ACES: Adverse Life Experiences and Your Health

What Your Health Care Providers Should Know about ACES

By Dana Terrell, LCSW

Francine Shapiro PhDHow could adverse life experiences impact your health?  How could your health care providers play a more significant role in preventing health problems affected by stressful experiences from either remaining unresolved or worsening?

Francine Shapiro, PhD has written a review article (see link below) for the medical community. As patients of medicine in its many forms, we are included in that medical community.  Her review article was just published in The Permanente Journal (Winter 2014, Volume 18 No. 1). In her usual style of polished prose, Dr. Shapiro (the originator/developer of EMDR Therapy) gives a thorough yet efficient integration of the EMDR Therapy research in general, and how it has been shown to help specific physical issues in particular.

If you are busy and have minimal time, even reading the Abstract in the sidebar will tell you a lot.  It is the best-written, clearest Abstract I have read.  In a brief “Background” she notes: “The positive therapeutic outcomes rapidly achieved [with EMDR therapy] without homework or detailed description of the disturbing event offer the medical community an efficient treatment approach with a wide range of applications.”

She concludes the Abstract:  “EMDR therapy provides physicians and other clinicians with an efficient approach to address psychological and physiologic symptoms stemming from adverse life experiences. Clinicians should therefore evaluate patients for experiential contributors to clinical manifestation.”

This is the goal that the author of the ACES Study (see our article about ACES), Vincent Felitti, MD has been trying to achieve by speaking at numerous conferences for physicians and other cliniciansHe reported in September 2013 at the annual meeting of the EMDR International Association that so far no physicians have reported to him that they have begun evaluating patients for their adverse childhood or life experiences.

It may be time for patients to utilize their power for shifting medical practice.

Note the changes that have happened in other areas of practice due to patient interest (and perhaps assertiveness):

1. Hospitals compete to accommodate patient “Birth Plans” and design the nicest birthing rooms, making room for all desired support people to be present to welcome the new member of the community.

2. Kaiser Permanente includes acupuncture in substance abuse treatment because they have learned it improves outcomes.

3.  Though most doctors were not thoroughly trained to consider nutrition of significant importance in patient health, many doctors now knowledgably recommend Vitamin D3 supplements to promote improved health.

How could you as a consumer/patient help Dr. Felitti, Dr. Shapiro, and all the other patients who could benefit from following their recommendations?

Please print out this article and share it with your trusted clinicians (physicians including psychiatrists and surgeons, physician assistants, nurses and nurse practitioners, physical therapists, dentists, optometrists and ophthalmologists, alternative healthcare practitioners, and so on).  It is especially important to share it with orthopedic surgeons, because the researched PTSD rate for those with fractures can be as high as 52%!  I have not seen any study of any other conditions that demonstrates that high a PTSD rate.

Please share this article with your family and friends so they can give it to their clinicians as well.  We can utilize the wonder of the web to help educate others and enable them to request these important changes in health care.

Shapiro’s Review Article on EMDR and Adverse Life Experiences

For the convenience of the clinicians, please also share the simple form below which was developed for the ACES study. It makes it easier for clinicians to talk to patient about these issues.

ACES Questionnaire (“Find Your ACE Score”)

Your health provider might educate patients using Shapiro’s conclusions from her article:

A substantial amount of research indicates that adverse life experiences may be the basis for a wide range of psychological and physiologic symptoms.  EMDR therapy research has shown that processing memories of such experiences results in the rapid amelioration of negative emotions, beliefs, and physical sensations.

She goes on to suggest (my emphasis):

…EMDR therapy can allow medical personnel to quickly determine the degree to which distressing experiences are a contributing factor and to efficiently address the problem through memory processing that can help facilitate both psychological and physical resolution.

ACES research has demonstrated the importance of asking these questions, and trauma-related research has demonstrated that EMDR Therapy is an effective and gentler way to address the adverse experiences compared to therapies which require a lot of description or homework about the details of the distressing events.

Please help to spread the word to your health care providers.  All you do to help is deeply appreciated.


©2014 Dana Terrell