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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

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

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.

Writing to Heal: A Program for Patients, Practitioners, and Educators

Often those who focus heartfelt energy and compassion on helping others overlook their own histories or levels of chronic stress, and the need to foster their own inner resiliency and healing. Without such awareness, individuals are more likely to struggle in emotionally stressful and demanding situations, in love, work, and parenting. In this workshop – through writing prompts developed over her thirty years as a journalist eliciting interviewees’ most deeply felt emotions, memories, and insights, and utilizing science-based writing-to-heal exercises – Jackson Nakazawa helps patients, behavioral health specialists, medical practitioners, educators, and parents (in different forms of this workshop) to utilize the process of writing to heal to better see how their own histories and inner stories may be affecting their health, relationships, work, and well-being, and to begin to write new healing narratives, as they uncover unique paths to resiliency and freedom in the present.

Testimonials from Organizations for lectures:

“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

“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 the Johns Hopkins Hospital Spiritual Care and Chaplaincy Department

“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.

Quotes 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.”

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 100 national and international conferences for universities, non-profits, hospitals, medical, mental health and wellness organizations, advocacy groups, educational organizations, parent groups, and schools. Her presentations offer continuing education credits.

2020 Harvard Division of Science and Harvard Cabot Science Library Series, Cambridge, MA
2020 Innovations in Recovery Annual Conference, Hampton, NH
2020 Center for Prevention and Counseling Annual Conference, Andover, NJ
2020 State of our Children Annual Conference, Lakeport, CA
2020 Credible Health Annual Conference, Baltimore Convention Center, MD
2019 Columbia-Bassett Medical School, Summer Program, Philadelphia, PA
2019 Care Plus of New Jersey Annual Conference, Brewster, NJ
2019 Children’s Home Society of North Carolina, Charlotte NC, and Winston-Salem, NC
2019 New Jersey Prevention Network Annual Conference, Atlantic City, NJ
2018 Rutgers Behavioral Health Care Disrupt Trauma Conference, Piscataway, NJ
2018 Lee Health Golisano Children’s Hospitals Annual Pediatric Conference, Fort Myers, FL
2018 Nutritional Therapy Association Annual Conference, Vancouver, WA
2017 The Royal Society of Medicine SIRPA Annual Conference on Chronic Pain and Emotion, London, England
2017 Children’s Trust of South Carolina Annual Prevention Conference, Columbia, SC
2017 Stony Brook Children’s Hospital, Stony Brook NY
2017 Learning & The Brain Annual Conference, Positive Student Minds, Arlington, VA 
2016 Johns Hopkins Conference on Trauma Informed Healing, Baltimore, MD
2016 Legal Aid Society of New York, Brooklyn, NY
2016 Safe Shores DC Children’s Advocacy Center, Washington, DC
2016 Duke Women’s Forum, Baltimore, MD
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 3rd International Rare Neuroimmunologic Disorders Symposium, Redmond, WA
2008 21st Annual Lupus Seminar, Linthicum Heights, MD
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 Group
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.