Worried About Family Problems?

Family Problems come in many guises, from the relatively benign to the more severe  and devastating. Dr. O'Connor has developed a range of products and resources to increase understanding of family problems and how to address them. Her focus on family problems lies with the intergenerational cycle of mental health problems, and their well documented transmission from one generation to another.

What Causes Family Problems?

Many lay the blame for this inter-generational cycle of mental health problems on genetics, or what we have come to view as an inherited predisposition for specific mental health concerns. But science does not  support this view. Science shows instead that genes do not determine our destinies, it is our social environments that control our genes, and how our genetic potential is expressed, or turned on. Or conversely, suppressed or turned off.  Our  social experiences modify our genes, which are then  passed on to subsequent generations, where they are further modified by the environmental conditions that prevail in their lives. 

Gene Mate is an expert on addiction and how it arises. In his view there is no nature versus nurture argument as it applies to addiction. It is not one or the other-neither a nature or nurture issue. He relies on epigenetics, a new and rapidly growing science, to explain the origins of addiction. But epigenetics is also a field of study that can help explain the roots of other mental health concerns, and their intergenerational transmission from one generation to another.

In essence the study of epigenetics shows how our genes interact with our social environments, in multiple and complex ways, and how this interaction modifies our genetic predispositions.  This field of study shows that our early social experiences have a potent effect on gene expression, including what genes are expressed or turned on, and also which genes are suppressed or turned off. This is a process that influences our behaviors throughout our lifespans. It is also a process that shapes the genetic package that we will pass on to our offspring, and that they in turn will pass on to others. .  

The nature of our early social environments, including the perinatal and post natal periods, determine our risks for developing a psychological disorder or concern. This is the case regardless of any genetic predisposition we may possess, for any type of mental health disorder.  Favorable psychological environments can reduce or turn off genetic risks for developing a mental health problem. Whereas the opposite is the case for children who endure less favorable childhood conditions. 

Adverse Childhood Experiences


Dr. O'Connor's focus on family problems centers on this inter-generational cycle of mental health concerns, and the role that Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) play  in the development of mental health concerns.  Family problems frequently lie at the root of a range of psychological disorders, and mental health concerns. Conversely favorable family conditions play a protective role and aid in the prevention of mental health problems.

So what are ACEs and how do they increase the risks for mental health concerns in young people and the adults they become?

Adverse Childhood Experiences include alcoholism, or other addictive behaviors in a parent, or parental mental health concerns such as depression or an anxiety disorder. ACE's can also include the incarceration of a parent,  or child abuse, including sexual and physical abuse, as well as psychological, emotional and verbal abuse.

ACE's contribute to chronic ongoing stress or trauma, and what we have come to describe as complex or betrayal trauma.

High levels of chronic stress can have detrimental effects on the developing brain.This places children at risk for numerous psychological concerns, including social, emotional and behavioral problems, as well as cognitive, learning and academic difficulties.  Children who experience ACE's are also at risk of developing problems with attention, as well as emotional and behavioral regulation. Without help the problems they begin to experience as children will remain with them as adults, and move forward to infect future generations of children. 

Promoting Positive Outcomes

Dr. O'Connor has developed a series of books and other resources to help promote positive psychological outcomes in children, adolescents, young adults and their families. Her goal is to increase understanding of family problems, and provide information to help break the inter-generational cycle of mental health problems.

She is in the process of putting together an online store, and further developing her products.  In the meantime, you can click on the following link to access her book - I Can Be Me - A Helping Book for Children of Alcoholic Parents.