Child Abuse Linked to Reduced Gray Matter Volume in Psychosis


Research in Schizophrenia Research finds that of 60 patients with diagnoses of psychoses and 26 non-diagnosed individuals, those with a diagnosis as well as a history of sexual abuse had significantly reduced gray matter volume in bilateral frontal regions compared with psychotic patients without abuse. In fact, gray matter volume in psychotic disorder patients without a history of sexual abuse did not differ from that of controls. The authors conclude “diagnosis alone may not be enough to uncover brain abnormalities in psychotic disorders. Instead, it may be necessary to explore environmental risk factors, such as childhood trauma, in order to better understand individual differences in brain morphology, particularly gray matter loss.”

Abstract β†’ Sheffield, J., Williams, L., Woodward, N., Heckers, S., Reduced gray matter volume in psychotic disorder patients with a history of childhood sexual abuse. Schizophrenia Research. Online November 23, 2012

Of further interest:
Childhood abuse linked to altered gray matter in psychosisΒ (News Medical)

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Kermit Cole
Kermit Cole, MFT, founding editor of Mad in America, works in Santa Fe, New Mexico as a couples and family therapist. Inspired by Open Dialogue, he works as part of a team and consults with couples and families that have members identified as patients. His work in residential treatment β€” largely with severely traumatized and/or "psychotic" clients β€” led to an appreciation of the power and beauty of systemic philosophy and practice, as the alternative to the prevailing focus on individual pathology. A former film-maker, he has undergraduate and master's degrees in psychology from Harvard University, as well as an MFT degree from the Council for Relationships in Philadelphia. He is a doctoral candidate with the Taos Institute and the Free University of Brussels. You can reach him at [email protected].


  1. But what about the drugs? We know that the drugs cause gray matter loss. How do you know that’s not what you’re observing? Does this study take that fact into account? Or is it yet another one that doesn’t? It would seem quite a bit coincidence that both neuroleptic drugs AND child abuse could cause the same problem.

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  2. We know that neuroleptics can cause brain loss. It doesn’t surprise me that child abuse could do the same, because both are forms of trauma.

    I think its important to bring hope to others who’ve been abused – whether in their childhoods or under the “care” of a psychiatrist.

    When it comes to brain loss, there is still hope.
    Mindfulness is one way a person can regenerate the brain.

    β€œMindfulness practice leads to increases in regional brain gray matter density.” – Massachusetts General Hospital, Harvard University

    More here:


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  3. The mention of ‘brain abnormalities’ causes me concern as I think it links to biomedical model of mental illness. And mindfulness doesn’t suit everyone, it wouldn’t suit me.

    I think that psychosis is a personal experience, to the individual, and can be for any number of reasons, particular to the person, therefore requiring person-centred support. Brain scans are a red herring, in my opinion, and take us off into brain surgery territory, or NMD/neurosurgery for mental disorder.

    Let’s leave the brain alone when thinking of mental distress, until we are absolutely sure of what we’re doing. Which will be never in this lifetime. For science is not about truth or certainty but about probability and a continual searching.

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    • Chrys,

      I can understand your concerns, and respect what it is you have to say. I fin myself in agreement wit your comments quite often.

      Just for the record, I’m hardly a proponent of conventional psychiatry. In fact, I think both ECT and psychosurgery should be banned from the face of the earth.


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  4. The more relevant research that shows correlations between cognitive function deficits and impairments that have been linked to ‘psychosis’ and Anorexia Nervosa is in the field of neuroscience; utilizing PET scans. The ‘treatment’ is Cognitive Remediation- no drugs- no surgery- no biological/genetic implications cited.

    Kings College of London is engaged in this research. Cognitive Remediation is very slowly becoming recognized, despite it’s consistent efficacy.

    Psychiatric drugs cause cognitive impairments; many environmental and lifestyle practices can cause them as well. PET scans are non invasive, non radiological, studies of brain activity in ‘real time’, and can be performed on subjects engaged in ‘mental exercises’– and correlated with symptom identification.

    Cognitive Remediation Therapy is NOT meditation or ‘mindfulness’. A quick google can provide the best source of info to satisfy questions and concerns.

    Psychosis is definitely a personal experience, but there are several factors that involve brain/cognitive function that produce the conditions for the personal experience. These factors can be addressed, remediated, with promise of improvement in cognitive function and recovery for ‘all’. The interventions are risk free, non invasive and never coercive.

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