Kaiser ACES Study and the Impact of Childhood Trauma

Kaiser ACES Study and the Impact of Childhood Trauma

By Dana Terrell, LCSW, EAC

San Diego Kaiser Permanente: sponsor of the ACES Study

d.terrell2012cThe largest collaborative study of all time is a joint project by Kaiser Permanente of San Diego, and the national Center for Disease Control.  It is a longitudinal study of 17,000 residents of San Diego County. It’s been in process for over twenty years now.

Chronic Health Problems and Childhood Traumas

The researchers had noticed that so many of their clients with negative or traumatic experiences in childhood had more chronic health problems than the average.  They wondered if it were just their imagination, and decided to research it to learn the facts.  The facts confirmed their hunches to an amazing degree.  In fact they were able to conclude that there is a step-wise relationship:  the more “adverse childhood experiences” the more chronic health conditions.  With each increase in “ACES” score, there was a percentage increase in the number of chronic health conditions, such that with a score of 6, the number of chronic health conditions was an average of 3.5.

What constitutes adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) ?

  • Parent often swearing at you, insulting you, or humiliating you
  • Parent physically hurting you
  • Witnessing parental violence
  • Someone at least 5 years older than you touching you in a sexual way, or having intercourse of any kind
  • Mentally ill parent
  • Alcoholic or drug addicted parent
  • Not experiencing that someone in your family thought you were important or special
  • Parents being separated or divorced
  • Having a household member go to prison
  • Not having enough food, clean clothes, or protection from harm

The ACEs score you have is simply the number of these categories you have experienced.

How to cope with having a high ACES score

It can be distressing to count up the adverse experiences and realize that could be a factor in your health issues, and other repercussions, such as alcoholism or drug use, emotional or mental illness, and so on. Many feel:  “It was hard enough to experience all the stress and pain!  Do I really have to look forward to more of the same from my body?”


A Nice Resource for updates on the ACES studies and ways to help those with Childhood Trauma

Please visit the website hosted by Jane Ellen Stevens:

There is Hope for Improving your Emotional and Physical Health

No.  I’m sharing this information because there is much hope.   When people receive good validated trauma treatment, their whole systems can calm considerably.  Also, exercise and gentle body disciplines such as yoga, tai chi or chi gong have been proven very helpful in gaining a positive relationship with your body. People who take these steps toward holistic well-being find themselves doing better.

That has been my experience with many clients referred to me by a Naturopathic MD for help with their untreated trauma.  It helps them to learn to take better care of themselves, as they experience (finally) getting some old unmet needs and traumas effectively processed and put to rest.  Sometimes they have had trauma with a health care provider that makes it hard to trust any new provider.  Processing those traumas can help them to cooperate with a new provider who is very caring and capable, by following the guidance and prescriptions.

Try a Trauma Therapy, like EMDR or CBT

Whatever traumas you have been carrying, consciously or unconsciously, I encourage you to try a trauma therapy proven to help.  There are 2 recommended by the World Health Organization (2013)  and the Cochrane Review (2012):  Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR).  Both have successfully helped people overcome a diagnosis of PTSD.  EMDR achieves that the fastest, for the most people, with the lowest dropout rate, and the greatest number of positive side effects (called “Post-traumatic growth”) such as improved meaning of life, and improved relationships.  That is why this website is focuses on EMDR.  My recommendation would definitely be to try EMDR with a Certified EMDR therapist.  They are dedicated to the practice of the full EMDR protocol which has been validated to work better than any incomplete attempt to do EMDR.

2014 Update:

Francine Shapiro, PhD has written an article published in The Permanente Journal about Adverse Life Experiences, and ACES Research and EMDR Research. It is designed for medical personnel.  She shares that the World Health Organization describes the advantage that EMDR has over CBT.  For more info and a link to the article, link here.

Why I recommend a Certified EMDR Therapist

Every once in a while clients report they have tried EMDR and it didn’t work for them.  I always ask:  was your therapist Certified?  I also ask how they did the EMDR.  Often the description is not the complete EMDR protocol. Usually I find the thorough history-taking and preparation stage were omitted before beginning EMDR.  Those steps are designed for client safety, so omitting them is irresponsible practice.

And some have told me, that though the therapist advertised being an “EMDR expert” they didn’t actually do EMDR in 8 sessions.  Obviously that is not EMDR therapy either.  In that case there is an ethical issue.  There was not truth in advertising.  Such things can be reported to the relevant licensing board.  Or you can ask for a refund from such a therapist who did not give you what you asked for.

How to assert your rights to get what you want

This website features Certified EMDR therapists. We have the highest standard for inclusion of any EMDR Directory.

If you do not live in a region (San Diego County, Bay Area, Orange County, Sacramento Area, Seattle Area, Washington State, Arizona, Boston Area and Colorado) currently served by Comprehensive Therapy Approach, you can always ask your therapist:  Are you EMDRIA-Certified?  Are you using the full 8 Phase EMDR protocol with me?  In this way you can show your knowledge and assert your rights to get the care you are seeking.

Or, you can find a Certified EMDR therapist in your city by going to www.emdria.org, click on “Find a Therapist” and be sure to choose a “Certified” EMDR therapist, or an Approved Consultant who has enough experience and expertise to help other EMDR therapists become Certified.

We wish you very well in steadily healing from negative childhood experiences.  Learning to get your needs met in healthy ways is a worthwhile endeavor!

©2014, ©2012 Dana Terrell, LCSW, EAC