Dr. Kimberly Dennis is the Medical Director at Timberline Knolls Residential Treatment Center

Monday, October 25, 2010

The Role of Trauma

The 2010 NEDA Conference, held in Brooklyn, NY earlier this month (Timberline Knolls was one of the sponsors), used the theme of “Building Bridges to Recovery” to create dialogue among its attendees. To match this theme, I presented research on trauma’s role in later psychological damage, in particular its evolution into PTSD. I provided important information for NEDA about the demographics of trauma, how trauma changes the brain structure and the victim’s physical health, and the effective treatments available for PTSD which could help victims of sexual assault who display negative behaviors.

My previous research includes gender differences in the development of psychopathology and use of medication with family-based therapy for adolescents with anorexia nervosa, and during my presentation I outlined how the brain’s reaction to trauma (in particular sexual trauma) can result in the same post traumatic stress disorder that affects combat veterans.

Important topics in the presentation included:

Trauma exposure directly affects how the brain develops, especially in adolescents and children. As a child grows, his or her brain slowly develops different functions such as the regulation of anxiety or the capacity for abstract thought. If trauma occurs prior to one function’s development, then this part of the brain and all that follow may fail to develop in a healthy manner. Trauma in a mature brain can change it, but in children the brain’s entire organization can fail.

Trauma exposure can create a variety of negative mental health outcomes. Depression and substance abuse can follow a traumatic event. Some can develop PTSD, particularly when a woman has been exposed to rape or other sexual assault. PTSD in women can result in psychological reactivity, exaggerated startle response, symptoms of avoidance and numbing, and mood disorder. In the military, sexual assault can give women and men PTSD even if not exposed to direct combat.

PTSD has been treated using trauma informed intervention. A comprehensive, integrated, trauma informed and consumer involved treatment was tested on those suffering symptoms of PTSD. The study noted that after treatment a statistically significant improvement occurred in women’s trauma and mental health symptoms. Alcohol use significantly decreased and drug use trended in the same direction. The study concluded that outcomes for women with co-occurring disorders and a history of violence and trauma may improve with integrated treatment.

If you have any questions at all, or have topics you want me to address, please do not hesitate to email me at Dr.Kim@itsallinthejourney.com.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder

Many people have heard of obsessive-compulsive disorder or OCD, but many do not know how serious it can be. The term is used lightly and/or as a joke: "Gosh, you're so OCD!" But a person with OCD feels driven to perform compulsive and repetitive acts in an effort to ease distress. Despite his or her efforts to stop them, the distressing symptoms of obsessive-compulsive disorder keep coming back, and this leads to a vicious cycle of ritualistic behavior - and one that is very frustrating for the sufferer.

OCD can consume a person's life, and cause them to do little else but spend time focused on their obsessions and compulsions. Their OCD can cause them to become isolated, as those around them don't know how to deal with the person's actions, and the person with OCD feels they cannot and are not able to stop them. It can become a very lonely situation.

But there is help out there, and it starts with acceptance that there is a problem. I encourage anyone who has OCD tendencies or thinks they do to talk about it. Verbalizing emotions is the first step in getting help. Anyone who has questions about OCD, or wants to understand the condition more, Timberline Knolls has plenty of information on its website. Timberline Knolls treats women with OCD, eating disorders, alcohol and substance abuse, and complex co-occurring disorders.