How Holistic Healing of Trauma & Adverse Childhood Experiences Works

Holistic Healing of Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs)

I hope you’re keeping well. Holistically well, I mean. Do you know what holistic healing means? I’ve published a book on holistic healing, and it’s the type of integrative medicine that I focus on.

When I think of the word holistic, I think of the word whole. When we look at you holistically, we look at you as an entire being – mind, body, spirit, or soul, as well as your environment and relationships. All these aspects will impact your physical well-being, your emotional health, and your mental functioning.

Holistic = Whole.

All of you!

Mind, Body, Soul + Environment and Relationships

As a physician, I focus on the whole being because early on in my career I was exposed to Traditional Chinese Medicine for drug and alcohol detox. That led me to trauma training. Traditional Chinese Medicine is oriented towards getting to the root cause of illness or disease. When you look at trauma, it is at the root cause 9 times out of 10 in the world of addiction, except for those people who become addicted to painkillers after surgery or an injury, for example.

This means that I would normally ask every client of mine to take a little quiz. Now, I’ve made this free here or on the website. I tell everyone about it. It’s the ACE Quiz (Adverse Childhood Experiences). Adverse Childhood Experiences are things like being exposed to physical or emotional abuse, neglect, witnessing domestic violence, having a parent or family member who was incarcerated, having someone in the home use or abuse illegal substances, and more. Thanks to the great work of doctors Felitti and Anda, we know that if before the age of 18 you experienced one or more of these, you are at greater risk of a long list of health conditions.

Experiencing high levels of trauma, abuse, dysfunction, and discrimination lead to an increased risk of alcoholism and substance abuse. There’s quite a long list of other health conditions and negative behaviors so here goes: Allergies, Alzheimer’s, anorexia, anxiety, arthritis, asthma, autoimmune disease, acting out behaviors, binge eating, cancer, chronic fatigue syndrome, compulsive shopping, gambling, overeating, criminality, depression, diabetes, fibromyalgia, heart disease, high blood pressure, poor immune function, infertility, lung disease, liver disease, early mortality, osteoporosis, premature aging, relationship difficulties, smoking, sexually risky behavior, suicide, and violence.

All of those illnesses and behaviors are directly linked to Adverse Childhood Experiences. You can understand now why so many functional medicine doctors and pediatricians zero in on identifying if you experienced something traumatic that may have impacted your brain and nervous system, immune system, and cardiovascular system. That’s the heart of the hormonal system. All of those get impacted due to early stressors, trauma, abuse, neglect, and so on.

You may be wondering how we can predict that risk. How is it that one could have an illness later in life that was linked to something in childhood, even if you have become extremely health-conscious in later life? Well, depending on the age that you were when the trauma happened, you may have had your brain impacted by stress, violence, abuse, or neglect. You may have also been living ever since with high stress levels. In this state, cortisol impacts the way the brain develops and impacts the way that our DNA gets modulated.

This is what’s known as the study of epigenetics. Part of your chromosomal material gets modified when there is high stress for long periods. I won’t get into the details of DNA methylation, but there are these little metals that get stuck onto the DNA and that can make us disease-prone. I’m not just talking about physical illnesses like all of the autoimmune conditions, but also behavioral challenges and things like depression, anxiety, and difficulty with impulse control.

Early childhood stress impacts the brain. It affects the DNA. This makes us more disease-prone

The little girl stress she does not want to leave her mother.

All of this leads many people to use or abuse substances, food, sex, gambling, shopping, hoarding. There’s no point in your physician running the best diagnostic tests in the world to try to figure out what’s going on in your internal system if the underlying trauma doesn’t get addressed. You will probably not get better until it has been identified and resolved. Many of us are walking around in denial. I was the same. I used to think, Oh, no, my childhood was fine! Yeah, my parents were divorced and there was some bickering, but it wasn’t that bad… I was comparing myself to the people who really had it bad.

However, in the last few years, I’ve begun realizing how much the impact of family strife and dysfunction in our home impacted me on a physiological level. Even the wise and more spiritually evolved among us can downplay what happened in childhood and that is not doing us any favors. Of course, we want to look on the bright side. We want to take the positive out of every experience but the reality is that these traumatic experiences to the brain, nervous system, tissues, and cells need to be discharged. If we stay in denial and don’t call it what it was, we don’t get to that resolution that allows the body to heal itself.

DON’T UNDERESTIMATE how much ACEs probably affected you

With holistic healing, what we’re talking about is, yes, when you need medical or pharmaceutical care, you get the right treatments and support that with any number of therapies that will support all of you – mind, body, soul, environment, and relationships.

Often, when the trauma is addressed holistically, the need for surgery and medication drops significantly. Trauma is probably leading to a lower life span because it impacts this little enzyme called telomerase that protects the kneecaps of our DNA.

