The modern rediscovery of trauma as an etiological factor in mental disorders goes back only to about 1980. During this time there has been an explosion of knowledge about how experience shapes the central nervous system and the formation of the self. Developments in the neurosciences have started to make significant contributions to our understanding of how the brain is shaped by experience, and how life itself continues to transform the ways biology is organized. The study of trauma has been one of the most fertile areas within the disciplines of psychiatry and psychology in helping to develop a deeper understanding of the interrelationship between emotional, cognitive, social, and biological forces that shape human development. Starting with posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in adults, but expanding into early attachment and coping with overwhelming experiences in childhood, our field has discovered how certain experiences can "set" psychological expectations and biological selectivity. Research in these areas has opened up entirely new insights in how extreme experiences throughout the life cycle can have profound effects on memory, affect regulation, biological stress modulation, and interpersonal relatedness. These findings, in the context of the development of a range of new therapy approaches, are beginning to open up entirely new perspectives on how traumatized individuals can be helped to overcome their past.
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