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July 11, 2014 by Kathy Brous

Dan Siegel on Re-Membering

Dr. Daniel J. Siegel, MD (far left) introduced me to brain science, and I write about brain scientists like him ‘cos they saved my life. Without them, I’d still be a successful, all-head talk technical writer for Pentagon sales.  I’d be unaware of my childhood attachment trauma, unable to feel my past, dissociated, and miserable with anxiety.  My cholesterol would still be over 240, my kidneys headed for failure.

But in March 2011, I clicked on the wrong link in a friend’s email and ended up watching a Dan Siegel webinar on how the brain works in trauma.1  That’s where my healing began.  Siegel flies around the world trying to alert parents and others about how childhood experiences affect the brain.  “You sent us a brain in the mail !” Anderson Cooper exclaims in this Sept. 2012 Anderson Live clip.2

Dan Siegel is sooo relevant to the May 22 New York Times’ dig against Dr. Bessel van der Kolk for speaking of “repressed memories.”  If it’s traumatic, we remember it, period, the Times says;  “Harvard psychologist Richard McNally called the idea of repressed memories ‘the worst catastrophe to befall the mental health field since the lobotomy’.”  But many of McNally’s peers said his allegation wasn’t proven.  Harvard’s Lisa Najavits called McNally’s statement “disappointing… landing too forcefully on one side…by no means an end to the debate.”3

Siegel’s work suggests that the Times best go back to science school.  Dr. Siegel shows extensively that if it’s traumatic, we may very well not remember it coherently.

More important, we almost certainly won’t be able to feel the bodily feelings caused by the trauma, which are still stuck in our bodies.  And until we can feel those, we won’t be able to heal the trauma.  Siegel illuminates the numerous brain mechanisms which can cause our entire memory system to be fragmented and to misfire badly.

In that first webinar I saw by accident, Siegel said he got started in psychiatry in the 1980s studying the hippocampus, which integrates raw incoming sensory data, into composite conscious memory. Siegel shows there are (at least) four ways in which humans may not remember traumatic events – because their hippocampus wasn’t working.

Implicit Memory

Triune Sixtine Brainforest Octopus is viscera  4-625x1024

Check out the history of the word “re-member”– in Shakespeare, for example. “Re-member” literally means putting parts of our body (members) back together again, i.e., “getting ourselves together.” And now science has shown: memories actually start in the body, not in the thinking brain.

Memories start as raw incoming sensory data.   And if the hippocampus (grey area at the center of the brain at top of cartoon) isn’t on duty, the body is as far as they get.

Say you’ve never seen a video, TV, or film; go back before that — to most of human history.  Siegel explains that if a dog approaches me, for example, my brain can’t just “take a video”and give me a whole, coherent overview, with headline “this is a dog.”  It also doesn’t automatically give me a date of today for this dog here, now.  Nor does it automatically tell me that I saw another dog back in 1994 and that was a different dog.

Instead, says Siegel, first, I get a flood of distinct sensory inputs which have nothing to do with each other – or with thought.  I get discrete packets of sensory data from the eyes, ears, nose, and other parts of my body.  My sense of sight gets a visual “look” of the dog; my sense of smell gets a whiff; my ears may hear a bark or pant.  All three are entirely separate incoming sensory data.  If a bottle of milk were coming, I’d get a touch memory as to its temperature from finger nerves, a taste memory from lingual nerves, etc.

These bits of incoming data are “implicit memory,” Siegel explains, “changes in synaptic connections…like puzzle pieces.”  Each one is a separate sensory memory housed primarily in the nerves reporting in from the body parts where it happened — optical nerve, olfactory nerve, auditory nerve and so on.

Each of those nerves also reports the different implicit data to the non-thinking instinctive brain stem, which also stores parts of these memories and — this is key — without being able to integrate them.  The lizard and frog in the cartoon represent the brain stem, ‘cos it functions at about the level they do – reflexively and by instinct.  No integration, no thinking.

But: what if the dog (or any other being or event) is hostile?  Now, I get an additional flood of unrelated data: my gut gets tight, my heart rate goes up, breath quickens, leg muscles tense to run. It all happens by instinct, instantly, and it bypasses thought altogether. Again: no thinking involved.

