Recommendations given by Dr. Vince Felitti of the Kaiser ACES Study


Article by Dana Terrell, LCSW, EAC.  

Note:  The author attended the 2013 EMDRIA Conference in Austin, TX where Dr. Vince Felitti was a plenary speaker, presenting to the entire conference of EMDR therapists.  This article is based on what he shared there, and input from a fellow EMDR therapist, Dr. Janis Clark Johnston, through discussions after his presentation.


FelittiThe Kaiser ACES Study, co-authored by Dr. Vince Felitti and Dr. Robert F. Anda  demonstrates clearly the impact of negative, or “adverse” childhood experiences (ACES). There is actually a dose-response relationship.  This means that the more categories of negative experiences an individual has experienced, the more troubles a person has with:


* Depression

* Anxiety


* Chronic health problems

* Financial difficulties

And so on….

NOTE:  For an article giving more detail about the ACES categories, please

       link here

Dr. Felitti’s First Recommendation

Dr. Felitti has found it simply helps to talk to people about their ACES, and to ask the caring question:  “How have these experiences affected your life?”  Though some doctors are still afraid to ask these questions, patients are relieved to hear an interest.  In fact, one woman in her 80’s said, “I thought I would die without anyone knowing what happened.”

EMDR therapists have found that EMDR therapy directed at those adverse experiences, and the negative beliefs that attend them, can reduce the severity of chronic illnesses for many clients who suffered through abuse, neglect and other sad experiences.  EMDR treatment and skill-building can make people more willing to take good care of themselves, to learn new skills that one’s parents never taught you, to increase exercise, improve nutrition, to learn to manage money positively and have a kind and caring attitude toward oneself.  The higher the ACES score, the more one needs to allow progress to proceed at a kind pace, because the health problems may make it challenging to focus on the therapy.   More research is needed on this to verify anecdotal reports of EMDR therapists.

But we find that those who make their own healing and calm self-care a high priority make progress with the help of EMDR to get them over stuck-points.

Dr Felitti has found so far that many doctors are not quite ready to make the changes in their routine.  They could assist the ACES patients through assessment, listening, and referrals to trauma therapists, even though more and more are aware of the issues intellectually.  He understandingly said, “Change creates a crisis of identity.”

I am thinking it may take patients interviewing health care providers to see if they offer the above services before they choose or continue with a health care provider. We are learning that consumers do have power, even in the health care arena.

Dr. Felitti’s Recommendation for Prevention:

So for now, he recommends focus on prevention, through improving parent education.  Most of the issues that harm high ACES patients are due to parents not knowing how to properly care for themselves, or their children.  Good parenting courses or books are thus of great importance.

I have discovered a parenting book written by a Certified EMDR therapist that is unique.  In addition to helping a parent meet a child’s needs more reliably, it helps the parent look at, understand and care for his or her own unmet needs.  The book is “It Takes a Child to Raise a Parent” by Janice Clark Johnston.  I believe this book makes an ideal baby shower gift, of gift for any parent to give to himself or to another parent you love and care for.

Please link to a video of Janice describing her book

I tell many of my clients:  “It is never too late to get your unmet needs from childhood met.”  They can be met in various ways, from imaginatively, to concretely.

Janice Clark Johnston’s book offers ways for parents to meet those needs.  She helps parents accept that some of their needs were not met in childhood and recognize them when they pop us, sometimes in distressing ways that take them by surprise..

As I mentioned above, I believe Johnston’s book is one of the best baby shower gifts that one could give.  Thus, I’ve begun a new tradition of giving it to all new parents coming along among our family and friends.

It would also be good timing to give it to a parent when their child is a “tween.”  The time from age 10 through 12 is a good time for parents to regroup and strengthen up for the challenges of the teen years.

My husband and I are reading it aloud as an enjoyable read.  Our son is well-launched, but we are still parents and may find occasions to practice her principles. Our son plans to have a family and children one day, so we hope to be better grandparents by reading Janice’s “It takes a child to raise a parent.”  Her key principle: the importance of being in the present moment with your child (or grandchild), allowing the interaction to mutually change and “raise” both of you, making these precious relationships an “adventure of caring” indeed.

In summary, two valuable ways to put the ACES results into beneficial practice:

1.  Advocate for health care that recognizes the importance of the ACES study and offers compassionate care and listening to people with high ACES scores.  If you have a friend who qualifies, offer to be a health care buddy, by going to occasional health care appointments to give support and a listening presence.

2.  Encourage parents to grow through the long adventure of parenting, by finding great parenting books or courses to give as gifts.  One great choice is “It Takes a Child to Raise a Parent” by Janis Clark Johnston.

©2013 Dana Terrell, LCSW, EAC