For the next few blogs I will be summarizing my insights from some of the sections of Dr. Perry and Oprah Winfrey’s recent collaborative book entitled “What happened to You”.
Frequently when I first meet with parents in therapy I ask about their child’s early experiences. This is important especially in cases of adoption where a child has been removed from a parent due to maltreatment but other family stress can also have an important role. Many parents will respond to this question by saying that the abuse or trauma happened when the child was so young that the child doesn’t remember any of it. They feel therefore that it is unnecessary to talk about it. While it is true that the child does not have any verbal memory of these early experiences, the child’s brain has developed in response to them.
According to Dr. Perry the brain categorizes every bit of sensory input and sends it to other parts of the brain to integrate and process. As the brain starts to create the complex memories that store these connections a personal catalog of experiences is being created. What does that sound mean? What does that expression of his face mean. What else happens when that scent is present? For one child eye contact means, “I care for you: I’m interested in you.” For another it means “I’m about to hurt you”.
Moment by moment in early life, our developing brain sorts and stores our personal experiences making our codebook that helps us to interpret the world.
As we can see from Dr Perry, what happens early is critically important. If a child’s code book says that human contact is painful, that will dictate future interactions. Adoptive parents may wonder why the child does not want to be touched even though they were adopted at a fairly young age.
Fortunately we can address early developmental trauma through a variety of modalities such as Art Therapy, Sensorimotor Psychotherapy and EMDR with sand tray. If you would like to receive more upcoming summaries of Dr. Perry’s book please subscribe to our blog.