The ACE Study

The ACE Study

Have you heard about the ACE study?  I am fond of any research that has implications for making treatment more successful.  This one seems to show what many therapists and counselors have already observed:  The more trauma an individual has in early life, the more medical conditions he or she is likely to have.  This study was huge.  It was done by Kaiser Permenente in California and it was a questionnaire that was given to every patient that came to their primary care physician.  The sample size was larger than most research in the field and the findings were very clear.  Individuals were asked if they had any early life traumas listed on the questionaire.  They were items such as abuse (all kinds), loss of a parent (by any means), having a parent with an addiction, etc.  They found a direct correlation to the number of traumas (see Do I Have Trauma) that an individual experienced and the number of medical issues experienced.  Yes, trauma and the body are connected!

You see, our minds and our bodies are CONNECTED.  Often our minds are able to put things on the back burner, or not think about certain things, but our bodies remember.  The trauma never goes away unless it is addressed and re-processed.  It is stored not only in our brains but in our body memory as well.  It would make sense, then, that these difficult experiences over time would have a significant impact on the body- a disease or an addiction.  Many people know this intuitively, but the beauty of this study is that we now have scientific data that backs this up.

If you have had difficult experiences in your life, please find a licensed, qualified therapist that you can talk to about them.  Better yet, find an EMDR therapist to help you work through these things and you can improve your mind and body health.  For more about EMDR, go to: What About EMDR or EMDR Trauma Therapy.

To read more about the study, go to:


New Research on Nutrition

Nutrition and Mental Health

So they say, ‘We are what we eat’.  There have been some recent studies that are supporting this statement in regard to emotional and mental health as well.Nutrition and Mental Health

I am a big fan of research and I strive to keep my practice based in the most recent research; so in that vein, I must share this new information and see where it leads.  From what I have read so far, there are some reasons to believe that taking Probiotics regularly can lead to a decrease in symptoms of depression and anxiety.  I have checked in with a local nutritionist on these studies and she can attest to these positive benefits as well (Click here to learn more about Jess Kelley, MNT).

The basis for the finding is that there is far more serotonin in a human’s gastrointestinal system than there is in the brain.  For a long time researchers thought that the levels of serotonin in the brain affected the levels in the ‘gut’.  New studies are raising the question that perhaps it is the other way around.  It seems that if balance is restored in the ‘gut’, it may also be restored in the brain.  Click here to read the full article.


Once balance is restored, many people find that counseling or therapy is more productive and they are able to work through some of their issues or past traumas with more clarity.  For more on treatment approaches for trauma click here and here.
So, then, Probiotics become an option for treating depression and/or anxiety.  As with any treatment, it may or may not solve the issue, but it might be worth looking into.  If you are considering this approach, please do your research and talk to your doctor or health care provider before proceeding.

Rachel Harrison, LPC, NCC



How Are You Sleeping?

Ask anyone who has been deprived of sleep…sleep is a BIG deal.  Without it, people are irritable, stressed, tired, depressed and anxious.  You cannot overestimate the roll of sleep in a person’s mental health.  In fact, studies have shown that depriving an individual of sleep for a few days can create psychiatric symptoms!

One of the most common complaints I hear in my office is that people are not sleeping.  This can fall into many different categories and it is important to identify which type of sleep struggle a person is having.  It can be difficulty falling asleep, waking up multiple times at night and not being able to go back to sleep, and/or waking up feeling exhausted after getting not-enough sleep.  How much sleep is ‘enough’ may vary slightly for each individual, but somewhere between 7-8 hours per night is ideal. 

If you fall into the first category of people who cannot fall asleep, there are many things that can be done to improve your ‘sleep hygiene’.  A before-bed routine is essential to cue the brain that it is time to settle down and sleep.  Body temperature is also a key factor for being able to sleep.  Your body needs to be cool enough to sleep, so often taking a bath or shower before bed can help regulate this.  Lastly, eliminating screen time 2 hours before trying to sleep can help your mind calm down.  For many people, the stimulation to the brain from the light on a screen, (TV or internet) can keep the brain awake for hours.  Another thing to check for is anxiety.  Is your mind racing before bed?  Are you unable to turn off your brain?  If you have tried other things and they are not working, you may benefit from some counseling or therapy to get to the root of the anxiety.  Working through the anxiety may be the key to getting  to sleep.

If you are a person who wakes up multiple times at night, it is important to identify what is waking you.  It could be a nightmare, or a sound that wakes you.  Many people are unaware of why they wake up.  The key here is also whether or not you can fall back asleep.  If you cannot, there may be something going on for you that is causing the sleeplessness.  Waking up for no identifiable reason and not being able to go back to sleep can be a sign of depression.  Here, again, depending on the triggers and what is going on in your mind when you are waking up, counseling may be an important step to finding out what is going on.  Visiting a medical doctor may be helpful as well, to rule out any physical issues going on.

Lastly, if you wake up and feel exhausted in the morning, a medical exam would be a first step.  It is important to check to see if there are any imbalances or physical triggers for your exhaustion.  If there are none, it may be that you are very stressed or potentially depressed.  After checking out the potential physical triggers, seeking therapy to address the underlying symptoms may provide the relief you need to begin to find restful sleep again.

