Health Podcast Post

Overcoming Childhood Trauma with Dr. Richard Brockman

George Grombacher December 6, 2023

share close

Overcoming Childhood Trauma with Dr. Richard Brockman

LifeBlood: We talked about overcoming childhood trauma, struggling with our present to understand our past, losing and finding ourselves, and how to begin to heal, with Dr. Richard Brockman, Clinical Professor of Psychiatry at Columbia University.       

Listen to learn why trauma demands respect!

You can learn more about Richard at Columbia University and LinkedIn.

Get your copy of the Life After Death HERE:

Thanks, as always for listening! If you got some value and enjoyed the show, please leave us a review here:


You can learn more about us at LifeBlood.Live, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram, YouTube and Facebook or you’d like to be a guest on the show, contact us at contact@LifeBlood.Live. 

Stay up to date by getting our monthly updates.

Want to say “Thanks!” You can buy us a cup of coffee.

Invest in yourself. Bring it All Together.

Work with a coach to unlock personal and professional potential.

Our Guests

George Grombacher

Richard Brockman

Dr. Richard Brockman

Episode Transcript

george grombacher 0:02
Dr. Richard Brockman is a clinical professor of psychiatry at Columbia University’s College of Physicians and Surgeons. He is an attending clinical psychiatrist at Columbia Presbyterian Medical Center. His newest book is life after death. Welcome, Richard.

Dr. Richard Brockman 0:19
Welcome. Thank you, it’s good to be here. excited

george grombacher 0:21
to have you on, tell us a little about your personal lives more about your work, and why you do what you do.

Dr. Richard Brockman 0:31
Why I do, what I do is a long answer. And it’s kind of in the context of the book to a certain degree. My mother committed suicide when I was seven, seven years, two months and two days old, which has a lot to do with my, my psyche my story, like career choice, or, or, and what I why I do what I do. So it’s more than a sentence or two, I think and it well, it’s a book, actually. Because the book is very much the story of my, it’s, in one sense, it’s a memoir, in that it is my story. But it’s also my story is how I became a psychiatrist, I became a neuroscientist, and using my knowledge, base and science base as a psychiatrist, but especially as a neuroscientist, to understand myself. So I’m both the subject and the object of this investigation, if you will. And why I do with what I do is not as straightforward as it might seem that a lot of a lot of the struggle of dealing with parental suicide, especially a mother, especially, is early I mean, around seven is where a child understands that life is not forever, and that death is real. up at six, you sort of get it five, you really don’t eight, you’ve got it seven is that transition. So I was at that transition point. If I understood that my mother’s death was was final, even though I spent quite a few months. I don’t say hallucinating, but she sort of stayed around in my mind for quite a few months. But it it’s it’s traumatic. It’s disorganizing. And a lot of my youth and early adulthood was kind of, in some ways trying to get her to talk to me to conjure her up or to it was in that. I mean, it was somewhat I mean, it wasn’t crazy, but it was I don’t think it was all that unusual that you demand some form of an answer from someone who’s killed themselves, especially a mother. And so a lot of who I was, was that. And I didn’t become a psychiatrist because I wanted to cure the world or be a healer, I became a psychiatrist, because I didn’t know who I was, for several decades. And then it sort of made a certain sense that I went into medicine and psychiatry, because of my mother. And then eventually, along the way, I let go of her and sort of discovered who I was, but I don’t think I knew who I was until I was close to 30, which is not on the young side for identity formation. It would have been nice if I’d known who I was when I was seven and that and that her suicide just just destroyed that notion of who I was. So I had to sort of start all over again at age seven, which it took a while. So as

george grombacher 4:26
long as you think about it now

Dr. Richard Brockman 4:29
for suicide. Yes. Um, well, I about halfway through writing this book, I realized I was gonna dedicate it. The dedication is for Ruth, my mother. That’s my mother Ruth. And at some point, I just started to realize how much she really gave me she was bipolar depressed, which is it’s got a 15% untreated bipolar depression as a 15%. So it was Side risks. Just like that’s one and eight that’s like, oh my god that’s really high untreated. And when she was in the throes of their her illness, it was back when there really wasn’t a treatment for bipolar depression. I mean, lithium had been discovered, but it wasn’t particularly wide use. It really wasn’t known. There were no antidepressants. barbiturates were the main thing that was used. I mean, psychiatry was in the throes of post World War Two psychoanalysis. And that was not helpful at all for for bipolar depression. So her, well hurt the way she died. And fact that I found her just just through threw me into a big tailspin.

george grombacher 6:03
So I can’t even imagine I have a seven year old, I can’t imagine him. Just know, I appreciate the age, and how they sort of operate in the world. And I don’t know, you talked about how right at that he sort of have an idea about death or getting an idea of it. And I wonder about him. We’ve experienced loss in our family. And so we’ve talked about it, but certainly nothing to the extent of what you’re dealing with, are you but you