Check out the octopus at the bottom of the cartoon. “Around our heart, lungs and intestines, we have a web of nerve cells so complex as to correspond in size to the brain of a cat,” says author Dr. Stéphane Treyvaud. “Similar webs of nerve cells may also be found around the muscles.” It’s represented by the head and near arms of the octopus at bottom, and as Treyvaud notes elsewhere, he learned this in his studies with Dan Siegel.4

Reporting up from all those visceral nerves of the body cavity is the vagus (10th cranial) nerve, which dumps all this lower body sensory data into the primitive brain stem, shown as the longer arms of the octopus reaching up to the green brain stem lizard.  Siegel and his colleague Dr. Stephen Porges write extensively on the neuroscience of this.

Siegel refers to everything under the thinking frontal cortex as the “downstairs brain,” and this octopus is a good visual. Because if the dog, or anything else, is hostile, not only do I have all those sight, smell, and sound data packets to manage -– I’m also hit with a flood of “downstairs” bodily data packets.

Now what?  Well, now I need my hippocampus to be working, or I’m in serious trouble. Let that sink in until next week.


About the Author

Kathy Brous

Technical writer and author of the upcoming book Don’t Try This at Home: The Silent Epidemic of Attachment Disorder –  How I accidentally regressed myself back to infancy and healed it all. Raised on Long Island, New York, Kathy survived a 30-year career in the fast lanes of New York City and Washington DC.  Starting on Wall Street researching South African gold stocks, she was an international economist for 18 years, using her Japanese language skills to write and consult on U.S.-Japan trade and finance.  In Washington, she became a technical writer, producing complex documents for Pentagon subcontractors, her line for the last 12 years, while pursuing her hobby as an opera singer. She was busy flying around the world instead of having children and building a family. Suddenly in 2007, Kathy faced divorce from her 27-year marriage to her college sweetheart, leaving her bankrupt.  A move to California was followed by the death of both her parents and then two bad rebound affairs – five life disasters in two years. Those crises started her down a path of discovery and healing that she is now able to share with others.


Daniel J. Siegel, MD, is clinical professor of psychiatry at the UCLA School of Medicine on the faculty of the Center for Culture, Brain, and Development and founding co-director of the Mindful Awareness Research Center.  He is a Distinguished Fellow of the American Psychiatric Association and Executive Director of the Mindsight Institute. He is also Founding Editor for the Norton Professional Series on Interpersonal Neurobiology which contains over three dozen textbooks.

  1. Siegel, Daniel J., MD, “How Mindfulness Can Change the Wiring of Our Brains,” October 12, 2011 webcast, National Institute for the Clinical Application of Behavioral Medicine (NICABM), www.nicabm.com
  2.  Anderson Live, September 24, 2012; also at  then scroll down for 2012 videos
  3. Najavits, Lisa M., PhD, Assoc. Prof of Psychiatry, Harvard Medical School and Director Trauma Research, McLean Hospital, “Book Review, ‘Remembering Trauma’ by Richard McNally,” Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease, Vol. 192, No. 4, April 2004
    Must-read interview:
    Siegel, Daniel J., MD, “Early childhood and the developing brain,” on “All in the Mind,” ABC Radio National, Radio Australia, June 24, 2006 by Dan Siegel: 
    –”The Developing Mind: How Relationships and the Brain Interact to Shape Who We Are,” (Guilford, 1999). How attachment in infancy and childhood creates the brain and the mind.
    –”Healing Trauma: Attachment, Mind, Body, and Brain,” Marion F Solomon, Daniel J Siegel, editors,  New York, NY:  W.W. Norton and Company;  2003.   357pg  Reviewed by Hilary Le Page, MBBS at:
    –”The Mindful Brain: Reflection and Attunement in the Cultivation of Well-Being,” (Norton, 2007)
    –”The Mindful Therapist: A Clinician’s Guide to Mindsight and Neural Integration,” (Norton, 2010)
    –”Mindsight: The New Science of Personal Transformation,” (Bantam, 2010)
    –”Parenting from the Inside Out: How a Deeper Self-Understanding Can Help You Raise Children Who Thrive,” (Tarcher/Penguin, 2003) with Mary Hartzell
    –”The Whole-Brain Child: 12 Revolutionary Strategies to Nurture Your Child’s Developing Mind,” (Random House, 2011) with Tina Payne Bryson, Ph.D
    –”Brainstorm: Power and Purpose of the Teenage Brain,”  (Tarcher, 2013)


Kathy’s “News Blogs” expand on her book “DON’T TRY THIS AT HOME:  The Silent Epidemic of Attachment Disorder—How I accidentally regressed myself back to infancy and healed it all.”  Watch for the continuing series each Friday, as she explores her journey of recovery by learning the hard way about Attachment Disorder in adults, adult Attachment Theory, and the Adult Attachment Interview.