There is so much more to the connection between sleep and mental health, but hopefully this brief summary can give a starting point for understanding and finding solutions.  If you are suffering with a sleep disturbance, please call a medical doctor or a mental health professional.  It is not worth suffering any longer!

The Down Low on Depression

Depression is such a commonly used word these days.  Most people understand that depression is feeling down or low, but that can be part of everyone’s experience of life’s ups and downs.  Clinical depression is more significant because it does not get better on its own.  So, if you have a bad day, but get up the next morning feeling better, you are most likely not depressed.

Depression typically begins subtly, a sort of slow feeling of detaching from life, or not feeling much at all.  It can be accompanied by feelings of anger or periods of anxiety.  Most people who are depressed describe feeling ‘not themselves’.  People around them often notice changes in the way that a depressed person interacts or doesn’t interact with others.

Here is a checklist to help identify symptoms of depression for adults (the symptoms may be different for children or adolescents):

  • Persistent sad/low mood
  • Feeling empty
  • Feeling hopeless or guilty
  • Substance Abuse
  • Loss of interest in activities
  • Fatigue
  • Eating too much or too little
  • Sleeping too much or too little
  • Irritability
  • Increased crying
  • Increased anxiety or panic attacks
  • Inability to make decisions
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Persistent physical ailments that do not improve with medical treatment
  • Thoughts of death/suicide

If many of these symptoms apply to you or someone you love, it is important to get treatment as soon as possible.  If you are uncertain about some of these symptoms or not sure if you are depressed, a therapist or doctor can help you make that determination.

The bad news is that it can feel very overwhelming and difficult to reach out and do the things that might help.  This is where treatment can come in.  Typically, after an assessment with a therapist, a course of therapy will be recommended that may or may not include medications.  The good news is that there is help and there are many therapies that can be done to help someone who is depressed feel better.  Depression is progressive and it can get worse if not treated.  Feeling better is worth the call to a counselor or therapist!



Do I Have Trauma?

Trauma is such a loaded word, and I think a very misunderstood one.  What is trauma, and how does someone know if they have been traumatized?  One of the leading researches who studies trauma is Bessel Van Der Kolk, MD who offers this definition: “A trauma is when your biology (physiology) is assaulted in such a way that you may not be able to reset yourself.”  So, according to this definition, it is less about what happens and more about how people are impacted by the event.

The biology of trauma is fascinating and not something I will delve into here, but the brain and the body automatically shift gears in an emergency in order to help elicit the fight, flight or freeze response.  This is purely human nature and serves people well in a crisis.  After the crisis, the brain and the body try to recover.  Sometimes this does not happen fully and there are ‘marks’ (biological changes) left on the brain from the trauma that make it difficult to recover.  This may come in the form of nightmares, panic attacks, avoiding situations/people/places, re-living the event, depression, anxiety, agitation, changes in sleeping/eating patterns, headaches, stomach trouble, etc.  These symptoms do not get better without treatment- that is the bad news.  The good news is that there is treatment!  A combination of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and EMDR (see What About EMDR?) can help many people who have been impacted by a traumatic life event.

And finally, many people ask, “What qualifies as a traumatic event?”  The answer is that it can be anything from a large scale natural disaster or terrorist act, to something more personal like the death of a loved one, divorce, or a move.  It can also be something that happened a long time ago, such as childhood abuse. Often, these things emerge later in life when people are in a place to deal with the past.  No matter what the event, if you or someone you know is experiencing difficulty after a traumatic event, make an appointment with a licensed therapist who has training with trauma and EMDR.



More about Anxiety

Anxiety may mean different things to different people.  Some people equate it with stress or nervousness.  To others, it is about having panic attacks or being afraid of heights or snakes.  All of these things are related to anxiety, but it is most important to note that anxiety is a physiological phenomenon that occurs in your body.

If you or someone you know has experienced a panic attack, it often feels like a heart attack.  The symptoms are very similar: sweating, heart palpitations, shaking, hyperventilating or trouble breathing, and dizziness.  Many people end up in the ER with their first panic attack for this reason!  Panic attacks are a clear signal from your body that your anxiety is too high and needs to be addressed.

The good news is, there are many things that can be done to treat anxiety, whether you experience it as a constant nervousness, fear of certain situations, or panic attacks.  Treatment should be two-pronged.  First, there are coping strategies and exercises to deal with the anxiety when it comes and to prevent anxiety from starting in the first place.   These include things such as breathing exercises and changes in lifestyle.  Next, the root of the anxiety needs to be discovered, examined, and dealt with.  Discussing your anxiety and triggers with a trained therapist can help address core issues and move past the anxiety.   Many clients express the feeling of freedom after working in therapy to address their anxiety.  In addition, EMDR therapy is a great tool to address this part of the process (see What About EMDR blog post).

More than anything, know that no one has to continue to suffer with anxiety!  There is help and healing.  Do not wait, set up a session with a Licensed Professional to address your anxiety today!