Exposure to Family Distress in Childhood Affects Brain Development


Research from the University of East Anglia find that children who experienced chronic, but relatively common, family difficulties – such as arguments, tension, or lack of affection or communication – between birth and 11 years of age had developed a smaller cerebellum by the age of 17 to 19. The researchers point out that the cerebellum, an area of the brain associated with learning skills, stress regulation, and sensory-motor control, is consistently found to be smaller in people with virtually all psychiatric diagnoses.

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Walsh, N., Dalgleish, T., Lombardo, M., Dunn, V., et al; General and specific effects of early-life psychosocial adversities on adolescent grey matter volume. Neuroimage: Clinical. Volume 4, 2014, Pages 308-318. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.nicl.2014.01.001

Of further interest:
Family problems experienced in childhood and adolescence affect brain development (University of East Anglia Press Release)

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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 — largely with severely traumatized and/or "psychotic" clients — 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. Since the biopsychiatry/Big Pharma cartel has no conscience, it is obvious that they are now trying to prove that the stress of child and other abuse including school/work bullying and mobbing or domestic violence cause damaged or inferior brains, so they can continue to justify their bogus stigmas and toxic treatments. That’s because the evidence is piling up that after decades of wasted billions, biopsychiatry has not found the holy grail of inferior genes and other so called biomarkers for their invalid junk science DSM stigmas even admitted by Dr. Thomas Insel, Head of NIMH.

    At the same time, many honest experts are exposing the harmful effects of toxic environments and social stressors known to cause severe emotional distress that biopsychiatry has stigmatized as “mental illness” to blame the victims and aid and abet the abusers/bullies while making a handy profit in the process. Many psychologists and social workers are becoming more open about the truth as the DSM paradigm is increasingly exposed as pseudoscience.

    Thus, biopsychiatry’s attempts to prove that trauma survivors and child abuse victims have inferior brains that they will concede is caused by the stress and trauma can be just one more attempt to blame the victims and subject them to their bogus bipolar stigmas and toxic drugs and other lethal “treatments.” Also, often these studies include children/people who’s brains have been damaged by psychiatric drugs as with many such ADHD brain studies.

    There are some ethical psychiatrists like Dr. Jeffrey Schwartz who have exposed in such books as You Are Not Your Brain that one can change one’s brain with various cognitive strategies instead of becoming a permanent patient:



    So, on the one hand, this article is good in that it does acknowledge the pernicious effects of abuse and/or dysfunctional families that has been well known for decades but silenced by biopsychiatry’s no fault junk science DSM. On the other hand, given that articles keep coming out saying that those who suffer child abuse and trauma are more inclined to be bipolar makes it all too clear that such findings in the wrong hands do not bode well for the victims but will increase the coffers of biopsychiatry/Big Pharma at the victims’ ongoing expense.

    Again, I don’t want to be a killjoy and if such evidence results in real help to such victims like Open Dialog or some type of nontoxic counseling to overcome such stressful environments, I will sure be happy to be proven wrong or even paranoid!

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  2. The Adverse Childhood Experiences study revealed the devastating effects of trauma on people, especially on children. Trauma, especially at a very early age, does affect the hypothalamic/adrenal/pituitary axis of the brain. Biopsychiatry is trying to say that this is a chemical or broken brain problem. It is not. Even though brain chemicals are involved in all of this it’s not a matter of any chemical imbalance. Neither does it require the use of the toxic drugs, as they’re trying to convince people. What they don’t tell is that through using the brain’s plasticity and talk therapy people can be taught to deal with their trauma in new and more productive ways so that they recover and move on with their lives. This is the part of the equation that they’re trying to hide or play down. We can’t allow them to do this.

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    • That is the hidden conclusion that was drawn from the Decade of the Brain – not only do bad relationships damage brain development, damaged brains can and do heal, and the most healing thing for a tramatized brain was shown to be a meaningful relationship with a healthy adult who cares about you! Psychiatry is always fond of telling half the story. They leave out the part about how whatever damage trauma may do the brain, psychiatric drugs not only don’t heal it, but the appear to make it worse and worse. That’s the biggest message from Anatomy – you can’t heal brains with chemicals. You can only damage them further.

      —- Steve

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      • I think this is one of the huge reasons that we have revolving doors in the Admissions departments of state hospitals and other psych institutions! At least 80% of people who are in the “system” are trauma survivors. Very few have been given the opportunity to deal with the terrible and debilitating effects of the trauma they endured.

        All that happens when they’re forced into the “hospital” is that they’re forced to take the tranqualizing and toxic drugs that cause brain chemical imbalances and damage. In effect they’re anesthesized and when they quit taking the toxic drugs the trauma is still there, causing all the problems. Then we all know what happens. They end up being brought back and forced into the so-called “hospital” where they’re forced to take the toxic drugs and the whole cycle begins over again and again and again.

        This is not rocket science but just try and get the psychiatrists and nurses and social workers to take a look at this. You’re met with a solid wall of “it’s the result of a chemical imbalance and if they’d just take their meds everything would be fine.” We see it happening with our armed services people coming back from Iraq and Afghanistan with horrible PTSD (which really should not be a diagnosis since this is the normal human response to horrible situations). Instead of getting access to good therapists they’re filled full of pills and they’re dying in their sleep or killing themselves. But it’s business as usual and no real and lasting help is given them at all. It’s criminal and disgusting and awful and it makes me mad as hell.

        We know for a fact that if a trauma survivor can find the right therapist whom they can finally trust that good talk therapy will result in people finding healing and better health, and all without the damned toxic drugs. Because of the brain’s neuroplasticity a good therapist can walk with people so that they can find new ways of responding to the world and of delaing with the effects of the terrible things they endured earlier in life.

        But the system is totally against any of this happening. I get very discouraged with seeing the same people come through Admissions, month after month and year after year. I will state it again; this is criminal.

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  3. I think there’s a good chance that this brain research was cooked, in the same way the neuroprotective ‘antipschotic’ research was cooked up to underpin the ‘chemical imbalance’ fraud.
    Tranquillizer Psychiatrists have no place in non drug counselling – they do not have the skills or qualifications.
    I don’t think the other medicines would have them either – they don’t need expensive ‘bags of sand.’

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