An international team of researchers, led by a University of Liverpool psychologist, has published a review of recent research and concluded that there is strong support for the hypothesis that early trauma in childhood (including abuse and neglect) can effect brain development in ways that increase the probability of developing psychosis later in life.

Anomalies in the brains of people diagnosed with mental health problems such as ‘schizophrenia’ have traditionally been used to support the notion that such problems are biologically based brain disorders that have little to do with life events.

However, the review of 125 research studies, supports the ‘traumagenic neurodevelopmental’ model of psychosis, which suggests that those differences can be caused by adverse life events, especially those occurring in early childhood.

The review recommends that people experiencing psychosis should be offered evidence-based psychological therapies that address the social causes of their difficulties

Professor John Read, from the University of Liverpool’s Institute of Psychology, Health and Society, said:
“Our review concludes that the abnormalities in the brain that have been identified in people diagnosed with ‘schizophrenia’ are not necessarily inherited but can be caused by adverse life events.

These trauma based brain changes should not be thought of as being indicative of having a brain disorder or disease. The changes are reversible. Recent studies have found, for example, that the brain’s oversensitivity to stressors can be reduced by properly designed psychotherapy.”

“The primary prevention implications are profound. Protection and nurturance of the developing brain in young children would seem to be of paramount importance.”

“We hope that this vast body of literature will encourage more mental health staff to take more of an interest in the lives of the people they are trying to help, rather than viewing hearing voices and having unusual beliefs as mere symptoms of an ‘illness’ that need to be suppressed with medication.”

The review was conducted by researchers from the UK, Denmark, Norway and the USA.

To download the article, published in the scientific journal Neuropsychiatry, click on:

Read J, Fosse R, Moskowitz A, Perry B. The traumagenic neurodevelopmental model of psychosis revisited. Neuropsychiatry, 4(1), 65-79 (2014).

Sarah Stamper
Press Officer, University of Liverpool