Dr. Richard Brockman 6:33
absolutely, usually, you experience death at that age by Canary, a cat, your dog, you see a deer by the road, something is dead, and you sport, you find a mouse, whatever, that’s dead. And you kind of explore it starting at about that age. And it starts to become clear that this dead mouse is not about to start hopping up and down again, or the dog really is dead. And you sort of begin to go through the mourning process. The you begin to understand it as final therefore you really mourn his loss. Up until that, you know, six year old it’s a little bit still magical. And it’s a little bit like sleep, but they’re going to wake up and you don’t give up. You don’t give that up quickly. And it’s usually you have to understand it, which is it’s traditionally been said that at age seven. So, you know, up until then, I I had I lived in an area Brooklyn that was it was pretty protected. I mean, it was there weren’t a lot of cars and there weren’t main roads. So it was like I had a bicycle and it was like, oh my god I’m the king of the university with like getting this bike was like having a Harley Davidson with wings. I was just thrilled with my life and how my like power and the bajic We live near Coney Island. So there was a that’s an amusement park. It used to be a big deal amusement park. Now it’s a little bit weird. But what it was always weird, but now it’s really very weird. But so it was there was real magic and theatrics in street theater. And it wasn’t Commedia Dillard to learn. It wasn’t the Italian sort of commedia but it was there was street sort of fantasy and clouds and stuff on the street, which is all you know, every summer it was sort of right in my backyard. But just again, I had a bike so and then that sense of of adventure and power and just exploration where I got to the ends of the world as far as I was concerned. I never left Brooklyn at that point. But as far as I was concerned, I mastered the world. And then everything collapsed. So it was it was it was traumatic.

george grombacher 8:59
Yeah. Did you go to traditional undergraduate at the traditional time after high school, walk me through how you found your way into medicine?

Dr. Richard Brockman 9:10
I did. And the Vietnam War was still happening. And there was a huge amount of protest against the Vietnam War. And it was a war that was popularly seen as ridiculous as Why are 52,000 American soldiers killed? Why why did they die? What were they fighting for? What was the country trying to do in Southeast Asia? And people? Very few people will I don’t know about very few, but very few people amongst those that I knew said yes. What a great idea. I mean, become a soldier. And so I didn’t, I did go a long way of explaining I should, I would have been thrilled if I could have taken some time off in college, to between high school and college just to figure myself out and to figure things out better. And it made it I sort of had, I was not ready to go to college, but I was also not about to sort of volunteer to go to Vietnam. Again, that sounds somewhat less patriotic now, back then, it was very different than I’ll be, I’ll become a soldier, that’s the patriotic thing to do. Back then, becoming a soldier of into Vietnam was like, really questionable judgment as to why am I trying to kill Southeast Asians? And what you know, for, for what, what’s the what’s the goal? What’s the good of it? And I think, I mean, became clear that there wasn’t a good idea, etc. But again, that’s one way of explaining how come I went straight to college when I was not ready to go to college, because I didn’t know who I was or what I wanted, and needed more time just to kind of bump into walls and just hit some dead ends and say this, okay, this is serious, I really don’t know what I’m doing. And I really need to figure this out. And College helped me to avoid that for years, and that’s basically what my college education was, was avoiding facing issues that I really needed to face. So I went, did my entry into medical school came three or four years later, when I began to realize that I did want to heal people, and that I wasn’t just angry at the world anymore, that I went out and I was wasn’t quite so angry with my mother anymore. And indeed started to feel that I wanted to heal her in some abstract way. And then heal to be a healer in a not at all abstract way in a very real way.

george grombacher 12:37
Do you ever wonder what you would have been doing? Had she not killed herself?

Dr. Richard Brockman 12:44
I’m probably trying to design a Harley Davidson with wigs.

george grombacher 12:51
Okay, all right.

Dr. Richard Brockman 12:53
I don’t know exactly.

george grombacher 12:58
There’s still time, Richard. So

Dr. Richard Brockman 13:02
why not? I have to talk to the Harley Davidson Corporation if they’ve come up with any ones that have proposed that to the yet. Right. I guess you could say the Hells Angels are part of that. Harley Davidson with waves but I don’t know.

george grombacher 13:21
It could have been a member of the Hells Angels,

Dr. Richard Brockman 13:22
Richard. Okay. I think I think I’m too skinny, to be honest. And for any number of different reasons, I probably Sure.

george grombacher 13:34
Yeah, soldiered on the cards being a member of the Hells Angels, not the cards. There’s a lot of room in between those things. So now you, you you spend a good amount of time or have in Namibia? How does that factor into all of this, if at all?

