An intimate conversation about our brains, trauma, and the recovery journey

In conversation with Dr. Kate Truitt

Dr. Kate Truiit is internationally recognized for her expertise in the neuroscience of trauma, stress, and resilience, as well as the complex interplay between the three. She has dedicated her life to advancing the treatment of trauma and stress-related disorders, eliminating the stigma surrounding mental health, and empowering wellness by providing self-healing tools and psychoeducation. 

As well as her work as CEO of the Amy Research Foundation and the Trauma Counseling Center of Los Angeles, Dr. Kate is recognized as one of the developers of Havening Techniques. The self-soothing techniques are designed to create a sense of safety and well-being and formed the basis of Dr. Kate’s first book “Healing in Your Hands: Self-Havening Practices to Harness Neuroplasticity, Heal Traumatic Stress, and Build Resilience.”

Her latest book, “Keep Breathing: A Psychologist Intimate Journey Through Loss, Trauma, and Rediscovering Life,” is set to be released in the Spring of 2024. 

Keep Breathing: A Psychologist's Intimate Journey Through Loss, Trauma, and Rediscovering Life

In the deeply personal book, Dr. Truitt shares her story, starting with the sudden and unimaginably painful death of her fiance just one week before their wedding day. Although an expert in trauma, Kate found nothing could prepare her for the deep void of profound grief, trauma, shock, and guilt. 

What follows is part memoir, part scientific exploration, using Dr. Truitt’s own story as a case study, shining light on the goings on in the brain—loss, pain, love, exhilaration, life, and death—that have the power to break us down and inspire us to rebuild, heal, and grow. 

Dr. Truitt’s unflinching and honest account of her own experiences with perseverance in the face of suffering provides readers with a roadmap to navigate their own journey to healing and self-discovery. Full of warmth, vulnerability, and strength, Dr. Truitt’s inspiring story shows what it means to truly come back to ourselves. 

Trauma and the amygdala

“Amy, the amygdala, is a guiding force for how we make sense of the world around us and interpret ourselves in the world.”

The amygdala plays a key role in emotional valance (the extent to which an emotion is positive or negative) and in the acquisition of fear responses.1 In simple terms, when someone experiences trauma, the memory of it is imprinted on the amygdala. Plus, the amygdala stores the emotional significance of the trauma, including the intensity and impulse of the emotion. 

Dr. Truitt has a particular interest in the role of the amygdala—which she affectionately calls “Amy”—as the holder of trauma. According to Dr. Truitt, the amygdala has three core values:

  • How am I safe?
  • How do I belong?
  • How do I create success, i.e., get my basic needs met?

Contrary to the common misconception that it’s the result of a significant event, trauma can be anything that threatens these three core values. For example, the brain may guide us into the belief that we cannot be hurt if we meet certain standards, i.e., the perfect body standard. However, if the body starts to betray these standards, that can imprint on “Amy” as trauma and potentially contribute to the development of disordered eating behaviors as a “successful and easy” coping mechanism.

There is a large body of evidence that trauma can cause lasting changes in the amygdala, but Dr. Truitt is keen to stress that, with the right interventions, “Amy” can learn to change. 

Trauma and eating disorders

In the last few decades, there has been a large body of evidence supporting a link between trauma and eating disorders

One of the most interesting studies carried out by pioneer Dr. Timothy Breweton3 found that the prevalence of bulimia nervosa was significantly higher in those with a history of rape with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) compared to those with rape history without PTSD. This indicates that it’s the PTSD rather than abuse history that is associated with eating disorder development.

The relationship between trauma and eating disorders is believed to be driven by biological vulnerabilities, behavioral and emotional dysregulation, as well as cognitive factors like self-criticism.4

Thanks to the strong association between trauma and eating disorders, trauma-informed care is now the norm in eating disorder treatment. Emerging treatment modalities for clients experiencing trauma include trauma-focused cognitive behavioral therapy, somatic experiencing, and eye movement desensitization processing (EDMR), 

Epigenetics and trauma

Epigenetics is the study of structural changes in DNA that don’t alter the DNA sequence but can alter how a DNA sequence is read, e.g., turning gene expression on and off. 

Lots of environmental and behavioral factors can impact epigenetics, including trauma. The epigenetic changes caused as the result of trauma can have a ripple effect on the next generation.2 For example, maternal active and past eating disorders are associated with whole genome epigenetic changes in offspring.5

Adverse childhood experiences (ACEs)—a measure of childhood trauma—can also cause epigenetic modifications. These changes can increase the likelihood of a wide range of health issues, including cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and psychiatric disorders, like eating disorders.2

As a final thought, Dr. Truitt states that although trauma can create a greater vulnerability to eating disorder development, it’s not causational, i.e., trauma does not always result in an eating disorder.

More on Dr. Truitt

Learn more about Dr. Truitt’s personal and fascinating story through trauma and recovery in her book ‘Keep Breathing: A Psychologist Intimate Journey Through Loss, Trauma, and Rediscovering Life’ which is available for pre-order on Amazon now and is available in all good book stores from the 2nd of April 2024. 

Dr. Truitt also is very active through her social channels, offering a vast amount of free learning resources:


  1. Bremner, J. D. (2006). Traumatic stress: effects on the brain. Dialogues in clinical neuroscience, 8(4), 445–461. 
  2. White, T. (2022, June 16). Understanding the epigenetics of childhood trauma. Psych Central. Accessed November 2023.
  3. Brewerton, T. D. (2007). Eating Disorders, Trauma, and Comorbidity: Focus on PTSD. Eating Disorders, 15(4), 285-304, 
  4. Trottier, K., MacDonald, D. E. (2017). Update on Psychological Trauma, Other Severe Adverse Experiences and Eating Disorders: State of the Research and Future Research Directions. Current Psychiatry Reports, 19, 45. 
  5. Kazmi, N., Gaunt, T. R., Relton, C., et al. (2017). Maternal eating disorders affect offspring cord blood DNA methylation: a prospective study. Clinical Epigenetics, 9, 120.