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July 4, 2014 by Sandra Steingard, MD

Why I Became a Critical Psychiatrist

Sandra_Steingard_MDI was asked to give a talk to the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute of the University of Vermont. This is a program that offers courses and programs for adult learners – mostly people who are retired. I decided to title my presentation, “Why I Became a Critical Psychiatrist,” thinking that the kind of Vermonter who would attend something like this was intelligent and well-educated but not necessarily familiar with psychiatry. I imagined that this might be a person who believes in science and modern medicine and assumes that the advances in my profession that are often widely promoted in the media were sound.

The talk explains my own evolution as a psychiatrist and addresses the development of the Critical Psychiatry Network. I focus on three main areas: psychiatric diagnosis, the influence of the commercial forces of the pharmaceutical industry on medicine in general and psychiatry in particular, and the evolution of the use of neuroleptic drugs (in that order). It is a long talk (~ 90 minutes), so if you are only interested in some of these topics you can skip around to find them.

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June 27, 2014 by Kathy Brous

Allan Schore: What is the “Self”?

Allan Schore 2

In March 2013, I was standing unknown in a crowd of professors and therapists at a UCLA conference and noticed a quiet gentleman on my right.  I’d seen his photo online.  “Dr. Schore?” I asked.  “Yes,” said Allan Schore, turning calm eyes on me.

“I’m so grateful for all you’ve done to show that babies can’t control emotions, that’s the mother’s job to model, and emotions are ok,” I blurted,  suddenly in tears. “I’m writing a book on what it feels like on the inside, when we don’t get that as an infant.”

Dr. Schore didn’t flinch; his eyes grew wide with empathy. He got it.  He got a total stranger, right by the conference stage, got that I had walked through a hell of emotional pain to study this. He got that I was feeling love for him because he’s shown there’s a scientific reason for the pain.  He got that “emotions are ok” and only emotions from a caring other can heal this, so he gave me emotions: presence and compassion. On the spot. “We see it every day,” he said.

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June 20, 2014 by Kathy Brous

Readers Defend Van der Kolk

Bessel van der Kolk pic Trauma CenterI had the most comments ever last week, as readers spoke up to defend Dr. Bessel van der Kolk (left) and his ideas about somatic (body) healing for trauma, after the sideswipes against science by the New York Times May 22.  But the comments section got buried under all the footnotes I had to put in my letter to the Times to document their ignorance, so I’m posting the comments here where they’re easy to find.

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June 13, 2014 by Kathy Brous

What Trauma-Informed Care Means to Me

IMAG3258 James, kid, bike“Rider for Change” James Encinas arrived by mountain bike at San Diego’s Cherokee Point Elementary May 2 to the delight of some hundred students, and visitors from around southern California. James, a career LA school teacher, is riding 3,000 miles from Sacramento to Philadelphia. He’ll take the southern route through Texas and Louisiana, then follow the Underground Railway by which African Americans escaping slavery crossed north to freedom.

James is riding to draw national attention to the need for “trauma-informed schools,” key to the movement for “Trauma-Informed Care (TIC)” in education, health, and all public systems. But what is Trauma-Informed Care, and what’s a trauma-informed school?  (Hint: all the pix in this blog are from Cherokee Point).

“In medicine, a patient is sent to hospice when all medical procedures have failed, and they’re going to die. That says: we give care and comfort only when nothing else works,” notes Dr. Christopher Germer, psychology prof at Harvard Medical School and co-editor of Mindfulness and Psychotherapy.  Pretty crazy right there, if you consider. Been in a hospital lately? Often you’re a widget; they take your clothes away, don’t tell you what’s happening, and so on.1

IMAG3250 James, Dana Mom w. FoodBut when treating the real human being, “Care Equals Cure,” says Dr. Germer. If a therapist doesn’t care, he’s not going to cure his client. But it’s also true in any dealings with humans. “Care IS the practice of non-resistance to suffering which dismantles emotional suffering,” says Germer. “It means opening to emotional pain more fully, instead of trying to bypass it. Compassion opens the heart, reveals inner suffering, and makes the suffering available for transformation.” (Above: James and activists carry food donated for kids.)

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June 6, 2014 by Kathy Brous

In Defense of Dr. Bessel van der Kolk

Bessel van der Kolk portrait by Matthew Woodson

Bessel van der Kolk illustration by Matthew Woodson for the New York Times.

The New York Times May 22 spotlighted Dr. Bessel van der Kolk, MD, and his idea that to change the way we heal a traumatized mind, start with the body. [] (Dr. van der Kolk portrait by Matthew Woodson for the Times.)