Dr. Richard Brockman 13:52
I I went to Africa. I don’t know 15 years ago, just because I’d never been and I actually no, it was more than that. I was actually asked to lecture at University of Cape Town in South Africa. And since I was going to be that deep into Africa and that far away from home, I thought, well, I’ll stay here for a while. And just again, had a fabulous time in you know, in Cape Town, talking but a really an amazing time in in Zambia, which is next next door. And then it was sort of circumstance that I met someone who said, What are you doing? I mean, just sort of the conversation. And suddenly I had a name of someone at the University of Namibia in Department of Physiology and like Get in touch with him. And following year I went back as a professor, as a visiting professor of neuroscience. And just loved it. I mean, just just love the students love the place love the challenges of medicine in in in Namibia. And kept doing it until till COVID, when it just became I mean, you University withdrew sort of any support if said, if you want to go, travel, you’re on your own, we’re not going to help you, you get sick, good luck, and you just became seriously problematic. And at the beginning of the COVID, as you sure you remember, we’d like people got sick and got really sick. And you just needed a major support system that to just to feel safe, that you had access to it. And I knew there wouldn’t be access to it in Namibia. And so for a while I didn’t go. But I really do love teaching in Africa. It’s

george grombacher 16:24
appreciate that. So what are you hoping that people get out of the book? When they pick up life after death? What do you hope to get out of it?

Dr. Richard Brockman 16:34
It’s not really a book about suicide. And it’s not really about a book about childhood trauma, both of which I’ve face. It’s really about surviving it. And most specifically, it’s about story, that one of the things I wrote about before this book, and I believe is that we mammals, not just you and me, but mammals, our brain is structured that we think in the structure of story. And that there’s some good work with, with rodents, with canines, and with people and with homosapiens, that our memories work much better. When there’s a story structure, then when there are bits of data, that if that we have to put that put the data together, and then the hippocampus and your parts of your brain recorded better and structure it. And that with childhood trauma, or with trauma at any age, significant trauma, that story gets shattered, it gets challenged, and sometimes broken apart. So as a seven year old, for me, my story, as this keeps the door with a bicycle in in Brooklyn, got destroyed. And I had to put it back together to come up with a new one. And I think the book is really about story, both narrative story as well as the biology of story. So it does tell two stories. The book has two threads. One is the narrative, which is my narrative my life. But the other is the biological, the neurobiological story itself. How story is generated, how its formed, how it sit down in the brain, how traumatic, significant trauma, overwhelming trauma can disrupt story. And then it’s about putting that story back together, which can take time that panic almost invariably takes time. It’s not something that no one has some, you know, you sing a song and hold hands and you’re fine. It’s like, no, it’s like, it’s that they sing, sing songs. I’m not in holding hands. It’s one of the many pieces of recreations of safety, safety has to be recruit reestablished. And then narrative has to get re established. And neuro and biology has to get re established. So the book is really more about the reestablishment of safety of narrative and neurobiology, and the biology of story. And it’s and it’s even got some yogurt, also. So it’s not about suicide, but it is about negotiating when being struck by trauma and then getting past it and through it and moving on.

george grombacher 19:51
You mentioned earlier that it took until about age 30 to figure out who you were. Is that around the time that you were I don’t know, if you ever fully recover from something like this or not close to recovery, on your way to recovery. I

