A pediatrician’s battle against the toxic effects of childhood adversity.
In 2007, after opening a community clinic in a low-income neighborhood of San Francisco, Harris soon suspected that an underlying medical issue must be at work in the lives of many of her patients, who often experienced both poor health outcomes (asthma, slow growth, etc.) and the overwhelming adversity of trauma (parental incarcerations, abuse, foster-care placements, etc.) What was the connection? She found her answer several years later in a medical article that changed her medical practice, “The Adverse Childhood Experiences Study,” in which scientists from the Centers for Disease Control and Kaiser Permanente described the strong relationship between childhood trauma and many leading causes of death in adults. In this powerful debut, the author describes the medical research and recalls her own frontline experiences as a pioneer in the treatment of toxic stress as CEO of San Francisco’s Center for Youth Wellness, which offers multidisciplinary care for children suffering from trauma. “The body remembers,” she writes. “Twenty years of medical research has shown that childhood adversity literally gets under our skin, changing people in ways that can endure in their bodies for decades.” Indeed, adversity “can dramatically increase the risk for heart disease, stroke, cancer, diabetes—even Alzheimer’s.” In a winning conversational style, Harris explains how adversity “harms development and regulation of the immune system throughout someone’s life” and the ways in which doctors now screen for and treat childhood trauma—sleep, mental health, healthy relationships, exercise, nutrition, and meditation. She notes that adverse childhood experiences affect people of all socio-economic levels (they are often disguised out of secrecy and shame), and their harmful effects can be passed on from one generation to another.
The author’s work has won wide attention through a New Yorker article and a TED talk. This important and compassionate book further sounds the alarm over childhood trauma—and what can be done to remedy its effects.