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Donna Jackson Nakazawa is the author, most recently, of The Angel and the Assassin: The Tiny Brain Cell that Changed the Course of Medicine, and five earlier books, including Childhood Disrupted, The Last Best Cure, and the classic, The Autoimmune Epidemic. Donna has written for such publications as Wired, The Boston Globe, The Washington Post, Stat, Health Affairs, HuffPost, Parenting, More, Glamour, and Aeon, and has contributed commentaries to The Today Show, NPR and ABC News. An internationally acclaimed science journalist, author and lecturer, Donna’s fresh take on the intersection of emotion, neuroscience, and our stress-immune response, and how this interplay – as our brain and body constantly respond to and dance with the world around us – affects physical and mental health, has made her a sought-after speaker at professional conferences and schools, where she is known for her ability to translate complex science into memorable insights as well as her warm, conversational rapport with audiences. Donna’s most popular talks and workshops include: 

Keynote for the 2019 New Jersey Prevention Network Annual Conference in Atlantic City, “Creating Connections” – Childhood, Disrupted, and How we Can Heal Communities, Families, and Ourselves
Author Donna Jackson Nakazawa
Photo Copyright © Marshall Clarke

 “Donna is a talented presenter, who delivers sensitive subject matter with an open heart, that highlights her research, skill and knowledge of trauma, neurobiology, and resiliency. Her message was well received by our audience of over 500 people.”
—Birley Wright, Prevention Training Manager, Children’s Trust of South Carolina

The Angel and the Assassin:
How The Tiniest Cell in the Brain Shapes our Life-Long Well-Being, and How we Can Harness This Science to Heal

Based on her newest book, The Angel and the Assassin: The Tiny Brain Cell that Changed the Course of Medicine, Jackson Nakazawa offers a fascinating look at one of the most important and recent discoveries in all of medicine – the role of a tiny brain cell, called microglia, in determining brain health – and how these findings from the latest annals of neuroscience change everything we thought we knew about brain-related disorders, and how we become who we are as humans – or what we might think of as the making and unmaking of the self. Heralded by leaders across medicine and psychiatry for offering an inspiring, revolutionary new way of thinking about human well-being, in this talk Jackson Nakazawa relates the tale of how science overlooked the power, peril, and promise of this tiny brain cell for almost a century, explaining how microglia act as the angels or assassins of the mind, either protecting or destroying the neural synapses we rely on for our mental well-being, leading to or helping to prevent disorders from depression to Alzheimer’s. With a gift for compelling and compassionate storytelling, Jackson Nakazawa articulates the biological basis of the mind-body connection; how our brain – governed by microglia – acts as our “seventh sense,” responding to ever-changing cues in our environment; the ways in which this intricate, unseen dance between our brain and the world around us can affect us for good or ill across the lifespan; and why the female brain-immune response is even more robust in the face of chronic environmental stressors (as compared to men’s), explaining why women face higher rates of depression, Alzheimer’s and autoimmune disorders. Most importantly, she offers hope as to how we can harness and translate this new understanding of the brain as an immune organ into solutions for treating and preventing brain-related disorders, offering us a radically reconceived picture of human health, and how we can help heal ourselves.

The connection between physical inflammation and psychiatric disorders is a 300-year-old medical mystery. But, recently, Harvard researchers found the answer: a tiny immune cell called microglia, which, when exposed to chronic stress, prunes away important synapses in the brain. Donna reports on the role of this long-overlooked cell in her keynote for the 2019 Care Plus Annual Conference.

Childhood Disrupted:
How Children’s Biography Becomes Their Biology – and How We Can Heal

Inspired by her book, Childhood Disrupted, Jackson Nakazawa offers a clear-eyed picture of the latest science on how chronic, unpredictable stressors in childhood can leave long-lasting “fingerprints” on children’s developing brains and bodies, affecting how well they love and learn for life, and their mental and physical health as adults. With surprising up-to-the-minute facts and compelling anecdotes from the annals of medicine, Jackson Nakazawa opens up a much-needed conversation, deftly touching (in different forms of this talk) on how and why chronic childhood stressors trigger epigenetic and biophysical changes that, in turn, set the stage for physical and mental health disorders; why even seemingly “mild” and common traumas or family dysfunction can cause deep changes to the architecture of the brain and body; how chronic toxic stress alters neural connections in areas of the brain crucial to mental health; why women are particularly vulnerable to the biological effects of chronic stressors; the healing neurobiological “superpower” of our human connection; the crucial importance of benevolent childhood experiences in ameliorating the effects of toxic childhood stress; how each of us can take science-based steps to evince our own post-traumatic growth; as well as the role of parents, practitioners, and educators in creating healthier, more resilient children, families, and communities.

Find out more information about Donna’s courses and workshop (Creating Your Healing Narrative: A Writing to Heal and Neural Re-Narrating™ Program for Patients, Practitioners, and Educators) which she offers to organizations and individuals here.

