As therapists at Jewish Family Service, we see brave individuals walk through our door every day to work to find solutions to life’s problems. Often, individuals are struggling with marital issues, anger, parenting issues, substance use, depression and other challenges they’ve spent years trying to deal with alone or trying to forget about.
Approximately 30 percent of these individuals have been exposed to a high level of trauma in early life through abuse, violence or dysfunctional family dynamics. In asking for support, people are often reluctant to talk about the painful experiences of hitting or yelling or chaos that punctuated their days and nights as kids. While not all issues are connected to early traumatic experiences, for any of us with a high level of exposure to trauma, these experiences are inextricably linked.
Research over the past two decades overwhelmingly shows how interconnected this experience is to the problems we see in our daily lives as adults. The Adverse Childhood Experience (ACE) Study, the largest study of trauma in the United States, illuminates the link between trauma endured during childhood and adult well-being (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2012).
The ACE study linked exposure to physical/emotional/sexual abuse, neglect, domestic violence, single-parent homes and parental mental illness or substance use with long-term emotional (suicidality, substance use, depression) and health risks (COPD, obesity, liver disease, heart disease, sexually transmitted infections, to name a few).
Plainly spoken, the higher and more prolonged the exposure to trauma as a child, the higher the emotional and health risk as an adult.
The ACE doesn’t describe our destiny, but rather the trends that tend to impact those of us with a history of abuse, including increased risk. The promise embedded within this research is that if we can intervene quickly and effectively to support families experiencing abuse/violence, we have a greater chance of improving their quality of life (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2012).
October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month and a key time to reflect on the role of domestic violence in our community. Here are a few things you can do to help our community support those currently in a domestic violence situation as well as survivors:
- Wear a purple ribbon this month to help raise awareness.
- Support those in your life in seeking help through therapy at Jewish Family Service, HAVEN or a private practice. Know that you don’t need to fix the problem yourself; an empathetic listener can play a key role in helping others move toward safety.
- If you’re a service provider to young children and/or families, implement the Adverse Childhood Experiences tools as a part of regular screenings in your office to help identify and respond to domestic violence early in a child’s life.
- If you’re an educator, invest time in learning the signs of abuse in young children and teenagers.
- If you’re a parent struggling with your own history, seek support for yourself and your family.
Ginger Houghton Special to The Jewish News
Ginger Houghton is the director of Behavioral Health Services at Jewish Family Service.
If you or a loved one is struggling, JFS can help.
Contact them at (248) 592-2313 or