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Childhood Trauma & ACEs

Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) refer to a range of stressful or traumatic events that occur during childhood.

These experiences can include physical, emotional, or sexual abuse, neglect, household dysfunction, or witnessing domestic violence (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention [CDC], 2020).

The cumulative impact of ACEs can significantly influence an individual’s life, both in the short and long term.

How does ACEs affect individuals during adulthood?

Research has consistently demonstrated the profound and wide-ranging effects of ACEs on individuals throughout their adult lives.

Studies have shown that individuals who have experienced ACEs are at a higher risk of developing physical health issues such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and obesity (Felitti et al., 1998).

ACEs can have a significant impact on physical and mental health, as well as relationships, education, and employment.

Additionally, ACEs can increase the likelihood of mental health disorders, including depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and substance abuse (Anda et al., 2006).

People with ACEs are more likely to experience the following:

  • Chronic health conditions, such as heart disease, stroke, cancer, and diabetes
  • Mental health issues, such as depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Substance abuse
  • Risky sexual behaviour
  • Violence
  • Lower educational attainment
  • Lower incomes

How can I tell if I have ACEs?

If you are concerned that you may have experienced ACEs, there are a few things you can do.

You can take also the ACEs quiz. This quiz is a quick and easy way to assess your risk for experiencing the negative effects of ACEs.

If you think you may have experienced ACEs, it is important to talk to a trusted adult. This could be a parent, teacher, counsellor, or other healthcare provider.

Talking about your experiences can help you to understand and cope with the effects of ACEs.

When to notice signs for therapy?

If you are concerned that you may have experienced ACEs, or if you are experiencing any of the negative effects of ACEs listed above, it is important to seek help.

A counsellor can help you to understand your experiences, develop coping mechanisms, and build healthy relationships.

Identifying the signs that indicate therapy may be necessary is crucial for addressing the long-term effects of ACEs. It is essential to consider seeking therapy if you or someone you know experiences symptoms such as persistent feelings of sadness or hopelessness, difficulty forming or maintaining relationships, self-destructive behaviours, recurring nightmares, or intrusive thoughts related to past traumatic events (American Psychological Association [APA], 2019).

Professional therapists are trained to recognize and address these signs, providing appropriate support and guidance.

The Role of Counselling in Healing

Counselling can play a vital role in helping individuals heal from the effects of ACEs and childhood trauma.

Therapists specialized in trauma-informed care can provide a safe and supportive environment where individuals can explore their experiences, process emotions, and develop coping strategies. Through evidence-based techniques such as cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR), and expressive therapies like art or play therapy, counselling can help individuals regain control over their lives, develop healthier relationships, and improve overall well-being (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration [SAMHSA], 2014).

Counselling can help you to heal from the effects of ACEs in a number of ways. A counsellor can help you to:

  • Understand your experiences: A counsellor can help you to understand what happened to you, how it affected you, and how it is affecting you now.
  • Develop coping mechanisms: A counsellor can help you to develop healthy coping mechanisms for dealing with the stress and trauma of ACEs.
  • Build healthy relationships: A counselor can help you to build healthy relationships with others.
  • Manage symptoms of mental health conditions that may have developed as a result of ACEs.: If you are experiencing mental health conditions as a result of ACEs, a counsellor can help you to manage the symptoms.

Here are some additional guide for people looking to get counselling

  • Be patient with yourself. Healing from ACEs takes time and may not be practical to expect to feel better overnight.
  • Don’t give up. Healing from ACEs is possible.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask for help. If you are struggling, don’t be afraid to reach out to a counsellor or other mental health professional.
  • Find a counsellor who is a good fit for you. It is important to find a counsellor who you feel comfortable with and who you can trust.
  • Be open to different types of therapy. There are many different types of therapy that can be helpful for people with ACEs. Find a type of therapy that works for you.
  • Be kind to yourself. You have been through a lot. Give yourself the compassion and understanding that you deserve.
  • Anda, R. F., Felitti, V. J., Bremner, J. D., Walker, J. D., Whitfield, C., Perry, B. D., … & Giles, W. H. (2006). The enduring effects of abuse and related adverse experiences in childhood: A convergence of evidence from neurobiology and epidemiology. European archives of psychiatry and clinical neuroscience, 256(3), 174-186.
  • American Psychological Association. (2019). Recognizing the signs of childhood trauma.
  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2020). About the CDC-Kaiser ACE Study.
  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2022, March 8). Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs). Retrieved from
  • Child Trends. (2022, March 8). Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) Different Than Child Trauma, Critical to Understand Why. Retrieved from
  • Felitti, V. J., Anda, R. F., Nordenberg, D., Williamson, D. F., Spitz, A. M., Edwards, V., … & Marks, J. S. (1998). Relationship of childhood abuse and household dysfunction to many of the leading causes of death in adults: The Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) Study. American journal of preventive medicine, 14(4), 245-258.
  • National Child Traumatic Stress Network. (2022, March 8). Trauma and Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs). Retrieved from
  • Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2014). SAMHSA’s concept of trauma and guidance for a trauma-informed approach.