Dr. Bruce Perry, an expert on childhood trauma, said counselors who work with abused children need to understand that violence changes how the brain functions and develops.
And healing comes from therapies and activities that are grounded in neuroscience.
Perry, the founder and senior fellow of the ChildTrauma Academy in Houston, spoke Monday at the annual conference of the Stanislaus County Family and Domestic Violence Council held at Modesto Centre Plaza. About 400 people from local agencies and groups outside the county attended the daylong conference.
Perry, who is known internationally as a clinician, author and speaker, served as a consultant and expert witness after the Columbine High School massacre, the Waco siege and other tragedies involving traumatized children.
He gave several talks Monday on the psychological effects of violence, how to recognize the symptoms of trauma and abuse, and strategies for helping abused children to heal.
Perry maintained that public programs for abused and neglected children have achieved limited results. Texas spends $1.5 billion on services for mistreated children and the kids dont get better, Perry said. When you track the outcomes, they get worse.
Children who are physically and emotionally abused suffer from fear and isolation, often losing the ability to have trusting relationships. Perry said they are able to heal in settings with predictable emotional support.
Programs developed by the ChildTrauma Academy also may incorporate yoga, relaxation techniques, sports, music or dance.
Perry said the adverse effects of domestic violence are deep-seated in the brain and have serious implications over a persons lifespan. He has seen the same pattern repeated over and over again with some victims of childhood trauma.
An abusive mother verbally abuses and hits a needy child when she loses patience with the youngster always clinging to her. The child disengages emotionally and the mother feels guilty, later reconciling with the child with hugs and kisses. That child grows into an adult, gets married and only knows to seek intimacy by provoking his or her spouse, Perry said.
He cites research showing that violence and neglect cause the brain to become disorganized; it loses the ability to properly regulate its internal response to external stresses.
Most children spend the day in an alert state of mind, learning and doing classroom activities, but victims of child abuse are in an alarmed state that short-circuits their learning ability and causes them to fall behind.
If you cant see through these dynamics, its hard to break out of these behaviors, Perry said.
The Houston-based ChildTrauma Academy develops programs grounded in neuroscience for child welfare agencies, school districts and domestic violence shelters. Beside helping the children to interact with others, activities are designed to build mental fitness.
Perry said a healthy amount of stress is essential for personal development. Abused children may benefit from music, dance or sports because the repetitive actions of those activities send organizing signals to their brains, making them more resilient.
Janette Garcia, a program manager for Haven Womens Shelter of Modesto, said it was not Perrys first visit to Modesto. His ideas have been incorporated in Havens Kids Count program for children ages 5 to 12 who come from violent homes.
Garcia said groups that work with abused children need to understand the mental dynamics of domestic violence.
Bee staff writer Ken Carlson can be reached at email@example.com or (209)578-2321.