A Model to Conceptualize Brain Alterations in Survivors of Sexual Abuse

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To present a cohesive alternative method of understanding and treating abuse survivors based on published human and animal brain research.A. Brain homeostasis B. Abuse and subsequent brain alterations C. Neural plasticity is altered in such a way that homeostatis is shifted towards excitatory behaviors and a neural decrease in inhibitory functions. These changes create powerful automatic reinforcing (self-stimulating) pathways for excessive behaviors: Cutting, sexual encounters, eating, and exercising. D. The field of psychology’s use of terms/labels to pathologize ‘normal’ altered survival behavior. DSM-IV categories may offend individuals who are hurting survivors and behaviorally engaging in behavioral replication hoping a different outcome yet are not insane. Survivors are seeking a manner in which to accept themselves and be unconditionally accepted by another. E. Cognitive-behavioral strategies are limited in effectiveness due to brain circuitry not a survivor’s oppositional behavior or some Axis II label. The triggers for altered brain pathways for engaging in excessive behaviors occur automatically so that many are not able to implement a cognitive-behavioral strategy and experience, “I failed, again. I’m stuck. I’ll never change!” F. Our proposed model presents the brain’s neural plasticity as a dynamic process – meaning, if pathways can be altered during an episode of abuse, then a survivor’s brain is capable of being re-altered. This frees them from the endless pattern of behavioral excesses which previously provided them a method of survival yet hindered them from further growth and development. We believe that treatment from a Neurolinguistic programming (NLP) perspective offers such a mechanism for brain change.


Keywords: Survivors, Sexual Abuse, Brain Changes, Neurolinguistic Programming
Stream: Psychology, Cognitive Science and Behavioural Sciences
Presentation Type: Workshop Presentation in English
Paper: A paper has not yet been submitted.


Dr Rob Ward

Assistant Professor / Counselor, School of Education
Psychology and Counseling, Mississippi College

Clinton, Mississippi, USA

I teach graduate and undergraduate students at Mississippi College in Clinton, Mississippi. I have been teaching for approximately 20 years from High School Chemistry and Spanish to adjunct at the University of Mississippi in Oxford, Mississippi. I have been interested in human resilience and neurotransmitters for years. I have been working with survivors of sexual abuse for approximately 15 years from ages 3-4 to women in their 70's. My work has included teaching, counseling, school administrator, school psychologist, psychologist at a mental retardation/autism facility consulting with psychiatrists, nurses, and social workers. My current interest in brain alterations/structure research began while working with a modern-day equivalent to 'Boy of Averone' and attempting to teach him to move to a less restrictive environment. This experience forced me to re-read biology, chemistry, and neuroscience articles in order to further understand behavior. When I left the mental retardation facility and resumed counseling with survivors of sexual abuse with average and above average IQ's, I realized they too suffered brain alterations due to their chronic state of hyper-arousal and the ineffectiveness of cognitive-behavioral strategies. Our current interests include changing these brain structures without administering medications or labeling people with derogatory labels.

Leah Beth Carrier

Master's student, Marriage and Family, University of Southern Mississippi
Hattiesburg, Mississippi, USA


Dr. Buddy Wagner

Director of Counseling and Testing Center, School of Education
Psychology and Counseling, Mississippi College

Clinton, Mississippi, USA


Dr. Don Locke

Dean of School of Education, School of Education, Mississippi College
Clinton, Mississippi, USA


Ref: I08P0356