Domestic Violence

Yesterday was Australia Day in this country……..some of us may have difficulties with the date….I for one would prefer a date that our Indigenous people feel good about, rather than the date  that commemorates  the invasion of this country by Europeans.

But there is one feature that is unreservedly good; the nominations of “Australian of the Year”  for 2015 and 2016 were Rosie Batty and David Morrison; and both of them have taken a leadership role in encouraging us to find ways of dealing with Domestic Violence.

While it is clear that exposure to family violence damages children emotionally and psychologically, a range of further research findings supports the obvious intuition that many perpetrators of domestic violence themselves come from backgrounds of the various kinds of problematic early developmental nurturance that have been described at length in various postings on this blog.

The stage is thus set for a transgeneration cascade of domestic violence……..and of course, a perpetrator of domestic violence is unlikely to confine their aggressive action to the home front alone.

It is encouraging to see how plans to minimise domestic violence are coming more and more into national prominence. And here again, while there is a whole range of measures that have a positive effect, the earlier in the life cycle that they are deployed, the better……nurturing the nurturers……identifying those at risk and supporting them sensitively.

I am currently working on Chapter 6 of my “Politics of  Nurturance”  book. This is the Chapter on identification and sensitive supports and interventions…..and how our recent understandings of developmental neuroscience can inform this.  An extremely difficult area……one of the core problems is that because so much of this stuff is PRE-verbal…i.e. addressing the emotional/relational “networks”and “programmes” of the right hemisphere of the baby and infant, but ALSO of the nurturer, much of the supportive  input needs to be pre-verbal as well, if it is to be effective.  And a book is very VERBAL after all. Prosody is largely absent unless it is read aloud, and then much hangs on the reader’s voice.

I’ve had some ideas about how to subtly address this issue, but I want to do it “under the radar”as it were, without making it so obvious that it loses any good impact.

Any feelings or ideas , dear reader?





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healing transgenerational DTD brain programmes with Neurofeedback assisted psychotherapy.

I recently presented material at a College of Psychiatrists’ Psychotherapy Conference, on the use of neurofeedback to enhance psychotherapy with deeply damaged (Developmental Trauma) patients.

I’ve been using NF with some of my deeply damaged patients, guided by my supervisor Sebern Fisher at regular Skype sessions.

Sebern is the world’s leading authority/exponent on/of this subject, and has written the definitive book: Neurofeedback in the Treatment of developmental Trauma (Elsevier 2014″).

I gave the audience a particularly vivid example drawn from Sebern Fisher’s book pp278 to 296:  the Rennie and baby Madeline story.
Rennie had a horrific history of physical and sexual abuse by every member of her family. Was admitted to S’s residential treatment centre aet 16 . Had multiple psychiatric hospitalisations afterwards, despite this.

Had 2 children by a dysfunctional partner, with lengthy PPD after each birth. Represented to Sebern aet 26 for NF facilitated psychotherapy (at least the contact with Sebern at the residential centre has left a long lasting trusting impression).
Initial T4 P4, T3 T4, T4 P4 downtraining over 18 sessions (weekly).  Rennie finds herself managing stressors more easily, but gets pregnant again.
Sebern starts her on a FPO2 protocol which targets the dysfunctional R prefrontal limbic/amygdalar  circuitry. The baby has been very unsettled in the womb, with lots of  excessive movements, but the  movements gradually become much easier.
After session 25, R ejects the abusive boyfriend. By  session 28, she has given birth to baby Madeline.
Rennie feels baby Madeline is much more attuned than the previous children. Sebern continues FPO2 training with Madeline lying on Rennie’s chest.

Rennie reports:

“She got more regulated…she felt my heart beat and I could feel hers beating in the same way. And her breathing too. This is so different from my other kids. I love them so much, but this baby is just different. I didn’t know there was this way to be , this lace to be in. I didn’t know it existed. I am attuned to her and she is attuned to me. I regulate HER and she regulates ME.”

When Madeline is 8 months old, Rennie is pushing her in her stroller to the grocery store, when they run into her biological mother and oldest brother. He was the most abusive of R’s siblings and had been incarcerated for molesting children. Although surprised to see him, Rennie reports she felt unexpectedly calm….but Madeline…took one look at the man, whom she had never seen before, and started to scream hysterically and could not be comforted until Rennie took her out of the store, away from the brother….she then quietened quickly.

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A huge dilemma

The BIG problem with the “nurturing the nurturers” program is that it will inevitably offend all the mothers on this Planet. They will feel criticized, marginalized, condescended to, etc etc. This is such a sensitive issue.

And yet, Winnicott reminds us that “good enough” nurturance must NOT be perfect. Lapses are absolutely essential, because they create an opportunity for repair, and once this has happened several times, a microculture is created that includes opportunities for repair, and this in turn makes for a much safer and more secure environment. It is no longer a case of “one mistake and you’re dead”.

How do we address this dilemma? Your comments, anyone out there.

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Healing Transgenerational Cascades of Distress in Disadvantaged Indigenous Communities; Challenges, Opportunities, and a Case Study.

