The following neuroscience supports the therapeutic model used at Catchpoint and will explain how and why.
International expert in trauma Van De Kolk states that after trauma the world is experienced with a different nervous system (van der Kolk, 2010). This is why we see a variety of symptoms and behaviour in humans and why therapy is beneficial.
How trauma takes effect
Developmental trauma combines what is described as complex trauma brought on from effects a child has experienced in early years, the most important time of a child’s life when their main caregivers are those who the children rely on for love, nurture and basic needs fail to provide this, and the child is subject to abuse and neglect. (Pearce, 2007). If this happens to a child, the symptoms will not disappear unless the correct intervention is put into place, and may grow and worsen as the child develops even into adulthood. If a child has been subject to neglect and abuse, and is placed in a loving home, this is not enough to believe the child will heal. This is not the choice of the child, it is something they cannot control.
Unfortunately as things happen in life this gets worse for the individual and the trauma grows. Much like an onion there are layers and layers to unravel and work with and only those who fully understand trauma and attachment will make a difference.
One person’s trauma is another’s stress and dependant on how our mind and bodies deal with such events is dependent on what and the length of time we need to heal. (Pearce, 2007). Trauma can also happen at any point of our lives and at Catchpoint our expertise, experience and knowledge mean that we can covers all aspects of trauma at any age.
Trauma shapes the brain, the functions within our bodies and our nervous system, resulting in unhelpful thoughts, feelings and behaviours. Effects of trauma suggest that developmentally traumatised individuals are at high risk of difficulties within seven domains of impairment. These are: Attachment, Biology, Affect Regulation, Dissociation, Behavioural Control, Cognition, Self-Concept and developmental trauma requires a combination of treatment which is assessed and worked with as the treatment programme we offer at Catchpoint.
Rewiring the brain through therapy
Cozolino (2010) has identified factors that increase neuroplasticity, the first is empathetic attunement which creates new neural pathways, the definition of a secure and trusting relationship to build upon, the idea of goals, tasks and bonds which amounts to 30% of the difference in a child, adolescent or adult.
sychotherapy outcomes in research align with neuroscience findings today and strongly support that creative therapy and movement, adjust the brain and body to repair. (Barley, 2001; Shirk, Karver, & Brown, 2011). The second being a specific level of emotional arousal, for integration of neural pathways in term of the right and left side of the brain.
The process of neuroplasticity results in millions of neurons firing in both the human brain as they embark in the play, sand, clay, art, music, drama, and dance/movement therapy defined as creative means. (Field, 2016)
When the child and therapist come together in a therapeutic setting the brain has an ideal level of arousal, preparing the brain for change. Multiple and distinguished neural patterns emerge as the client engages in therapy conducting awareness and meaningful acts leading to self-awareness and authentic development, meeting the client’s real world and not the skewed one generally shown.
This is the evolution process of neuroplasticity, neurological processes, bonding, attachment, closing developmental gaps, building trust, feeling, and working through the fear or change of actually feeling, and understanding one’s self, learning to accept one’s self and embarking on a journey of change which is used far beyond the therapy room.
Prior to this the rewiring of the brain and body is confused and what the child or person shows is not what they necessarily mean to expose, they do not choose as it is subconscious as they have never been taught correctly or felt fundamentals of love or a nurturing relationship. The child within needs to start from scratch and with the therapy addressing needs identified and in relation to the relationship of the parent carer, therapeutically attunement can start to form and unprocessed trauma begins to break down. (Vol De Kolk, 2010),
Who gets involved?
Parents and carers are also involved in the process as we work with families, the parent embarks on the journey with the child perhaps beginning to creatively undertake the same task in the therapy room and individually, and eventually coming together as a unit to build on attachment when ready.
The therapist will know when the right time is and use everything in the room as a way of understanding what is non-verbally and verbally communicated far from beneath conscious awareness.
Creative therapy meets neuroscience
Today the results of neuroscience strongly support that creative therapy known as psychoanalysis is important for the child to begin from and to understand and feel the sense of oneself. And to feel safe in his or her own body illustrated from the survival and reptilian part of the brain and as the therapy moves forward, the whole brain is engaged to expand awareness. A human needs to feel safe in its body before they are look at the world positively. Therapy conducts this mechanism for moving forward in a safe understanding or view of the world. (Lux, 2010).
Oxytocin is said to be the basis for building a healthy and positive relationship and is key in social conduct and the understanding of social settings. (Landreth, 2012). Oxytocin is released as the trusting relationship between therapist and parent carer is formed in the room. Oxytocin is linked to trust, fear reduction, understanding emotions and reading the correct emotional ques.
If fear is reduced, created within the amygdala, the client becomes able to process trauma, loss and attachment. Survival responses (fight, flight and freeze) can ease and the maladaptive somatic markers (regulation/dysregulation) can reverse what has been taught from abuse, neglect or scary events, and new neuropathways are created from positive and new experiences addressed in therapy. As the evolutional of this journey materialises, the client learns to remain regulated, act appropriately, understand triggers, emotions, strategies, confidence, increases self-esteem, can access learning, hold relationships and positive friendships including the ability to deal rationally with challenges or mere difficulties in small steps and over time.
