Lecture – Brain Science and Treatment Course of Trauma-Related Disorders

Available with English captions.

Presented by Milissa L. Kaufman, MD, PhD, and Lauren A. M. Lebois, PhD, McLean Hospital – McLean Forum lecture

McLean’s Milissa L. Kaufman, MD, PhD, and Lauren A. M. Lebois, PhD explore the symptoms, treatment approaches, and neurobiology associated with three common forms of trauma-related conditions.

They discuss classic post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), the dissociative subtype of PTSD, and dissociative identity disorder (DID). The talk combines the language of clinical phenomenology and the language of neuroscience to provide a comprehensive overview of these conditions.

Watch now to learn more about:

  • Symptom phenomenology differentiating classic PTSD, the dissociative subtype of PTSD, and DID
  • Key neuroanatomical areas involved in the brain circuitry underlying the fear response in PTSD
  • Trauma-focused treatment
  • Current research into the neurobiology associated with common forms of trauma-related disorders

During the lecture, Kaufman offers three different case studies, each based on her real experiences with patients. To illuminate the subjective experience of traumatic stress, she presents each patient’s trauma in their own words. These case studies include:

  • “Barbara,” a woman in her 20s who was diagnosed with classic PTSD after surviving a random shooting while in a restaurant
  • “Angela,” a woman in her 30s who was diagnosed with the dissociative subtype of PTSD after a sexual assault
  • “Cathy,” a married woman in her 30s who showed signs of depression and anxiety after the death of her father—“Cathy” was ultimately diagnosed with DID

Kaufman discusses the treatment approach she took with each patient, including key moments in each patient’s treatment course. Also, she reports on the post-treatment outcomes for each patient.

“There is no better way to understand just what trauma means to a person than to listen deeply to his or her own words. That’s the power of clinical phenomenology. There’s a power in the creation of a shared narrative,” says Kaufman.

Building on these narratives, Lebois details the neurobiology underlying each of the three conditions. She uses data from recent neuroimaging studies to highlight key brain regions involved in the generation of trauma-related symptoms.

Finally, the presenters describe NIH-funded neuroimaging research currently underway at McLean. Designed to further elucidate the brain basis of traumatic dissociation in PTSD, the studies involve individuals with PTSD who undergo neuroimaging, both before and after receiving trauma-focused treatments. Analysis of these findings may help researchers characterize treatment-related changes in the brain.