A Conversation with Dr. Bruce Perry About Trauma

Join us as Dr. Bruce Perry answers your questions about how trauma impacts adoptive, foster, and kinship kids and families. Dr. Bruce Perry is a child psychiatrist and neuroscientist, the principal of the Neurosequential Network, Senior Fellow of The ChildTrauma Academy, and adjunct Professor at Northwestern University School of Medicine in Chicago. He is the author the numerous books, including co-author with Oprah Winfrey of What Happened to You?: Conversations on Trauma, Resilience, and Healing*, and co-author of The Boy Who Was Raised As A Dog.*


In this episode, we cover:

  • The shift in perspective from what’s wrong with you to what happened to you–the ability to understand seemingly senseless behavior by looking at what’s behind it.
  • What do you include as “trauma”? How severe does it have to be to impact us later in life?
  • We hear foster, adoptive, and kinship parents say, “she was only neglected.” Is neglect less harmful than abuse?
  • Kenya: When siblings are separated in foster care and parents are taken completely away from seeing the children for a year at a time does this lack of contact count as trauma and how does this type of no-touch abuse effect the child’s brain? 
  • How common is trauma? ACE study.
  • Does trauma at a young age have longer lasting impacts?
  • Questions sent in to ask Dr. Bruce Perry:
  • Q: We have a child who is chronologically 3yrs, who had a non-accidental TBI at 3 months of age. He has CP, left hemiplegia, global aphasia, grand mal seizures, and his comprehension is at about 18 months. He is a sweet boy but prone to rages and is very loud.  Could this be from the trauma or is it his age and frustration? He has been in our care since 2 weeks post trauma discharged from the hospital. His Mom is developmentally delayed, as is dad, and he is also prone to anger. 
  • Q: How can parents help their child manage trauma if they don’t know what the trauma was?
  • One point in the book in particular that really encouraged me was that the times of healing are often very short but very powerful.  And that the more times our kids experience healing, even in short bursts, the more their brain “re-develops” in healthier ways.
  • Q: Is there is an association between trauma and sensory processing and if so, do we know why?
  • Q: How do you become “unstuck” on being a victim?  My daughter is 18 and is struggling to become an adult, but constantly feels and acts as though she is still a victim from her past.  She can’t get past being a victim and struggles with manipulating others, self-loathing behaviors.  She almost finds ways to NOT be happy. [Back story- victim of domestic violence, sexual abuse, neglect, physical abuse, lack of food, emotional cruelty. Removed at the age of 5. Adopted along with her brother at the age of 9.]
  • Q: Can you discuss how trauma is related to the sabotage of relationships, family events, life events, and opportunities?
  • Prenatal trauma—
    • in utero exposure to alcohol or drugs
    • maternal stress
  • Generational trauma. Many of our adoptive, foster, and kinship kids come from families where their parents have been abused and neglected and not infrequently were in foster care themselves. Q: Many of the children who are being adopted internationally are born to parents who themselves have experienced trauma, for example, discrimination against Romani people in Bulgaria, institutionalization for mental illness or cognitive disability, or even survival of war, such as the Balkan War in the 1990s.  Can generational trauma be passed down genetically through the various forms of DNA and I often wonder how much this compounds the personal trauma each adoptee faces in his or her own lifetime.
  • Resilience and Healing: Q: My question is coming from the perspective as an adoptive and foster mom of some kids who have some pretty big behaviors. We are doing everything…providing an incredibly loving and stable home, participating in therapy, great school support, psych cooperation with some meds being used, and a good relationship with bio parents. I am just looking for encouragement…can we really grow these kids and help them live happy, well-adjusted lives?  Not problem free, but a life where after many years of love, they will come to find peace within themselves?  It’s really hard right now as they are 4 and 7 years old.  Just would love to hear some success stories. I read What Happened to You and it was the best resource I have read so far.  Thank you!
  • Resilience and Healing: Q I have two children (aged 8 and 6) who are currently in foster care because their father was abusive and I stayed with him and allowed my children to witness the abuse. It ranged from name calling to locking me in basement for multiple days withholding food from me. I was finally able to break the trauma bond and left him February of 2021 and was found fit in August at court and will be getting my babies back January of 2022. Which is a blessing I’m beyond grateful for, but since I allowed them to witness the abuse it also taught them that behavior was acceptable and now, they both have behavior issues. They think it’s funny to intentionally upset me and laugh when I try to explain how I feel about the way they are acting or behaving. I know they act this way because I allowed their father to behave the same way showing them it was ok but I am trying so hard to help them understand none of what their father did was ok. Is there any way to reverse the trauma? Is there hope for my babies? Is there anything I should be doing that I’m not? 

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Music Credit: Michael Ashworth

Image Credit: cottonbro