But the Times, as usual, had its own slant, some of it not cricket. So here’s the letter I wrote to the Times about the gnarly innuendos they also threw in against Dr. van der Kolk. These are in fact innuendos against the science of how the human organism deals with trauma and how widespread trauma is these days.

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May 30, 2014 by Kathy Brous

Heal traumatized minds? Start with the body


“Bessel van der Kolk wants to change the way we heal a traumatized mind — by starting with the body,” reports Jeneen Interlandi in the New York Times Magazine May 22. It’s an unusually long feature on Dr. van der Kolk’s new approaches to healing trauma by group therapy, yoga, meditation, EMDR, and “rhythmic regulation” – like those I’ve been reporting. See  and

“Trauma has nothing whatsoever to do with cognition,” van der Kolk says. “It has to do with your body being reset to interpret the world as a dangerous place.” That reset begins in the deep recesses of the brain with its most primitive structures (brain stem), regions that, he says, no cognitive therapy (frontal cortex) can access.

“It’s not something you can talk yourself out of.”

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May 23, 2014 by Kathy Brous

Dr. Bruce Perry, MD, “Born for Love: Why Empathy is Endangered – and Essential”

Address to National Council for Behavioral Health, Washington, DC, May 4, 2014

“Empathy is what makes us human,” says brain scientist Dr. Bruce Perry, MD  –  but this has not sunk in for Americans.  If simple kindness isn’t enough, what about the minor fact that it’s brain science?  Or that by ignoring this basic fact, we’re violating biology, so we’re dying as a species?

To let Dr. Perry make his point, today I’ve just got a few quotes from his May 4 Washington DC address, to provoke you to watch the video kindly posted by the National Council for Behavioral Health.

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May 16, 2014 by Kathy Brous

Developmental Trauma: What You Can’t See…

Bessel van der Kolk
What you can’t see, can hurt you.

Dr. Bessel van der Kolk, MD (left) and leaders in brain science and attachment are calling for a serious look at developmental trauma.  Developmental Trauma Disorder (DTD) was identified by Dr. van der Kolk in 2005 — but the psychiatric Powers That Be still deny it exists.1

“Clearly our field would like to ignore social realities,” Dr. van der Kolk said recently, “and study genes…”

I call it “since the sperm hit the egg” trauma.

Developmental trauma starts in utero when there’s not much more than a brain stem, and goes on during the pre-conscious years. It usually continues until 36 months when the thinking brain (frontal cortex) comes on line.  It’s 45 months ranging from general anxiety to non-stop terror — before age 3.  A very long time to an infant.

DTD occurs as a continual process, not discrete incidents, while a baby has not developed a thinking brain able to recall incidents.  Frequently, it occurs before there are any discrete incidents.

“No one can see it” means “it never happened.”  As I’ve said, “No one beat me or raped me. What’s wrong with me?”  Try getting that treated.

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May 12, 2014 by Emma Bragdon, PhD

9 Psychiatrists Transforming Psychiatry: When Pscyh Meds Are No Longer #1

Profile of head with jigsaw pieces missingIntegrative Mental Health for You,,  is launching an uplifting 3 week, online course with pioneering psychiatrists who are changing the way psychiatry is being practiced.

This introduces consumers to the full range of options available for effective mental healthcare.  The course will be especially meaningful for anyone wanting to avoid the risks and side-effects from taking psychiatric drugs; but it can also open many doors for healthcare providers wanting to be more aware of the resources of “integrative psychiatry”.

We have 4 unique video interviews with prominent integrative psychiatrists: Alice Lee, Mary Ackerley, Eric Leskowitz and Judith Pentz.  They speak about the ways they combine their conventional training (from top medical schools) with complementary protocols like detoxification, withdrawal from drugs, nurturing brain function with micronutrients, energy work, and improved lifestyle choices.

In addition, students hear from influential MDs and psychiatrists who are leading us to a more effective, humane way of overcoming the causes of mental health problems (including the epidemics of ADHD and Autism): Drs Peter Gotzche, Allen Frances, Peter Breggin, Gabor Mate, Scott Shannon, Mark Hyman, Roger Walsh, David Healy, James Greenblatt, Dietrich Klinghardt, and Loren Mosher.

This is a 3-week online course, May 27 – June 12, 2014,  but students are free to review all the modules for 90 days at their own convenience.  Activities involve watching videos, reading a bit, discussing with facilitator and other students.  Continuing Education Units are available for healthcare providers. Early bird registration is now thru May 20.  More info:

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