De-pathologizing the Symptoms of Adverse Childhood Experiences

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Julihn, Derian
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Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) directly affect more than half the world, with the most vulnerable populations experiencing ACEs at even higher rates. ACE research reveals a strong, graded relationship between childhood stress and trauma and an increased risk of poor mental health, adult diseases, and risky or harmful behaviours. The purpose of this paper is to consider how our body's neuro-biological survival systems can have unintended consequences when chronically activated or mistuned in our early years of development to help us move from symptom management to treating root causes. The mislocation of client's problem through labelling their ACE symptoms a disease (a problem with their body), a disorder (a problem with their mind/personality), or bad behaviour (a problem with their morality) can lead to ineffective treatment strategies and further reinforcement of their pathologization and stigmatization particularly for those most vulnerable to ACEs. Using examples from Somatic Experiencing, Internal Family Systems, and Eye-Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing, this paper proposes five assumptions for de-pathologizing ACE symptoms: 1.) ACE impacts are not the problem; they are a symptom of the problem, 2.) Focus treatment on the underlying problem (isolation, alienation, shame, rejection, fear, abuse, neglect, and nervous system dysregulation), not the symptoms, 3.) ACE symptoms result from what went right to help survive, and the motivating goal is still to protect, 4.) Integrative compassion for ourselves and others comes through a deep understanding of the symptoms' motivation (5.) The solution lies within our body and mind's innate wisdom and ability to heal.
neglect , lack of care , neurobiology , neuroplasticity , physical abuse , polyvagal theory , poverty , resiliency , sexual abuse , somatic , trauma , violence against mother or step-mother , domestic violence , socioeconomic status , substance abuse , child development , mental health , stress , adiposity , adverse childhood experiences , bullying , peer victimization , child abuse , maltreatment , community violence , depathologize , deprivation , early attachments , psychological abuse , emotional abuse , isolation , peer rejection , maladaptive functioning , intimate partner violence
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