Adverse Childhood Experiences

Warning – This section contains information about sexual abuse and/or violence which may be triggering to survivors.

An important part of my intake questionnaire is the ACE or Adverse Childhood Experiences Scale. This assessment provides valuable information regarding Developmental Trauma that may have occurred as a result of adverse childhood experiences such as abuse (physical, emotional, sexual), neglect (physical, emotional) and household dysfunction (mental illness, substance abuse, domestic violence, divorce, incarcerated family member)  

Many who seek psychotherapy are often unaware of the toll that these childhood experiences are taking in their adult life. These adults may be high functioning and successful, however, may struggle with excessive anxiety, anger and a longing to be taken care of. Often they have been diagnosed with ADHD, bipolar disorder or depression and have difficulty regulating emotions and suffer chronic problems in relationships. Common coping strategies they use may include overworking, overeating, overusing substances and overfunctioning in relationships in an effort to find comfort and acceptance. In my practice, I strive to provide a safe container, psychoeducation, skills and resources so that the memories and effects of traumatic childhood experiences can be managed, processed and healed.

Psychiatrist and PTSD researcher Bessel van der Kolk explores and reports on this syndrome in his book The Body Keeps the Score where he explains…

“One does not have to be a combat soldier, or visit a refugee camp in Syria or the Congo to encounter trauma. Trauma happens to us, our friends, our families, and our neighbors. Research by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has shown that one in five Americans was sexually molested as a child; one in four was beaten by a parent to the point of a mark being left on their body; and one in three couples engages in physical violence. A quarter of us grew up with alcoholic relatives, and one out of eight witnessed their mother being beaten or hit. […] It takes tremendous energy to keep functioning while carrying the memory of terror, and the shame of utter weakness and vulnerability.”

For more in-depth and clinical information on developmental trauma please see this research article