before they began to see changes, because they were using the neocortex. They were using the part of the brain that is the thinking part of the brain. Now we're looking at the whole body, using every part of ourselves so that we can access the part of the brain that needs help.
THAT'S GREAT. THAT'S SO CLEAR.
In the past, we trained therapists with a lot of techniques. We trained them to be empathic, to be present, but not to show that they were there. What we know now is that the therapist really is much more effective if they're able to join with the client on a deeper level. I believe that as a therapist, whether I'm working with families, babies, children, or individuals, I'm the best instrument I have. It's not my theories or techniques. It's how I show up in the consulting room. It's who I am. If I'm fully present with you, you're going to know it. You're going to know by the tone of my voice, eye contact, and gestures. Perhaps I'm leaning toward you or I'm leaning away and giving you space. All of that's non-verbal and it reaches a whole different part of your brain. It's the part of the brain that most of us missed during the developmental stages of that part of our brain when we were little.
We need to go back and we need someone who can be with us in a way that mirrors our own timing, pace, rhythm. Mr. Rogers did it beautifully. My whole body used to just settle when I watched Mr. Rogers. He used to laugh and he was so silly, but he had something. He sat down with the children and put on his shoes. He was his own instrument. Just like we have to be because that's reaching the part of the brain that needs to heal.
In order for me as a therapist to use myself as an instrument, I have to do my own work. Most therapists are attracted to therapy because we're wounded healers. I certainly got into therapy because I didn't have the kind of childhood I wanted. I wasn't able to give my children the kind of childhood that I really wanted to give them. I wish I had known then what I know now. But now I can sit with another human being and feel my body settle, because I've learned and I've done some of my personal homework. It's only been recently that we ask therapists to do their own work, to really go into their own issues. That way when the intimacy comes in the consulting room, there's a container for it and I don't have to run away from it, but I can be present and available. Part of the training for therapists in dealing with trauma is to have them begin to use their own bodies, use themselves. Not just what they know, not just techniques, but bring their own passion, caring, and presence. That's what is healing.
WHAT ARE THE DISCIPLINES THAT NEED TO BE INCORPORATED FOR TRAINING THERAPISTS AND WORKING WITH CLIENTS OF ALL AGES WHO HAVE TRAUMA ISSUES?
There are a lot of disciplines that need to come together now to make the most effective therapeutic milieu for babies, children, and all of our clients. They have to do with not only psychology and cognition, they have to do with the body and bringing in all kinds of brain, mind, and body synthesis. We need to get to the different parts of the brain, because of the different levels and layers of development. Sometimes we need movement. Sometimes we need touch. Sometimes we need play. Sometimes we need many different kinds of things that have to do with more than just cognition. We also need, in addition to having psychotherapist trained to work various modalities and their own presence, to know earliest development. We need to take more histories, which we've learned from infant mental health. We need to know what happened in this child's family of origin, what happened to the parents, what was their birth like, what was this child wanting? All of these things are critical factors in the success.
We have to not only look at our own skills, lives, and bodies; we also have to learn to be part of a team. We are no longer isolated, the buck stops here. It is no longer applicable to say, " I'm going to heal you." That doesn't work anymore. We often need to work with a psychiatrist, speech therapist, and teacher. We need to create a village. It really does take a whole village to raise a child. Part of the work that we're doing is creating a therapeutic village, to help people connect with their own villages. We don't have villages anymore for our families and children, so we need to figure out how to create one: professionally, socially and in a supportive way for our families. It starts with us. We have to learn to connect with each other and to know that I only have part of the picture. You have a part, he has a part, she has a part, and each of us has something to contribute.
WHAT IS THE PURPOSE OF THE WORKSHOP THAT YOU'RE DOING THIS AFTERNOON AT THE CONFERNECE?
Part of what we're doing this afternoon is helping therapists begin to assess their skill level. And, that's not a judgment at all. None of us have been trained to look at the body. In fact, we've been told that it's not ethical to touch and it doesn't matter if the brain has a body. We're just now coming into that. What we want to do is give therapists of all milieus a way to begin to assess where their growing edge is, where is their leading edge as far as their personal training? We all need more work. I'm studying and reading all the time. We need to learn new skills. Nobody has the one answer. Instead, we are looking at different ways of assessing one's personal level. We need to look at much more of the non-verbal therapeutic modalities of presence, sensory awareness, sensate focus, and touch. It's really important to know when and how to touch, when to create relationship, and how to create relationship. So, part of what we're doing this afternoon is helping therapists begin on a personal level, to look at their skill level, not as a judgment but to know where the next step is.
