Regulating the Brain, From the Stem Up

Brain Structure

When I consider SaintA’s 7 Essential Ingredients of Trauma Informed Care, I usually try to pick one ingredient to focus on at any given time. While it’s true that they are all of equal importance, I look at each ingredient as the key that opens the door to the next ingredient. The key to opening the door to my selected ingredient is a Perspective Shift, which causes one to look at the client through a different lens. The door this leads to is Regulation.


Knowledge of the basic architecture of the brain provides both an understanding of the impact of trauma and a key toward effective treatment. Many of the interventions that have been offered to people struggling with trauma have focused on the cognitive or “thinking” parts of the brain. Trauma informed interventions often prioritize enhancing emotional and behavioral regulation. This could include the use of sensory and regulating strategies such as drumming, singing, dancing, yoga, etc., which have been shown to be effective in addressing the impact of trauma.

-Excerpt from Seven Essential Ingredients for implementation of Trauma Informed Care,

Regulation is the fourth ingredient, described as: knowledge of the basic architecture of the brain providing both an understanding of the impact of trauma and a key toward effective treatment. This is so important in the work that I do. While it’s one thing to understand the impact trauma has in a person’s life, it’s another to create a perspective shift in how I view that person. Without the knowledge of the impact that trauma has on the brain – and in particular, the lower parts of the brain – then all I can really do is empathize with the client and hope that they find their way through life’s murky waters. The ingredient Regulation helps me do more than that.

Will Smith
Will Smith

In understanding that a traumatized brain is not organized in a way that it can process what may appear to be reasonable to someone else, I understand the solution begins with re-organization. Rather than appealing to the thinking brain – the higher up part of the brain – it’s the other way around. We start from the bottom up.

Imagine trying to teach a five year old geometry and becoming frustrated when they have no clue what you’re talking about. That’s precisely what’s happening when treatment does not take into consideration the developmental stage of the brain’s processes. In order to teach this child, the teacher must start with appropriately basic, developmental and fundamental math such as arithmetic, before working to higher levels, such as algebra and geometry.

SaintA’s philosophy is centered on developing the brain from the brainstem, which stores the state memory of one’s earliest, unconscious memories – which may be a source of regulatory difficulty – and develops, while reorganizing the brain from there. Sensory-based trauma informed interventions, which include repetitive movements, help build up and develop the brain from a bottom-up approach. At the same time, those repetitive movements assist with the regulation and soothing of one’s mood. This approach has been proven to lessen the impact of trauma and make room for interventions for the thinking/feeling parts of the brain. And thus, we have created a key to the next door – Relationships.

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One Response to Regulating the Brain, From the Stem Up

  1. Pingback: Working Alongside Social Workers – Michelle Sieg

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