No therapist is surprised that childhood trauma affects emotional and behavioral development, but it’s taken a passionate young doctor to shed light on the disturbing toll it also takes on physical health.
Years ago, after Nadine Burke Harris opened a pediatric clinic for the underserved population of San Francisco, she grew concerned that conventional medical treatments weren’t helping in most cases of autoimmune diseases, out-of-control asthma, and failure to thrive. She had a eureka moment when she discovered research about the collection of adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) that have been tied to adult alcoholism, drug abuse, physical abuse, and suicidality.
Her patients were too young to be exhibiting the fallout of ACEs that plague adults, but Burke had a hunch that the children’s physical suffering might be tied to elevated stress levels related to adversity and trauma. In the silo of medical school, she’d never learned how to counter the effects of such trauma, but she decided to evaluate her young patients using the ACEs questionnaire just the same.
Her hunch was right: the kids with the most stubborn physical ailments were coping with all kinds of traumas. So Harris altered the way she doctored, adding ACEs assessments to her intakes and bringing on therapists who could offer intensive family therapy right there at her clinic. The results were profound, and she’s since undertaken a campaign to unite doctors and therapists around an…