constantly-igniting amygdala triggered by a consistent stream of perceived threats.98
Over-activity of the amygdala causes young people to move through life in a state of
alarm, a state that frequently prevents them from using their deeper reasoning and keeps
them operating at a largely emotional level.99
According to the work of Dr. Bruce Perry, whose research focuses on the
neurobiology of relationships, all human beings have a basic need for rhythm and
relationships to appropriately regulate their body systems.100 Building on Dr. Perry’s
insights, the YMCA of Metro Chicago’s Youth Safety and Violence Prevention strategy
(“YSVP”) targets those youth who have high levels of personal exposure to trauma but
are unwilling to seek clinical treatment.101 Using a trauma-informed, mentorship-based
approach to youth development, YSVP aims to support those youth whose levels of toxic
stress make self-regulatory behaviors more difficult.102 By helping these young people
process and release their trauma in non-clinical community-based settings, the initiative
works to reduce the likelihood and depth of their involvement in dangerous street
networks, like gangs, and to increase their ability to create a positive future for
themselves.103 The initiative also works to support the family members of participating
young people, using a dual generation approach that seeks to both mitigate past traumas
and prevent their future occurrence. At the core of YSVP’s design is an understanding
that healthy relationships are key to self-regulation and thus an essential component of
any individual’s capacity for positive change, laying the groundwork for complementary
capacity building programs.104
98 See The Anatomy of Trauma, UNIV. MICH. SEXUAL ASSAULT PREVENTION & AWARENESS CTR.,
http://sapac.umich.edu/article/anatomy-trauma-0 (last visited Apr. 21, 2014); Carr, supra note 97, at 235.
The amygdala is part of the brain’s limbic system and plays a vital role in expression of emotions triggered
by negative experiences.
99 The Anatomy of Trauma, supra note 98; Carr, supra note 97, at 235.
100 SZALAVITZ & PERRY, supra note 35, at 10. Dr. Perry’s work implies that relationships are vital for the
regulation and buffering of stress, both when experiencing stressful events and when healing after such
events have occurred. Id. at 15–16. Our brains are actually organized for interconnectedness. Id. Humans
are neurobiologically ‘wired’ to create and maintain bonds with others. Id. at 21. These connections help
brains effectively integrate their various areas and functions from the cortex, to the limbic system, to the
diencephalon, to the brainstem. Id. at 338–42. When the brain’s connections with others are severed—
through violence or other forms of traumatic loss—there are profound and lasting impacts on the ability to
direct behavior, an impact that is especially pronounced when this loss occurs in childhood and
101 Youth Safety and Violence Prevention, YMCA METRO CHI.,
http://www.ymcachicago.org/programs/youth-safety-and-violence-prevention (last visited Mar. 7, 2014)
102 See id. (providing more detail about YSVP).
103 The YSVP program structures are implemented by staff who do not have clinical training, but the
program structures are designed to incorporate opportunities for youth to practice self-regulation and begin
to process experiences for trauma. See id.