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Residential Treatment Center for Boys Ages 14-18

 > Trauma  > How Brain Development Shapes Trauma Response in Adolescents
childhood trauma

How Brain Development Shapes Trauma Response in Adolescents

How Brain Development Shapes Trauma Response in Adolescents

The human brain doesn’t fully develop until our mid to late twenties. As a result, traumatic experiences during childhood are often shaped by the brain’s formation at the time of the event. 

Each section of the brain has a different job as part of the larger puzzle. There are 3 main areas that form our trauma response:

  • Brainstem – In the brainstem, motor functions are controlled. This area of the brain houses all of the actions we have to do to survive, but we don’t actively think about, like breathing. The brainstem is also responsible for how we react to stressors. This is the home of the fight, flight, or freeze response. This part of the brain can be overstimulated if someone has experienced many traumas, even if those are not what one would typically consider a trauma. Everyday, ordinary challenges can be experienced as traumatic events. 
  • Midbrain – This part of the brain consists of the amygdala, the section responsible for our emotions, and the hypothalamus, where the autonomic nervous system and the pituitary gland interact. All of our emotions, attachments and connections live here. This is also where sensory data starts, images or concepts come together here but it’s important to note that language does not exist here. Our memories and the core things that make us who we are live in images, smells, and sounds, in the midbrain, separate from where language processing happens. This is why talk based therapy sometimes fails, because language does not exist where much of that trauma lives.
  • Prefrontal cortex – This is where our personality lives, as well as higher functions of the brain. It’s responsible for the ability to think in both concrete or abstract ways. Executive functioning, problem solving, and time management skills exist in the prefrontal cortex. As the reflexive (fight, flight or freeze) response to trauma (controlled in the brain stem) calms, and development of the prefrontal cortex is nurtured, this part of the brain can override the reflexive trauma response–effectively allowing problem solving and other more productive responses to take place. This area of the brain isn’t fully developed in neurotypical children until their 20s–as late as age 30 for boys. 

Since the brain forms and develops where the fight/flight/freeze response lives, the brain is more developed in this area in childhood and adolescence. If someone has experienced childhood trauma, then the back portions of the brain are where the development of the brain will continue to be enhanced. It’s of note that the brain develops from back to front. When stressors come up the brain immediately goes to the fight/flight/freeze response. 

How to Address Childhood/Adolescent Trauma 

At Equinox RTC, we understand that the brain’s development has a large bearing on how we can work through our traumas. Language based interventions are often not enough on their own. By using a combination of deeper therapeutic interventions like brainspotting, EMDR, neurofeedback, and experiential therapies, we are able to help teens understand the root of their trauma and gain the skills needed to overcome them. 

Our therapists are trained in:

  • Eye-Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR)
  • Somatic Experiencing
  • Trauma focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
  • Neurosequential Therapeutics
  • Family Systems Theory
  • Brainspotting

Through these modalities, our clinical team helps adolescent boys work through their trauma. Additionally, students participate in group and family therapy sessions. Our relationship-based approach provides students with the support they need to overcome the emotional and behavioral challenges they face.

Kyle received his Ph.D. in Marriage and Family Therapy from Texas Tech University. As a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, Kyle has worked in a variety of clinical settings over the last seventeen years. His career has focused on treating both boys and girls, with specialization in trauma, processing difficulties, eating disorders, depression, anxiety, OCD and difficult family systems.