Here is the abstract for a paper that will be published over the next few months. A copy of the full text is available if  you e-mail me at <>

Healing Transgenerational Cascades of Distress in Disadvantaged Indigenous Communities; Challenges, Opportunities, and a Case Study.

Leon Petchkovsky 1 , Rachel Johns 2

 1 Associate Professor Psychiatry,  Department of Psychiatry University of Queensland, Brisbane, QLD, Australia, 2 Mental Health Worker, Community Mental Health Services, Lismore, NSW, Australia

ABSTRACT:  Aboriginal Australians especially in disadvantaged communities suffer disproportionately; with reduced life expectancy, high suicide, violence, and imprisonment rates, and a range of illnesses (Metabolic Syndrome) associated with Hypophyseal Pituitary Adrenal (HPA) Axis damage resulting from high maternal and infantile stress.  Foetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorders, Conduct Disorders and Learning Disorders are prevalent in the child population.

A substantive developmental neuro-psycho-biology research literature points to the centrality of early nurturance processes in facilitating the development of physical and psychological health and resilience.

The larger Australian community has failed to provide adequate repair despite interventionist programs deployed over many years.  The authors argue that this rests in part on a lack of mindfulness (awareness of one’s own processes) and empathy (tuning into others), at every level: cultural, political, organisational, and individual.

Dan Siegel’s neuro-developmental insights into individual and organisational function are used to explore these concerns, and identify early (peri-natal) supportive intervention (nurturing the nurturers) as the most central strategy of repair.

But damaged nurturers are very sensitive. Attempts to nurture them can be counterproductive if political programmes, organisational cultures, and individual case workers themselves have not developed sufficient mindfulness and empathy to address these sensitivities. Recent advances in developmental neuroscience help fine-tune this process. Guidelines are offered, with an illustrative Case Study.

 KEYWORDS: nurturance, attachment, disadvantaged, developmental neuroscience.

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Some change at last,

In conversation with Bev  Allen and Mel Watson at the August 2014 Child Trauma Conference in Melbourne, we learned about Babes to Bumps and Beyond  and listened to their presentation (Allen and Watson 2014).  This program has been going for 2 years, was initiated and maintained by local Aboriginal communities in the Mallee region of Victoria,  and informed by the latest understanding of attachment theory and developmental neuroscience. This is precisely what is needed nationally to begin the transgenerational healing process we support so strongly.

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a fractal view of nurturance

Empathy and mindfulness facilitate impulse control and make for both kindness and good limit setting.
A range of interventions (meditation, psychotherapy) can boost these, but they involve much hard work, essentially because of our ingrained resistances, which have much to do with the core unsatisfactoriness of human existence (the Buddhist “First Noble Truth”). If it were easier, we would all Dalai Lamas.
However, a good start in life helps a lot. As I have said so often before, developmental neuroscience tells us that “good enough” early nurturance makes for more mindful and compassionate beings. Babies and children find it hard enough to begin this developmental work, even with good nurturers. But various forms of nurturance failure, reactive attachment disorders, make things so much more difficult. Many of our interventions, no matter how well meaning, no matter how necessary, thus come too late.

But one of the lovely things about empathy is that it has a reverberating effect, a fractal “similarity across scale” property.

We recently treated a severely abused young Indigenous woman who was pregnant. A “reflective listening” engagement helped her develop a useful therapeutic alliance, and allowed us in turn to extend this to interactions between her and her new born baby girl. The successful bonding in turn gave the mother further vicarious repair.
We ourselves received support from regular videolinks with a tertiary perinatal service (SWOPS…Google it). This spread across the various members of the team…..midwives, obstetrician, post-natal workers, mental health workers, who could thus “sing from the same page” in their empathic care of the mother and baby.
The mother stopped drinking and using cannabis early on. HER mother, who had a severe drink problem, also gave up (without ANY prompting on our part) so as to be a better supporter for her daughter and grand-daughter. The relatives who used to come to the house and get drunk and violent also moderated themselves, again, without ANY prompting.
Fractal patterns everywhere. Now if ONLY this could spread further. Our politicians perhaps?

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Dr John Boulton is a pediatrician who has been working in Aboriginal communities for many many years. An article by Nicholas Rothwell in the Weekend Australian (June 1-2, 2013) reviews some of this work. 

In essence , (and I quote from Nicholas’ article), “if an unborn child is malnourished in the womb “….( but also if the mother is subject to high stress levels, and also if she overdoes alcohol and drugs because she feels so miserable)…..”blood is directed as the first priority  to the brain, leaving the kidneys and other organs insufficiently developed……the child will grow up with a degree of insulin resistance”….(but  also more broadly, with HPA Axis dysfunction…AND Metabolic Syndrome, which are explained in detail in earlier posts on this blog)……”This in turn leads to early-onset diabetes……..(and) the child will have a propensity to high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke and eventual kidney failure”.

Key signs in young kids are a combination of poor growth plus a tendency to put fat on in the middle of the body. 

But the psychological effects are also dreadful…ADHD, poor impulse control, chronic dysthymia (feeling miserable), learning difficulties  etc…again, I have detailed this in earlier blogs. 


The whole point is, IF WE COULD ONLY GET IN EARLIER, and protect and nurture the mothers, we would spare each generation from the dreadful consequences.





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