(Originally published on ACEPblog.org)

Diabetes. Depression. Heart disease. Asthma. Addiction. Cancer. What common denominator increases the likelihood of developing any of these conditions?

Adverse childhood experiences, or ACEs.

According to the CDC, ACEs are associated with an increased risk for mental and physical health problems across the lifespan. Childhood trauma (the biography) seems to affect our brains, nervous systems, and biochemistry (biology), which in turn increases the risk of psychological issues and serious illness (destiny).

ACES are a HUGE public health issue.  Since 1998, when Vincent Felitti and his colleagues published the seminal ACE study that revealed the health risks associated with childhood trauma, much public health focus has been on prevention.  Prevention is a great idea. But can we do anything for those who have already had ACEs?

With its track record of helping people recover from trauma, perhaps energy psychology has a key role to play in helping people heal from the effects of childhood trauma.


ACEs and Health

The problem of ACEs has gained widespread attention in recent years. The CDC estimates that if we prevented ACEs, we could eliminate 21 million cases of depression, nearly two million cases of heart disease, and 2.5 million cases of overweight/obesity. We would save millions of dollars in healthcare costs every year.

Sixty-one percent of American adults have experienced at least one adverse childhood experience. Sadly, 16% of us have experienced four or more ACEs. This is important because four is the critical number of ACEs that takes a serious toll on wellbeing and health.

For example, an ACE score of four or more

  • Is associated with a 390% increase in the likelihood of developing chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).
  • Is associated with a 460% increase in the likelihood of developing depression.
  • Increases suicide risk by 1,220%.
  • An ACE Score of six or more is associated with a decreased life span of  20 years.


ACEs and Biography

There are three main categories of ACEs, and each category contains several types.

Abuse: Physical, Emotional, Sexual

Neglect: Physical, Emotional

Household Challenges: Intimate Partner Violence, Mental Illness, Divorce, Substance Abuse, Incarcerated Relative

Children of different races have different incident rates of adverse childhood experiences. According to the Child Trends brief of the 2016 National Survey of Children’s Health, the highest incidence of ACEs is among Black non-Hispanic Americans (61%) followed by Hispanic Americans (51%); 40% of White non-Hispanic Americans experience ACEs, and 23% of Asian Americans.


Biography Becomes Biology

Chronic exposure to stress during childhood can change our physiology, including changing cortisol levels, immune function, and inflammation. The effects on the developing brain can be serious and can include changes to the amygdala (associated with visceral emotion), hippocampus (associated with memory), and prefrontal cortex (associated with higher reasoning and impulse control).

Adverse childhood experiences can also affect social functioning. Children growing up in chaotic environments tend to have difficulty forming and maintaining friendships and may act out with aggression and bullying. Early childhood issues can affect career, relationships and family life, and may have a negative impact on financial wellbeing. People with high ACE scores tend to have problems with emotion regulation and to experience themselves as unworthy, helpless, or incompetent.

Moreover, ACEs are linked with unhealthy and risky behaviors. Attempting to self-regulate, people with high ACE scores tend to smoke, drink excessively and abuse other drugs, engage in risky sexual behaviors, overeat and be sedentary.

Following these pathways, biology can become destiny. The literature on ACEs tells us that ACEs “permanently affect” our physical, emotional, and mental health.

But what if the damage is not permanent?


Biology Does Not Have to Become Destiny

While much public health focus has been on preventing ACEs ― and clearly we should ― the question of healing ACEs also needs attention. Energy psychology, in particular Thought Field Therapy (TFT) and Emotional Freedom Techniques (EFT), has a long history of helping people heal trauma.

For example, a 2017 meta-analysis found that EFT is exceptionally effective in treating PTSD. Widely used in social science, meta-analyses are statistical studies that combine the results of many individual studies to determine the overall effectiveness of treatment. This meta-analysis included seven controlled trials and found that EFT had a very large positive effect on participants across all studies of 2.96 as measured by a weighted Cohen’s d. An effect size of 0.8 is considered large. This shows that EFT is very effective at treating PTSD.

Furthermore, a 2006 study using TFT to treat PTSD among teenagers who had survived the Rwandan genocide found that a single session of TFT provided relief. The 50 adolescents treated in the study had been suffering with PTSD symptoms including flashbacks, nightmares, jumpiness, aggression, and difficulty concentrating. The symptoms reduced dramatically, to subclinical levels, after a single session of 20-60 minutes of TFT, and the gains held at one-year follow-up.

These examples remind us how powerful energy psychology can be. It is possible that a widespread use of energy psychology methods could mitigate the effects of childhood adversity and help heal the effects of ACEs. The research, as well as the clinical experience of many professionals, show great promise in this direction.

That is something to be hopeful about indeed.