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Bringing the ACE Study to Life

Updated: May 5, 2018

Written by Carol Teitelbaum, MFT

Reprinted from THE SOBER WORLD

A ten-year study created by Kaiser Permanente and the Center for Disease Control was administered to 17,000 people. This was one of the largest investigations conducted to assess associations between childhood maltreatment and later-life health and well-being. The results were astonishing. This study is allowing us to see the results of what is assumed to be true by observation of behaviors. They now have a ten-year participation backup. ACE stands for Adverse Childhood Experiences. This test takes into account not just physical, sexual or verbal abuse but also family dysfunction, substance abusing family members, domestic violence, and absence of a parent due to divorce.

ACE’s have been linked to a wide range of adverse health outcomes in adults, including substance abuse, depression, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, cancer, and premature mortality.

Bringing the results of this test to real life

At age three, John was learning to read, already knew his numbers and colors and was deemed a very intelligent young man destined for greatness. His family tree was full of artists, photographers and college professors. Who knew where this young man’s life would take him. At age four the abuse began by a soon to be family member who had complete control of John and his siblings. When John started school he was very excited but unfortunately that feeling did not last very long. He started going to school with the bruises of being beaten. Imagine what happened to his excitement of learning. When a child is using all their energy just to survive, hide their shame and keep their secret, how can they concentrate on learning spelling words and multiplication tables, so instead, he became the class clown. The path for his life, once so bright, took a wild twisted turn and things did not turn out the way everyone thought they would.


Joan’s abuse began at a very early age by her father. She was shy, withdrawn, but loved school. She was very bright and life expected quite a bit from Joan. As she reached puberty she started to use drugs. No one knew about her abuse and her mother did not want to hear her “lies.” Joan started her educational life well and wanted to continue on and be successful; however, Joan’s abuse took on some bizarre experiences. She was sold to her mom’s boyfriend for a night in exchange for drugs. Giving up on school, Joan married a man who was also abused. They thought together that they would know how to be good parents and they did do the best they knew how. Unfortunately, they had no training or role models so they did just the opposite of what they were exposed to. However, one hundred and eighty degrees from sick is still sick. Doing the opposite of what one received still damages the children.

Years ago, I was facilitating an incest survivor group for ten women of varying ages. In that group, there were three women diagnosed by their Psychiatrists as having Dissociative Identity Disorder. It was an interesting group to say the least. Of the women present in the group, six of them were sexually abused by their own fathers. The most disturbing connection of all was that these women all had a heart condition, and all six died of heart failure within 5 years of each other. These women were all different ages and came from different backgrounds yet they all had one thing in common – they were all sexually abused.

I believe after reading the ACE study, that the women’s abuse would have been a predictor of their health issues. I also believe they died of broken hearts.

With this evidence, what can be done to help children with a high incidence of Adverse Childhood Experiences? Education is the key. More education about the long lasting effects of Adverse Childhood Experiences is needed. I believe many parents feel their children are resilient and will get over whatever traumas they endured. Many parents who are using drugs and alcohol lack the ability to predict the outcome of their own behaviors and their children suffer. I would like parents to know help is available through recovery, therapy, 12 step meetings and more.

Studies show that 75% of people who go through traumatic experiences come out of it just fine. These people are resilient, and most likely have/had people to talk to about what they went through. 25% of people going through traumatic experiences are not fine and do not get through the events.

My group, “It Happens to Boys” was presenting our workshop to a group of judges and attorneys. We asked for questions or comments and an attorney shared that she used the ACE study with every client. She wanted to see if her client’s bad behavior was caused by a childhood experience. This would mean that the client might be able to be helped with treatment and therapy rather than sentenced to prison. It was very encouraging to hear that, as my group and I often feel that delivering our message is such an uphill battle.

Most people do not want to talk about sexual abuse, especially when it’s happening to boys. Many people have said to me, “men should just get over being sexually abused, it happened so long ago,” and we would always say “no, the effects of abuse affect a survivor their whole life.” Now that we are able to use the ACE study we can actually show results of 17,000 people and that is hard to ignore.

For therapists, attorneys, and recovery center counselors, the ACE test would be a beneficial tool. The test can be found under Kaiser Permanente ACE study, or CDC ACE study. This will give health care providers some insight to the work the client will need to do. My group of survivors and I speak at many recovery centers. We have observed that many men do not talk about their abuse in treatment and when they leave, they get triggered by something in their environment and relapse because they cannot deal with the shame and pain of their untreated trauma. Over 68% of men in treatment are abuse survivors but not many will share that information on intake.

For many, the ACE test will answer questions that have eluded them for years. There is hope and healing available when there is an understanding of the problem and the options available to different healing modalities.

The 8th annual “It Happens to Boys” Conference will be on March 5, 2016 at the Long Beach Hilton.

Carol Teitelbaum is the founder of Creative Change Conferences, It Happens to Boys Program and is a Psychotherapist in private practice in Rancho Mirage, CA

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