PTSD | Part 2 | The Brain's Influence

Updated: Jul 20, 2020

This is Part 2 of exploring PTSD's causes and challenges. To read Part:1 Introduction, click here.

How The Brain Influences PTSD

We have worked with several students struggling with PTSD. We have evaluated all of them, which includes a propriety neurodevelomental evaluation and a qEEG brain scan. So what are some of the areas we notice that influence their PTSD? Read on to learn more!

Building From The Ground Up

We evaluate and program for students always remembering that we must build a strong foundation from the most primitive regions of the brain up to the higher cortical levels. So many of our students show very clear “gaps” in their growth and development, often in the most primitive areas of the brain stem and cerebellum and the ability of this region to then “feed up” information to be processed in the midbrain, and ultimately to be received by the frontal lobes where true “at choice” behavior resides. A child struggling with emotional, behavioral, or relational challenges most often shows high degrees of dysregulation in the communication of these systems.

qEEG Brain Map

Every student who enters The Hope School undergoes a holistic evaluation, including a proprietary neurodevelopmental profile and a qEEG brain map. The qEEG stands for Quantitative Electroencephalogram and is a diagnostic tool that measures electrical activity in the form of brain wave patterns. It provides vital information in terms of the brain’s current state of balance and overall communication patterns at the electrical frequencies of Delta, Theta, Alpha, Beta, and High Beta.

Below is a sample qEEG of from a student who struggles with PTSD.

Limbic System & Prefrontal Cortex

Aversive traumatic experiences can impact the salience network and prefrontal-amygdala circuits involved in detecting and responding to threat, as well as initiating and amplifying the stress response. Under stress, a series of signals and cascades from the amygdala to the hypothalamus to the hypothalamic pituitary adrenocortical (or HPA) axis ultimately produces increased levels of cortisol. However, when a child is subjected to severe threat-related stress, cortisol becomes excessive and in turn down regulates hippocampal mechanisms, which typically temper the activity of the HPA axis, while increasing amygdala activity; thus, placing the child in a constant state of heightened vigilance.


Additionally, frontostriatal pathways, specifically as related to the reward-processing network, and the frontalparietal network, involved in cognitive control, are also affected by said experience as it relates to the prefrontal-amygdala circuits. Ultimately, these lead to an enhanced threat detection that causes more emotional reactivity and impairments in executive control, creating an inflexible stimulus response.


In order for us to understand the complexity of the world and to make and execute decisions the different parts of the brain must share information. Coherence is one of the measurements on how well the brain is able to perform this inner self-talk. This measure gives us an indication of how efficiently our brain is working to connect and disconnect different parts of it to accomplish a particular task.

Excessive coherence tends to indicate two or more areas of the brain are “overly connected or locked together”. That is, the brain has become overly dependent on those centers and is not efficiently processing and executing information. This tends to result in poor day-to-day performance. Deficient coherence signified a brain is not able to efficiently connect cortical areas to perform specific tasks.

Anterior Cingulate Cortex & Dorsolateral Prefrontal Cortex

Because the Anterior Cingulate Cortex and Dorsolateral Prefrontal Cortex exert top-down regulation of the limbic system, when these areas are either over or under communicating, then further dysregulation can occur.

Anterior Cingulate Cortex
Prefrontal Cortex

As observed in the measure of coherence for this child's qEEG, you can see that communication is lacking from the Dorsolateral Prefrontal Cortex and Anterior Cingulate Cortex, responsible for self-control, regulation of mood and appraising of emotions, including negative emotions and reward, to the Post and Pre Central Gyrus, responsible for complex body actions and internal representation of action, as well as to the Temporal Lobe, responsible for decision making, deductive reasoning, and the detection and understanding of emotional tone.

Pre and Post Central Gyrus
Temporal Lobe

This lack of communication can specifically be found in the Alpha frequency, which is a state of calm, open and receptive. Therefore, a child who cannot gain self-control of his body movements and emotionality in a state of stress is more likely to revert to more basal instincts of fight or flight.


What's Next?

We want to share three specific challenges we have seen with student's struggling with PTSD. Click here for Part 3: Challenges.

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