Testimonials from Organizations for Keynote Lectures:

“I found this webinar to be spectacular and so vitally important to, well, everyone. I can’t imagine any improvement other than another webinar with Donna Jackson Nakazawa to further discuss her work.” —Attendee, The California Trauma-Informed Care Academy

“I come to you as a grandmother with a grandson with celiac disease. He has behavioral issues that I have long believed related to soft trauma, genetics, his autoimmune disease, etc. I have been searching in literature for the link between biology, mental illness, the immune system, and trauma. Donna Jackson Nakazawa’s work provided me with that link. I shall be forever grateful.” —Attendee, The California Trauma-Informed Care Academy

“Donna Jackson Nakazawa brought her unique passion along with her incredible depth of knowledge on how trauma changes the brain and body – and how we can help build resiliency – to our 2018 Inaugural Dis{RU}pt Trauma Conference. When you hear her speak you can’t help but begin to approach the individuals you serve with a more trauma-informed lens. Her contributions continue to fuel Rutgers’ University Behavioral Health Care to carry out our mission.”
—Maureen A. Brogan, Program Manager, Rutgers Health, University Behavioral Health Care

“Wow! We received such great feedback after Donna’s keynote for our 2020 conference! Attendees told us: ‘This was the best presentation I’ve ever attended!,’ ‘I want every practitioner and parent to see this! ‘Donna was a great presenter and her material was very much valued — I loved this program!,’ ‘This was a fantastic program!’ and “This program helped us to understand root causes for distress in those we serve, enables us to better assist them and help them understand themselves better, and support stronger recoveries!'”
—Tina Aue, Director, Center for Prevention and Counseling

“Donna’s keynote for our day-long event at Johns Hopkins Hospital was superb. A terrific speaker, she clearly articulated her deep understanding of neurobiology and helped us to understand the powerful and lasting effects that high emotional stress can have on a human life. Having Donna speak to this part of life, including addressing our own traumas, opened up a new dialogue for us. ” 
—Ty Crowe, Director of Johns Hopkins Hospital Spiritual Care and Chaplaincy

“Donna served as our keynote speaker at the Royal Society of Medicine in London at our October 2017 conference, Chronic Pain: The Role of Emotions. The way in which she interwove evidence-based studies with stories, metaphors, and real-life examples made her talk a captivating journey for our audience from start to finish. Donna eloquently handled every query from the audience and the feedback we received was excellent.”
—Georgie Oldfield, Founder, SIRPA

 “Donna is a talented presenter, who delivers sensitive subject matter with an open heart, that highlights her research, skill and knowledge of trauma, neurobiology, and resiliency. Her message was well received by our audience of over 500 people.”
—Birley Wright, Prevention Training Manager, Children’s Trust of South Carolina

“Donna keynoted our 2019 annual luncheon conference and provided our 600 guests with a powerful and effective message . . . an understanding of the cutting-edge science on both chronic stress and resiliency, children can overcome adversity in their youth. Our audience stayed thoroughly engaged throughout Donna’s impactful presentation and many reached out afterwards to tell us how inspired they had been by her talk. We will have her back again.”
—Brian Maness, President and CEO of Children’s Home Society of North Carolina

“For those of us who work with children who have experienced trauma, Donna Jackson Nakazawa gave our clinicians at our 2019 annual Care Plus Foundation Conference new insight and concrete action plans to address and work to reverse children’s trauma, inspiring a more wholistic approach to care – insight rooted in up-to-the-minute science.”
—Christine Brewster, Executive Director, Care Plus Foundation

In her keynote for the 2019 New Jersey Prevention Network Annual Conference, Donna discusses the importance of kids’ having consistent, protective, reliable, and supportive relationships with adults.

Testimonials from Audience Members:

“I loved the way that Donna brings her points home through metaphor and story-telling – so that the science is easy to understand and the take-away can never be forgotten.”

“As a clinician and a mom of a 14-year old, Donna Jackson Nakazawa’s compassionate presentation reminded me that the trauma lens is not something we simply pull out from 9 to 5.  It is the way to view the world. Her shared knowledge has helped me to be a better parent….I know how to foster my daughter’s resiliency. Thank you! Please keep the work going.”

“Donna Jackson Nakazawa’s message hit home with me. This was crucially valuable information we’ve never heard before in our training. Donna changed how I see the young people I treat every day, and how I see my own journey to healing so that I can be a better clinician, and also a better parent in my own livingroom.”

“This was fantastic! Donna is a dynamic speaker, informative, impassioned and insightful about how our bodies and brains are in a constant dance with our environment, and how we can help ourselves and others find resiliency in the face of chronic stressors.”

“Important and empowering for us as teachers trying to help those we care for, at work and at home. I loved how Donna spoke to us from a place of compassion. She understood that we are doing very difficult jobs every day, as we help the patients we see, and many of us are also seeking post-traumatic growth for ourselves. Thank you!”

“Donna’s informative and engaging presentation was warmly welcomed by our community of practitioners. Weeks later, my colleagues and I are still strategizing and implementing ways to utilize the insights Donna shared so that we can re-calibrate our own approaches and programming, and better help our patients.”

Testimonials from “Creating Your Healing Narrative” Workshop Participants:

“This workshop is powerful, like moving through many years of really good therapy condensed into a couple of hours!”

