I recently had the amazing experience of attending the EFT Summit 2017 in San Diego, which showcased the work of some of the most respected and exemplary researchers, therapists, and therapy trainers on the planet. Several of the speakers (Jeffery Simpson, Gabor Mate) shared their research on the effects of trauma in childhood. Overwhelmingly, research is showing that childhood trauma is associated with severe problems in adulthood, including heart problems, obesity, mental health diagnoses, and addictions, to name a few. Maybe that isn’t too surprising, because, of course, childhood abuse is bad. In graduate school, I read a book about the effects of childhood sexual abuse entitled “Soul Murder.” So we know it’s bad.
But what is surprising is that there is a direct relationship between how much trauma a child experiences and how many problems he ends up with as an adult. As the number of aversive childhood experiences (ACEs) increases, so does the number of physical, behavioral, and mental problems in adulthood. There is even a quiz you can take to tally up your number of ACEs: https://acestoohigh.com/got-your-ace-score/.
And here’s where it gets really interesting. There are important moderating variables to the risk of developing problems in adulthood after ACEs. Having an important person in your childhood that cared about you and “brought you milk and cookies and asked how you were feeling,” as my mentor Jim Thomas in Denver says, can lessen the impact of having ACEs. Being able to ask for help, learning that listening to feelings is important, finding ways to adopt a positive attitude—all of these can lead to resilience in the face of ACEs.
Other researchers are finding that having a good relationship in adulthood can significantly lessen the negative impact of childhood trauma. I think this is very good news indeed! Thirty years ago, sexual abuse in childhood was considered “soul murder”; now we’re learning that the soul can heal and grow if there are caring people around in childhood, or a secure attachment in adulthood.
If you have psychological symptoms such as depression, anxiety, and addiction, and you have experienced childhood trauma, therapy offers a road map to healing and growth. I work with individuals in my office and help them to recover from and resolve childhood trauma. There is something very healing about sharing the unsharable and grieving together with someone who cares.
These therapeutic benefits can be even more powerful when your primary relationship becomes more secure through couples therapy. Sue Johnson stated in her recent workshop on EFT and Trauma in Austin, Texas, that the therapist has a flashlight into the client’s pain, whereas the client’s partner holds the floodlight. Helping the trauma survivor share the painful memories and receive comfort from a loving partner within couples therapy is indeed powerful medicine.