Written by: Ariana Kenny, Casework and Clinical Services Practice Leader/ Acting Out of Home Care Executive Manager
I was listening to a podcast the other day, of which I’ve become quite a fan. The topic was epigenetics. Crudely, it is the concept that our gene sensitivities are switched on and off by experiences in our lives. One of the scenarios given in discussion was lab tests where mice were ‘bred’ to be fearful of the scent of cherry blossoms. At first, it got my gut turning because of the animal research ethical conundrum, but then I got to thinking. This research means that we can now track generic markers of stress such as cortisol responses and are now exploring what intergenerational trauma does on a genetic level in people. Epigenetics isn’t a new term but when we think about genetic carbon imprints on our children it stirs up a whole lot of mixed emotion. How responsive can genetic predispositions be to ‘therapy’ which is often talk heavy? How can genetic predisposition be tackled? Is our fate already sealed? For a moment I started to become nostalgic for the tabula rasa days where we thought everyone was born a blank slate. Thankfully, it was only for a moment because before we all lose faith, hope grows. It turns out therapy is already making great gains in this area and can be highly effective. To date, therapy has been able to achieve a ‘switching off’ of gene sensitivity. What marvellous thoughts started has burst to life! By investing in good quality evidence based therapies and experiences we can change the future. By investing in our children through early positive life experiences, we can instigate changes to the fate of children who have experienced war, terror, abuse, neglect. The list goes on. To change our future and that of next generations we need to engage in positive steps now, to ‘switch off’ aspects of ourselves by working on areas we feel vulnerable in. That, I dare say, is the opportunity and the challenge. My nostalgic blank slate suddenly had images of a country that invests in people, and people investing in themselves. Does this all mean erasing the past? No. But it offers us something we had not had physical evidence for before; scientific evidence on an intergenerational scale that we are able to be masters and commanders of our fate. All we have to do is start, make a call, and stand at the precipice of a future filled with hope for positive change. All the more reason to smile, because the future is looking brighter than it ever has before – and now we can even see it through a microscope.