“Donna embodied the presence of a conductor orchestrating music as she invited us to create our own compassionate narratives out of the truths revealed in our own writing.”

“Thank you Donna. What a gift you have in putting together and facilitating an experience that was quite emotional and personal, yet felt comfortable and safe.”

“The thoughtful, caring way you talk us through the experience really enabled me to deeply remember, feel, and share. This valuable experience has certainly left me with much to continue to learn and grow from!”

“Donna has a natural healing presence and is able to create a sense of safety, which can be especially hard to do virtually.”

“The healing I experienced in this workshop was so powerful… thank you for helping us to restore ourselves so we can also better help others.”

“I came away with such positive tools to use in all situations of my life. Thank you Donna for the timeliness of this workshop and for your guidance!”

“I just want to thank you. Wow. I shed tears. What a very meaningful couple of hours. It couldn’t have been more powerful. Thank you for sharing your gifts with us, Donna.”

“This workshop allowed me a great and needed space to reflect and grow in mindful awareness about how my past adversity affects me in my present life. I especially loved that you left us with so many new tools for flourishing.”

“By the end of this webinar I felt a sense of fullness and well-being that I have not felt for some time now. Thank you.”

“Your content was timely and powerful for me, and left me with much to contemplate further as I take these tools and continue to use them in my home and work life.”

Donna explains how simple things like smiling and making eye contact with kids can help soothe their stress response and help to protect them from illness later in life.

Previous Lectures

Donna Jackson Nakazawa has keynoted over 200 national and international conferences for universities, organizations, and schools. Her presentations offer continuing education credits.

2021 Andrew Weil Center for Integrative Medicine Annual Conference, U. of Arizona
2021 Andrew Weil Center for Integrative Medicine IMER Medical School Rotation, U. of Arizona
2021 Andrew Weil Center for Integrative Medicine, IMmersive Narrative Writing Workshop
2021, 2020, 2019 Columbia-Bassett Medical School
2021 Peace & Justice Institute Annual Conference, Orlando, FL
2020 Harvard Division of Science Cabot Library Series, Cambridge, MA
2020 Innovations in Recovery Annual Conference, Hampton, NH
2020 Center for Prevention and Counseling Annual Conference
2020 State of our Children Annual Conference, State of California
2020 Credible Health Annual Conference, Baltimore Convention Center
2019 Care Plus of New Jersey Annual Conference
2019 New Jersey Prevention Network Annual Conference
2018 Rutgers University Behavioral Health Annual Conference
2018 Lee Health Golisano Children’s Hospitals Annual Conference, Fort Myers, FL
2017 The Royal Society of Medicine Conference on Chronic Pain and Emotion, London, England
2017 Children’s Trust of South Carolina Annual Conference, Columbia, SC
2017 Stony Brook Children’s Hospital, Stony Brook, NY
2017 Learning & The Brain Annual Conference, Arlington, VA
2016 Johns Hopkins Conference on Trauma Informed Healing, Baltimore, M
2016 Legal Aid Society of New York
2016 Safe Shores DC Children’s Advocacy Center, Washington, DC
2016 Duke Women’s Forum
2012 8th International Congress on Autoimmunity, Granada, Spain
2010 National Institutes of Health, Autoimmune Diseases Summit, Washington, DC
2010 The Lupus Foundation, New Haven, CT
2009 92nd Street Y’s “To Your Health” Lecture Series, New York, NY
2009 American College for Advancement in Medicine Annual Conference, Las Vegas, NV
2009 Johns Hopkins “A Woman’s Journey” Annual Conference, West Palm Beach, FL
2009 Roadblock to Recovery, Scottsdale, AZ
2009 Lupus Foundation, Verona, NY
2009 Lupus Alliance, Depew, NY
2008 Johns Hopkins Annual Conference “A Woman’s Journey,” Baltimore, MD
2008 Johns Hopkins Project Restore, Redmond, WA
2007  The Association of Independent Schools of New England Annual Diversity Conference, Boston, MA
2006  The Association of Independent Schools of Greater Washington Annual Diversity Conference, Washington, DC
2005 Association of Independent Schools of Maryland School Counselors
2004 Association of Independent Schools of Maryland Annual Conference, Baltimore, MD
2004 Enoch Pratt Library, Baltimore
2003 Association of Independent Schools of Greater Washington School Counselors Group

Sidwell Friends School, Washington, DC
Bank Street School, New York, NY
Potomac School, McLean, Virginia
Wilmington Friends School, Wilmington, DE
Georgetown Day School, Washington DC
St. Stephens and St. Agnes School, Alexandria, VA
Maret School, Washington DC
Edmunde Burke School, Washington, DC
Green Acres School, Rockville, MD
The Key School, Annapolis, MD
McDonogh School, Baltimore, MD
Indian Creek School, Crownsville, MD
Calvert School, Baltimore, MD

When kids face chronic adversity, they get stuck in the first half of the stress cycle, setting the stage for health issues years down the line. Fortunately, there are steps that parents can take to help them turn off the “fight, flight, freeze” response. Donna outlines one strategy in this clip from the 2019 New Jersey Prevention Network Annual Conference.