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Does genetics, age and childhood adversity impact the brain development?

By Dr. Sunita Rai

Teicher, 2010, shared some interesting facts on how early stress programs our stress hormone systems to have a more exaggerated and prolonged response to subsequent stressors. He shared further on how the impact of early stress on the developing brain depends on timing, vulnerability of specific brain regions, and genetic factors. There was greater corpus callosum area reduction in maltreated children and adolescent which affected their left and right brain hemisphere connections.

This would would lead to cognitive impairments such as dissociation and multiple distinct identities. Our discoveries that abused patients have diminished right-left hemisphere integration and a smaller corpus callosum suggest an intriguing model for the emergence of borderline splitting (Teicher, 2010). In fact, the hippocampus was affected in children who experienced abuse at the age of 4.

For a therapist, this would mean that clients with childhood abuse might have more challenges in learning, memory consolidation and depression. The children may need to learn skills to help themselves as they would have a more heightened amygdala. For teenagers, if they were abused at the age of 14, their prefrontal cortex was affected thus affecting their ability to self-monitor and had a negative impact on their level of self-awareness. A therapist should track at which age was a client abused in order to work on the most appropriate strategies for that individual or group to develop specific brain regions.

The research on childhood sexual abuse, verbal abuse, witnessing domestic violence, and corporal punishment amongst others confirms the hypothesis that genetics, age and childhood adversity does impact the brain development in areas of disorders, addictions, cognitive functioning, dissociation and depression amongst others. A therapist has to take a more holistic view of both nature and nurture when working with clients in order to help a client in their life journey. Ignoring or dismissing a part of the client’s life will not help clients to heal and move on in their journey of life.

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