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Social Work Conference to Address Post-Trauma Resilience

Research confirms that not having a good childhood can have a lifelong impact on mental and physical health. (Pixabay/Rudy Anderson)
Research confirms that not having a good childhood can have a lifelong impact on mental and physical health. (Pixabay/Rudy Anderson)
April 30, 2018

CHARLESTON, W.Va. – Childhood trauma is a public health problem, but we can build resilience to its effects - that's the message planned for Wednesday morning's keynote address at the spring conference of the National Association of Social Workers, in West Virginia.

Research continues to confirm that people who have adverse childhood experiences (ACE) such as abuse, neglect or growing up in a dysfunctional home, have much higher rates of things such as heart disease and alcoholism.

But, social worker Allison Jackson, founder, and CEO of Integration Solutions says her keynote will focus on the good news - that if someone with an ACE treats it like having diabetes, there are simple ways to counteract the bad effects.

"I need to know adversity in childhood absolutely puts me at higher risk," she stresses. "And I need to know that because like diabetes, knowing that I have a risk for that lets me be proactive."

Jackson says being mindful of what makes us stressed and learning to pause can help. As does understanding that trauma is, "What happened to me," not, "what's wrong with me." The annual Charleston spring NASW conference is the largest event of its kind in the country.

Jackson says healthy relationships can help folks dealing with Adverse Childhood Experiences bounce back - as she puts it, "People are the medicine." And she recommends counseling if the ACES - or any untreated trauma - starts getting in the way of normal life.

"ACES isn't destiny, doesn't mean it's going to happen to you," she notes. "It does mean that you have a risk. And then if my trauma experience is starting to really become intrusive, I need that warm handoff."

For folks building resilience in themselves, Jackson recommends exercise - taking a break to walk when under stress. And she says another good lesson is to focus on your breathing as a way of slowing down your thinking when your mind is racing.

"What's famous is the foursquare breath: drawing a square with your finger in front of you, and breathe in for four, and hold for four, and breathe out for four, and hold for four," she explains.

As public policy, Jackson says ACES should be treated more like other public health issues. She says some community health departments in Washington state now hand out one-page sheets on it.

Dan Heyman, Public News Service - WV