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Oprah Winfrey explores revolutionary approach to childhood trauma for "60 Minutes"

Oprah on treating childhood trauma
Oprah explores "life-changing question" in treating childhood trauma 07:24

Oprah Winfrey is shifting her perspective on how childhood trauma impacts people's lives. For Sunday's "60 Minutes," Winfrey traveled to Milwaukee, where she grew up, to learn about a revolutionary approach in the city to early trauma. She spoke to Dr. Bruce Perry, a world-renowned expert in the field who has treated survivors of high-profile events like the Columbine shooting. He said a child's brain gets wired "differently" when they're raised in a chaotic or violent environment.  

"If you have developmental trauma, the truth is you're going to be at risk for almost any kind of physical health, mental health, social health problem that you can think of," Perry told Winfrey.

Winfrey said she believes the conversation could be a "game changer."  

"This story is so important to me and I believe to our culture that if I could dance on the tabletops right now to get people to pay attention to it, I would. It is definitively changed the way I see people in the world, and it has definitively changed the way I will now be operating my school in South Africa and going forward any philanthropic efforts that I'm engaged in," she said Tuesday on "CBS This Morning."

"What I recognize is is that a lot of NGOs, a lot of people working in philanthropic world, who are trying to help disadvantaged, challenged people from backgrounds that have been disenfranchised, are working on the wrong thing," Winfrey added.

While there have been plenty of job and training programs to help the disadvantaged, Winfrey said, "If you don't fix the hole in the soul, the thing that is where the wounds started, you're working at the wrong thing."

The shift in perspective comes down to what Winfrey calls a "life-changing question."

"See, we go through life and we see kids who are misbehaving. 'You juvenile delinquents,' we label them. And really the question that we should be asking is not 'what's wrong with that child' but 'what happened to that child?' And then having the resources to be able to address what happened to you. The most important question you can ask of anybody which is what I now say even for the Parkland [school] shooting – instead of what's the matter with that kid, I say what happened to that child?" 

As a result of her reporting, she said she went back to her school board and said, "Hey, we've been doing it all wrong. We need to be a trauma-informed care institution." 

"CBS This Morning" co-host Gayle King pointed out that this was a personal story for Winfrey herself.

"Number one, it's in Milwaukee where you were raised. You certainly suffered trauma there. You weren't physically abused in your home, but you talk very candidly about –" King started.

"I got enough whippings to call it – we just didn't call it physical abuse at the time," Winfrey said. "Today I would have to report my mama."

"Today it would be. But you've certainly been very candid about the sexual abuse. And a lot of these kids suffer from PTSD. I marvel, Oprah, that the environment you grew up in, that you don't seem to have suffered from PTSD. Are you rethinking that?" King asked.

"No, I – I definitely do not have PTSD," Winfrey responded. She said she asked Perry why some people like herself, "raised in chaotic environments," turned out OK.

"It's directly proportional to the relationships. So he was saying for me, for instance, it was school. I found my refuge in school," Winfrey said. "I found my place in school from teachers. So everybody needs somebody growing up that says, 'I believe in you, you're OK, things are going to be all right.' And that can be a teacher, that can be a coach, that can be somebody in Sunday school."

Watch Winfrey's story on the next edition of "60 Minutes," Sunday, March 11 at 7:00 p.m. ET/PT.

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