Dr. Richard Brockman 20:07
think it was a piece of recovery because I was acting out in, you know, I’m a child of the 60s, where basically no behaviors considered acting out because every kind of was contained within the zeitgeist. But you know, Pete friends died. I mean, you know, people, you know, cocaine was felt, until people started dying. Cocaine was felt to be the drug of choice. It was like, oh, boy, why not? It didn’t, people didn’t realize that all this stuff had problems with it. And it wasn’t, it wasn’t a Get Out of Jail Free Pass. And even if you were in jail, which I was a few times. But so I, I was beginning to understand that life really required a better story than the one I was. Traveling on and traveling, we’re letting guide me and again, story is biologically a guy. It’s, it’s sort of like, it’s how you can sort of see, well, this, once upon a time there was and then this happened, and this happened, then this happened. That’s, you know, that’s like a story. But it’s also your, your memory thinks of this happened. And that happened. Well, if those two things happen, then the most likely next thing is that thing. It’s, it’s it sets up a view of the future. And that’s it, if you how you remember the past is how you anticipate the future. That’s, that’s biology. It’s not a narrative. It’s, well, there’s a narrative, but it’s also a biological function. And I was beginning to get that in my 20s. And then when I got into medical school, and went to medical school, suddenly having that much work, and having to memorize that much and having to learn so quickly, that much stuff, suddenly, I think I was lucky that I just actually enjoyed it, and found it excited. And suddenly, that was, what I wanted to do is learn all this fabulous stuff. And I think that really pulled me out of myself. And I needed to get pulled out of myself because I was deeply in a bad. I was in I was so I was in a being in myself was to be in total confusion. And that’s where I was. And that’s where it wasn’t as if I decided no, my mother killed herself, I will become a psychiatrist. Like, no, that was a really a backdoor. I was just so confused. If I look back, and then that’s just started to shift when that was kind of thing, huh, medical school. Maybe. And, you know, I hadn’t I was a philosophy major. So, you know, working my way to convincing admissions office that I could do all this hard science. Let me know, I had to sort of convince them and that, that also was like I can do this was another identity forming moment. But but pulling myself out of who I was, was as important as showing me who I might want to be. And again, it was with yours. Didn’t happen in a few weeks. This is a few few years or many years. And I think that’s one of the messages of traumas is like give it it. It demands respect. It’s like it’s vicious. I mean, talking about big deal Trump, it’s vicious, and disorganized as biologically. And you cannot if you get impatient with it, you’ll be in trouble. And you know, I think I was impatient with it. You know that the 60s were a great time to if you’re impatient while and there’s all kinds of solutions. It’s like, I’m not saying any of them were particularly good. And they didn’t give you much except they killed a lot of time. And they killed a few of your friends and they may have killed you too. So but it’s despite having said all that, it’s actually a book about it’s a generative book, because it’s so surviving suicide not succumbing to suicide and having the structure and to a certain degree, even the guide. I mean, it’s not a handbook. It’s not a how to but there is a hand out to people who are struggling, because he’ll

george grombacher 25:26
finally, well, I appreciate you sharing your story and writing the book. Thank you so much for coming on. Where can people learn more about you? Where can they get their copy of life after death? Well,

Dr. Richard Brockman 25:38
they of course can go to Amazon. But you should, the better choice would be a local bookstore and if they don’t have it, get really indignant. They don’t have it. Tell your friends. It’s a great book and it should be on their books should be on their front table, even if it’s not, but they should buy it from their local bookstore. But it is on all the major websites you can I mean, obviously, there’s the internet one can look up Richard Brockman life after death, but I think read the book. Or I’ll be teaching in Addis Ababa in in May. So if you want to come and take a course in Ethiopia, I’d be happy to have you in the class. Perfect.

george grombacher 26:37
I love it. If you enjoyed as much as I did, show Richard your appreciation and share today’s show with a friend who also appreciates good ideas pick up your copy of life after death at your local bookstore come hell or high water or worst case scenario, Amazon and then go check out Richards class and Ethiopia this coming May as well and you’ll have to figure that one out on your own. Thanks again, Richard.

Dr. Richard Brockman 27:03
Thank you very much, really.

george grombacher 27:08
Thank you. Till next time, remember, do your part by doing your best.

Dr. Richard Brockman 27:13
Thank you.

Thanks, as always for listening! If you got some value and enjoyed the show, please leave us a review wherever you listen and we’d be grateful if you’d subscribe as well.

You can learn more about us at LifeBlood.Live, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram, Pinterest, YouTube and Facebook.

Our Manifesto

We’re here to help others get better so they can live freely without regret
Believing we’ve each got one life, it’s better to live it well and the time to start is now If you’re someone who believes change begins with you, you’re one of us We’re working to inspire action, enable completion, knowing that, as Thoreau so perfectly put it “There are a thousand hacking at the branches of evil to one who is striking at the root.” Let us help you invest in yourself and bring it all together.

Feed your life-long learner by enrolling in one of our courses.

Invest in yourself and bring it all together by working with one of our coaches.

If you’d like to be a guest on the show, or you’d like to become a Certified LifeBlood Coach or Course provider, contact us at Contact@LifeBlood.Live.

Please note- The Money Savage podcast is now the LifeBlood Podcast. Curious why? Check out this episode and read this blog post!

We have numerous formats to welcome a diverse range of potential guests!

  • Be Well- for guests focused on overall wellness
  • Book Club-for authors
  • Brand-for guests focused on marketing
  • Complete-for guests focused on spirituality
  • Compete-for competitors, sports, gaming, betting, fantasy football
  • Create-for entrepreneurs
  • DeFi-for guests focused on crypto, blockchain and other emerging technologies
  • Engage-for guests focused on personal development/success and leadership
  • Express-for journalists/writers/bloggers
  • General-for guests focused on finance/money topics
  • Lifestyle-for guests focused on improving lifestyle
  • Maximize-for guests focused on the workplace
  • Numbers-for accounting and tax professionals
  • Nurture-for guests focused on parenting
  • REI-for guests focused on real estate

Feed your Life-Long Learner

Get what you need to get where you want to go

Rate it
Previous post