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Victoria author explores the impacts of bullying on the brain

The Bullied Brain looks at how the mind can heal from traumatic peer experiences
Victoria author Jennifer Fraser explores how abuse impacts the brain in her book, The Bullied Brain. (Megan Atkins-Baker/News Staff)

A Greater Victoria author is offering insight into how to heal brain trauma in her book Bullied Brain.

Jennifer Fraser is an author and teacher of more than 20 years whose book explores how abuse – such as bullying in a school setting, or abuse from a parental figure – impacts a child’s brain and how the remnants of these experiences manifest in adult life, leaving ‘neurological scars.’

Brain scans and assessments can tell us enormous amounts about the health of our brains, she told Black Press Media.

“My guess would be that no doctor has ever looked at your brain … you’ve been to the dentist, you get your eyes checked … but why aren’t we having our brains looked at?”

While the brain is vulnerable to abuse it is also capable of repairing all kinds of trauma, Fraser said.

The book outlines research on how bullying and abuse impact the brain, and highlights case studies of adults and children who have undergone training to heal trauma to their brains.

Fraser hopes further research will take place in Canada regarding the brain’s capacity to heal itself, as well as an evolution in healthcare research that contributes to an understanding of this unique approach, thereby analyzing the brain in this context.

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Bonnie Leadbeater, a University of Victoria psychology professor whose research on preventing bullying and peer victimization led her to develop internationally recognized WITS programs, argued there is not enough evidence in Canada to support this approach to healing the effects of bullying, in terms of brain scans. Bullying needs to be addressed on a systemic level, she said, agreeing in that way with much of the messaging in the book.

Through increasing education on the topic in school systems, and tailoring learning to different ages and life phases, we can better support those in need of help and learn to prevent bullying in school settings, she added.

Programs aimed at preventing peer victimization can teach children strategies to promote kindness and effectively manage aggressive behaviours. Not only that, these tools can help adults better conduct themselves, such as those in coaching positions.

“Prevention is the step that we’re missing in all of the mental health care that we’re doing … we have a lot of knowledge but we don’t always use it enough to make a difference,” Leadbeater said.

Intervention is another important part of addressing abuse, she added, since society hasn’t done a good job of preventing and responding to these kinds of situations.

“We can fix these things, we can prevent these things – but we’re not invested in prevention in a strong enough way. We need to really think about how we can improve coaching, children’s opportunities to work together in school to form community, and we need to go upstream a long way to prevent the kind of horrors that the book discusses.”

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