WHAT IS DIFFERENT FOR THE THERAPIST WORKING IN TRAUMA?
In the past, we were separating trauma from regular and developmental therapy. What is happening now is a broadening of the definition of trauma. It used to be that trauma was a single incident, such as a child falling off of a bicycle, a murder, or somebody returning home from a war. Single incident trauma includes things that highly affect someone with a single incident. Now, we know that developmental trauma, including neglect, has as high an impact over the lifespan as a single incident trauma. So, what's happening is we're learning that everybody needs to be trained in looking at trauma.
Trauma is just one lens. It's kind of a popular word we're all using right now. We could use dissociative disorders or schizophrenia. There are many, many diagnoses. Anyone could come up with some kind of diagnosis, but it almost doesn't matter. What matters is that we look at the whole person, their whole history, and their development. We look at what's happened in their body, life, and social structure. We look at all the aspects of their life. Then we determine where to go from there. We haven't in the past looked at how someone developed fully.
For example, perhaps we think a client is developmentally delayed because they were neglected or abused as children. They're dealing with a stress response, a physiological response in their bodies, so they're not bad children. I have never, ever, ever seen a bad child. I've seen children who are under a tremendous amount of stress. I've seen children that weren't supported. And I've seen people who didn't know how to help them. But I've never seen a bad kid.
In trauma, we find that the brain research is very, very applicable, because the part of the brain that's responding to trauma is different than the part of the brain that responds to cognitive therapy. Cognitive therapy is thinking about something and willing something to be different and to change it. For instance, "I'm going to stop this now!" We can all relate to this statement if we've ever tried to go on a diet, stop smoking, or start an exercise program. Pretty soon the neocortex, the part of the brain that is responsible for thinking, begins to shut down. The part of the brain that's involved in trauma, the part that takes over congnition, is known as the limbic and the brain stem. It's a physiological response. All animals have a physiological response to trauma. The neocortex is not very well connected to those areas. So we must get to the lower centers of the brain in order to heal. Then we can integrate it into the neocortex and into the behavioral aspects of the work.
AFTER LISTENING TO THE CONFERENCE SPEAKERS THROUGHOUT THIS WEEKEND HOW DO YOU FEEL NOW ABOUT TRAUMA AND THE NEW WAYS OF WORKING WITH TRAUMA?
I am very excited about the work and the people that are coming together. There seems to be a hunger in the profession. Part of the hunger, I think, is because we've seen so many different things that didn't work. A lot of us have found things that did work and we've been out there on our own. What this conference has done is given us professionals a way to come together and hear other people say things that we know are true, bringing things together in the field, synthesizing our collective discoveries, given us a language that we haven't had before, and helping us connect with each other.
THAT'S GREAT. IS THERE SOMETHING THAT I HAVEN'T ASKED, SOMETHING THAT'S YOUR FAVORITE THING OR SOMETHING YOU WANT TO ADD?
I think you got almost everything.
YOU'RE TERRIFIC. THANK YOU.
Oh that's a very good question. When we hear about how we're supposed to be doing and the best way and the right way, one of the things that it elicits is, "Oh my goodness, I didn't know how to do it then. How can I do it better now?" In fact one of the reasons that the early developmental piece has been so difficult to get across is because all of us, almost all of us, experienced some kind of trauma early on. We were born in hospitals where we were taken away from our mothers. That's not natural. We remember that experience. We have, a lot of us, experiences of mothers being gone most of the time, and all kinds of things. This is not about blaming anyone, but it creates a denial. We have to get over the discomfort of our own denial, the discomfort that we feel unconsciously to blame, so that when this comes up, we can say, "Yeah, I wasn't able to do that, and there's no blame." There's never any blame. There's never any shame. I think we all do the best we can with what we have at the time and we begin now. This new work leads us into one-on-one relationships. We begin now to change the world for the children, one child at a time, one person at a time, one family at a time, and one step at a time.
THAT'S GREAT. THANK YOU VERY MUCH DR. GLENN.
(END OF INTERVIEW)
Stan Tatkin, Psy.D. - Psychotherapist
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