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Understanding the Neurobiology of Trauma  Sunni D. Ward, MS  Victim Assistance Coordinator, Elbert County Sheriff’s Office February 19,2013.

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Presentation on theme: "Understanding the Neurobiology of Trauma  Sunni D. Ward, MS  Victim Assistance Coordinator, Elbert County Sheriff’s Office February 19,2013."— Presentation transcript:

1 Understanding the Neurobiology of Trauma  Sunni D. Ward, MS  Victim Assistance Coordinator, Elbert County Sheriff’s Office February 19,2013

2 Objectives Discuss victim behavior and examine research on neurobiology of trauma Discuss how neurobiology research findings can change practice and inform service providers

3 Trauma: What is it?  Physical Trauma- serious bodily injury or wound; life threatening, potentially resulting in death  Psychological Trauma-  psychological or emotional damage  A psychologically upsetting experience that produces a mental disorder or otherwise has lasting negative effects on a person’s thoughts, feelings and behavior

4 Trauma: What is it?  Domestic Violence  Homicide  Mass Casualties  Kidnapping  Physical, Sexual, Emotional abuse  School violence  Severe Motor vehicle accidents  Witnessing or hearing about any of the above

5 Trauma: What is it? Retrieved from

6 Trauma: What is it?

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9 Trauma: What do we do? Establish a rapport/Empathy  I am so sorry this happened to you  This must be a very difficult time for you right now Identification  What I hear you saying is…..  I can see/hear you are angry Validation  What you are feeling is normal  This is NOT your fault Key Elements to Consider When Communicating with Victims

10 Neurobiology of Trauma: What is it?  Psychological Trauma-  A psychologically upsetting experience that produces a mental disorder or otherwise has lasting negative effects on a person’s thoughts, feelings and behavior

11 Neurobiology of Trauma: What is it? Over the last decade or so, there has been a tremendous amount of research on neuroscience and trauma :  Psychological trauma is the unique individual experience of an event or enduring conditions, in which:  The individual’s ability to integrate his/her emotional experience is overwhelmed; or  The individual experiences (subjectively) a threat to life, body integrity, or sanity (Pearlman Saakvitne, 1995,p. 60)  Our brains are pliable and have a plasticity to them that allows for structure and function changes in response to experience.

12 Neurobiology of Trauma: What is it? ~”The Body Keeps the Score” Bessel Van de Kolk

13 Structures of the Brain: The Limbic System

14 Reception Center- Receives info in through the senses- relays to Pre-Frontal Cortex and Amygdala Organization Center- Responsible for encoding information and storing information into memory Emotional Center Concerned with survival Thermostat- Concerned w/ homeostasis; releases neurohormones Executive Center- Responsible for decision-making, planning, reasoning

15 Why Is this Relevant?? “Complex Compounding victim issues” Compassion Fatigue Secondary Victimization Decreased victim participation/ engagement Challenging behavior Neurobiological Reasons

16 Concluding Thoughts  Neuroscience research provides an important biological foundation for understanding the impact of our work  Understanding the neurobiology of trauma gives us as direct service providers an opportunity to inform others in our profession about what might be going on with victims during an interview, or during victim notification, or at trial.  Additionally, it will help us pinpoint the types of interventions that are most helpful to victims.


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