In my work as a clinical social worker, I often examine how a person’s childhood shapes their adult experiences. I’ve become fascinated with the impact of early childhood trauma; therefore, I’ve done a lot of research to educate myself and the individuals I work with. Between 1995 and 1997 Kaiser Permanente first surveyed 17,000 individuals on childhood trauma. They called these traumas Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs). In their combined research with The Center for Disease Control, they discovered a link between exposure to ACEs and negative long term health, social and economic outcomes . Since then, research has been compiling and compelling.
I have found in my research that ACEs include a spectrum of traumas such as domestic violence exposure, community violence exposure, neglect, emotional abuse, physical abuse, sexual abuse, etc. The Trauma Center ‘s research on ACEs has found that it can change neuro pathways in our brains, meaning a trauma victim’s brain my not be functioning at the same optimal level as a brain not exposed to trauma.
My personal practice as a clinical social worker reflects national trends. ACEs do appear to have huge consequences on long-term health including somatic issues, obesity, cancers, chronic headaches, etc. These individuals tend to have more addictive behaviors, such as alcoholism and tobacco use. They tend to have higher rates of depression, emotional regulation problems, and other behavioral health concerns. They also seem to have increased incarceration rates and interaction with the legal system.
I have also found hopeful research on ACEs that continues to motivate me to do the tough work I do every day. Top researchers such as Kaiser Permanente, The Trauma Center, The Center for Disease Control and The National Child Traumatic Stress Network, etc. indicates adults and children can heal from their experiences with ACEs.
The National Child Traumatic Stress Network has studied resiliency factors that can help children and adults exposed to trauma fare better over time. Resiliency factors can include stable family environments, engagement in extracurricular activities, supportive extended families, community involvement, positive school experiences, etc. Early intervention can be instrumental to diffusing the long term effects of ACEs. I have used Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing and other therapies focusing on somatic processing to help adults heal from trauma.
I think it is important for trauma survivors, adults or children, to make sense of their life story. We can reframe our experiences and identify with our resiliency factors. We possess the courage and resiliency to live full, healthy lives. I have seen the human spirit heal and it is an amazing transformation to watch. I believe engaging with a behavioral health and medical provider knowledgeable in ACEs and trauma can be key for individuals seeking help.
If you would like more comprehensive information from leading researchers on Adverse Childhood Experiences and Trauma, please check out the following links: