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Monday, June 24, 2013

Child maltreatment and the brain

New research shows that the brain is affected by childhood maltreatment and abuse. What is fascinating about the work is that different parts of the brain are affected by different forms of abuse. The research has just been published in the American Journal of Psychiatry.The implications are the risk of life long changes that will impact a person is some specific ways.

The research was summarized is a recent Science Daily report.

The results showed a correlation between specific forms of maltreatment and thinning of the cortex in precisely the regions of the brain that are involved in the perception or processing of the type of abuse. Specifically, the somatosensory cortex in the area in which the female genitals are represented was significantly thinner in women who were victims of sexual abuse in their childhood. Similarly, victims of emotional mistreatment were found to have a reduction of the thickness of the cerebral cortex in specific areas associated with self-awareness, self-evaluation and emotional regulation.

The clinical implications are immense. The brain is changed in order to deal with the trauma but then changes how the person adapts to life and subsequent situations that may not be directly related to the abuse. This helps us to understand why people are triggered to events that my be similar in some way to the abuse. While the brain changes may have been adaptive during the abuse, they can set up maladaptive outcomes for later life in behavioral and / or health facets of the victim's life.


Christine M. Heim, Helen S. Mayberg, Tanja Mletzko, Charles B. Nemeroff, Jens C. Pruessner. Decreased Cortical Representation of Genital Somatosensory Field After Childhood Sexual AbuseAm J Psychiatry, June 1, 2013


  1. Hi. I recently had a request from a local group home asking for recommendations for inexpensive parenting assessment tools their caseworkers. Can you recommend any?

  2. Heather - it depends upon what they are trying to accomplish. Most of the tools around are used only as part of a comprehensive assessment of parenting - things like the Parenting Stress Index, Child Abuse Potential Inventory and so on.

    The UK has used a comprehensive assessment framework which might be adaptable. You can find info on that here

    There are also some good links here