Mirroring in the context of creative therapy is one benefit of the clients experience as it calms overactive nervous system. The therapists model a calm and safe environment, and mirror neurons connect allowing greater scope for self-regulation, similar to when a baby’s rhythmic heartbeat is in sync with their attachment figure when held. (Cook et al, 2011)
Neuroscience and a healthy relationship in therapy
In the world of art-based interventions, the child or adult benefits from the therapist’s healthy emotional regulation through mirroring, helping to calm the child’s overactive nervous system. When the therapist models a calming presence, mirror neurons connect the two intersubjective (Badenoch, 2008).
The therapist’s rate of breathing may even synchronize with the child’s at those times. With repeated exposure to such self-regulation and acceptance of emotion, children can use the safety of the therapeutic relationship to approach rather than avoid difficult emotional states, revisit hurtful experiences, and develop more adaptive coping responses in the greater world beyond the therapy setting. (Perry, 2006; Siegel, 2010).
Why creativity Art for any age?
Creativity is the way a child or adult communicates the language of the brain and allows movement through learning and life skills. It can be adapted and across cultures creates developmental attunement as brain circuits are shaped through the process of play which is mainly nonverbal.
Scientists suggest that 93 % of communication is nonverbal. (Vol de Kolk) And just because you have grown into adolescence or adulthood, does not mean this reflects your chronological age or expected development status or emotional richness.
If a person has missed out on the fundamentals of life then there are gaps and a stuck ness which creative means and therapy can address and process the same way as described for a child ensuring play. (Pearce, 2012). At Catchpoint we adapt delivery of the creative means and the model to suit the individual needs and chronological age which is equally important.
How creative therapy addresses wellbeing
The circuits created are the fundamentals for later outcomes in development, for mental health and social skills, the building blocks to a holistic and healthy self. One happy and playful experience at any one time leads to a security in attachment as the neurons in the brain connect.
Neuroscience researcher and clinician Bruce Perry promotes that having a safe relationship is the most important neurobiological intervention for the setting of life. (Perry 2006). Perry elaborates that both hurt and healing happens in a safe relationship, whilst play and creativity supports a trusting, safe and secure relationship therapeutically. (Perry 2006).
Leaders in the field of interpersonal neurobiology have written about toxic stress and trauma train the brain to respond in a heighted state and the person may be on high alert, unable to focus or concentrate, easily irritated or angry, moody and unpredictable.
Sleeping and eating and normal daily tasks may become and look like a challenge. The individual may have somatic pain as a result of feeling out of balance, this could result in headaches or tummy aches as an example. (Cozolino, 2010; Siegel, 2007).
Reaction from parts of the brain
When the emotional state takes over, the logical brain cannot engage and whilst trying to reason with the behaviour whilst the person is in this state will only increase negative behaviour. The therapy can engage both the emotional and logical brain in order to reduce melt downs.
The right side of the brain is generally responsible for non-verbal (bodily) communication and for creative processes. It is also responsible for play and autobiographical expression. The left side of the brain is connected to logic, language, and organisation. Children, especially young children, are generally right-brain dominant. They express through play and creative processes (Siegel & Bryson, 2012).
The lower part of the brain governs automatic responses, including the fight, flight, or freeze response to danger. The higher, outer part of the brain is involved with judgment, problem solving, and thinking through situations (Siegel & Bryson, 2012). The higher, thinking part of the brain has limited capacity when the lower brain is activated. Not feeling safe, experiencing new situations, and/or having a history of trauma are just a few ways the lower brain may be activated. Regulation of the lower brain generally comes from interventions involving the senses.
Smell, sound, body movements, grounding, and breath work might all be used to assist a child with lower brain regulation. Creative therapy, psychoanalysis engages both sides of the brain and connects with the body providing balance through its holistic approach. (Hughes, 2011).
Playfulness, acceptance, curiosity and empathy (PACE)
The relational attitude that the therapist and caregiver adopt is formulated by playfulness, acceptance, curiosity, and empathy (PACE). These features are core characteristics of a parent’s attitude toward their infant.
Acceptance, along with the others, facilitates the open and engaged state of mind recommended by Stephen Porges in order to have the best influence on a child.
Within PACE the therapist and parent / carer deepen the therapeutic alliance through their genuineness as they convey their intersubjective experience of the child, their strengths and vulnerabilities. (Coan, 2010)
Connecting the body and brain through a specific model
PACE and psychoeducation (Understanding connection of the body and brain) is also combined within Catchpoint’s creative model (using dance, drama, play, art, movement, music, sensory) parallel with modern neuroscience to enable stronger attachment and a greater sense of self for each person whilst working through unprocessed trauma.
The combination and model we use is scientifically proven, tailored to the needs from what is assessed and delivered by competent professionals with many years of experience in working within this field.
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Cozolino, Louis J., author. The Neuroscience of Human Relationships : Attachment and the Developing Social Brain. New York :W.W. Norton & Company, 2014.
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Siegel, D.J. (2012). The developing mind 2nd Ed. New York: Guilford. Trevarthen, C. (2001). Intrinsic motives for companionship in understanding: their origin, development, and significance for infant mental health. Infant Mental health journal, 22, 95-131.
Stewart, A., Field, T., & Echterling, L. (2016). Neuroscience and the magic of play therapy. International Journal of Play Therapy, 25 (1) 4-13.
Van Der Kolk, B. (2015). The body keeps the score: brain, mind, and body in the healing of trauma. New York, NY: Penguin Books.