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Understanding the Difference: Adverse Childhood Experiences Therapy (ACEs) and Trauma Therapy

Our childhood experiences shape us in ways more profound than we often realize. What seemed normal growing up in your home can sometimes be traced to why you repeatedly chose behaviours that don’t support who you are, or who you want to be today.

This blog post delves into the dynamics of Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) and Trauma, two terms often used interchangeably, yet with key differences that significantly affect how therapy can help you deal with your experiences.

What’s the difference between ACEs and trauma?

Adverse Childhood Experiences are stressful or traumatic events occurring during childhood, including various forms of abuse, neglect, and household dysfunction.

Trauma is defined by the American Psychological Association as the emotional response to a deeply distressing or disturbing event that overwhelms an individual’s ability to cope, causes feelings of helplessness, diminishes their sense of self, and their ability to feel the full range of emotions and experiences.

While both terms pertain to experiences that can negatively affect an individual, the key difference lies in the range of their scope.

  1. ACEs refer to specific types of distressing experiences occurring within the developmental window of childhood, potentially leading to long-term health and social problems.
  2. Trauma, meanwhile, is broader, encompassing any severely distressing event at any point in a person’s life, leading to an immediate emotional response and potential long-term psychological effects.

ACEs and trauma are closely related in that ACEs can often lead to traumatic responses. A child subjected to recurring ACEs may develop traumatic symptoms, affecting their emotional regulation, relational dynamics, and self-perception. Over time, if left unaddressed, these can manifest as chronic health conditions, mental health disorders, and difficulty in social and occupational functioning.

How does therapy come into play?

Therapy is an essential tool in the arsenal against the effects of both ACEs and trauma. It helps you heal by addressing:

  1. Underlying emotional wounds,
  2. Improving coping mechanisms,
  3. Fostering resilience.

Therapists use different approaches depending on the individual’s specific needs and the nature of their adverse experiences.

The different types of treatment for Trauma and ACE

Trauma-Focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (TF-CBT) is often used for individuals who’ve experienced trauma, helping them understand and reframe their traumatic experiences, enhancing their coping skills, and facilitating the healing process.

Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) therapy is another powerful tool for trauma, involving bilateral stimulation (like eye movements), which helps the brain reprocess traumatic memories, reducing their emotional impact.
For those with a high ACE score, trauma-informed care becomes crucial. This approach recognizes the pervasive impact of trauma and seeks to create an environment of safety, empowerment, and healing.

Attachment-based therapy can also be beneficial for those impacted by ACEs, focusing on fostering healthy relationships and addressing dysfunctional relational patterns stemming from childhood experiences.

What can I expect from ACE therapy or Trauma therapy?

Everyone’s healing journey is unique. While ACEs and trauma can leave long-lasting scars, they don’t have to dictate your life. With appropriate therapeutic support, resilience and healing are very much within reach. Trauma therapy can be a transformative experience, a path to understanding oneself better, healing from past wounds, and moving toward a more fulfilled and healthier life.

If you are looking for help getting unstuck from your past experiences, situations and relationships, we can help you take the first step. You can book an appointment, schedule a free consultation, browse our therapist profiles, or get in touch with us.

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