We want to avoid the long-term consequences of the past. Many people are reluctant to go dig up stuff. While it’s not a lot of fun, it could save your life. If you happen to be a parent or are planning to be one, you could be saving the generations to come because trauma is passed down genetically – it’s not just what we learn and absorb. For example, it is in a mom’s eggs. If Mom is already carrying her offspring’s genetic material and she doesn’t address that trauma and stress, she can pass it on.

A clue to if you’re carrying trauma is how you respond to life. You may find that you’re tweaked, you’re easily triggered or upset. I definitely recommend that look at this with a coach or therapist.

There’s no need to be alone in this. You are supported!

Rear view of female counselor cheering up upset teenage girl on family therapy session in office

If you find that just the idea of looking at your family of origin starts to flood you with anxiety or fear, that is a normal part of facing denial. I highly recommend for those of you that want to be in a support group, join us every month for Real Self Love Live. Here, I lead guided meditations to help you connect with your Authentic Self, to connect with the inner child, your loving inner parent, and any other archetype you need. If you need more personalized attention, you can book a private session with me.

I also believe that there is a lot of great healing and recovery in the 12-step programs. If addiction or eating disorders have been a part of your life, 12-step Recovery can help. If family dysfunction or being raised in an alcoholic or abusive home have been part of your experience, then the Adult Children of Alcoholics & Dysfunctional Families could be helpful for you. Message me if you think that the 12-step recovery model might be something of interest to you.

From this point forward we will be sharing a lot of resources for building up resilience. Resilience is our innate capacity to bounce back after illness, injury, accident, loss, abuse, and trauma. We want to build up your resilience so that you can get back to baseline, but we won’t stop there. What we want to do is springboard you forward into post-traumatic growth. So, the saying If it doesn’t kill you, it’ll make you stronger isn’t true. It could kill you. While some people will just naturally be positive, pick themselves up, and go on, some of us need a little guidance and coaching so that we don’t get stuck in a victim mentality. You will find that if you have any of these health conditions that may be linked to early trauma, you will get some serious resolution.

In the holistic healing model, we look at different types of psychotherapy that may be useful.

  • Group work is incredibly important in our child or internal family systems.
  • EMDR – eye movement desensitization and reprocessing can help you uncouple the stress response and the painful memories of what happened in the past.
  • Narrative therapy helps you tell a news story about what happened in the past – about your worth, about what’s possible for you in the world, because oftentimes when we’ve experienced one of these cases, if we didn’t have the positive reframing or comforting or compassion from a trusted adult caregiver, and the positivity to counterbalance the adverse childhood experiences, then we need to bring those things online.
  • Body-oriented psychotherapy or therapies such as somatic experiencing.
  • Yoga can be incredibly helpful, particularly if you’re going to a trauma-informed yoga studio because it can feel very frightening when we start to look at things that happened in the past. If you were someone who dissociated to cope with whatever was happening to you, being back in your body might feel scary. If things have been lodged in your body as pain or tension, you need a skilled practitioner to help you feel safe in the body so that you can release and heal and evolve.

So, that is what we mean by holistic healing. It’s not focusing on only one part of you but all of you. I want to remind you that you were born with your resilience muscles intact. Even if there was trauma or drama during your mother’s pregnancy, you have an innate vitality code. That is, your body has this internal wisdom of how to return to baseline or what we call homeostasis. If that code got deactivated because you had to be hyper-vigilant and always in fight/flight mode, then you need to relearn how to safely let that go and reactivate your innate vitality code.

Despite everything that’s happened to you, you have an innate vitality code. You’re a natural-born survivor!

That hopefully gives you an idea of what you will be experiencing in some of our upcoming master classes. I am developing an online course on building resilience and a membership community around this so that you can get support. You can be with some beautiful people from around the world who are on a similar journey. If you have a question about holistic healing, resilience, recovering from childhood trauma, or the ACEs, please feel free to leave me a message or send me an email.

Until next time, please remember that you are a gift to this world so share your presence with passion. Much love.

Want more insights on healing from ACEs? Read this in depth article by Dr. Andrea.

Check out my book “Holistic Healing: 12 real life accounts of healing mind, body & soul by overcoming stress & burnout, processing trauma, rewiring the brain, reprogramming the mind & integrating the soul.”

Join us for a free live Masterclass May 13: Adverse Childhood Experiences explained by Dr Andrea Pennington

Register here ?? Live Masterclass: Adverse Childhood Experiences explained by Dr Andrea Pennington

Stay tuned for a free live Masterclass May 20: Positive Childhood Experiences Counteract Childhood Trauma & Stress Have a Protective Effect & Promote Resilience


Here’s what you can do to start your healing and recovery journey:

Read or listen to The Real Self Love Handbook

This article originally appeared on on May 7, 2021


  • Dr. Andrea Pennington

    Chief Wellness Officer, Integrative Physician | Resilience | Healing Trauma | Holistic Health | Free Ebooks @ &


    Dr. Andrea Pennington is an integrative physician, acupuncturist, meditation teacher and a #1 international bestselling author of several books. Dr. Andrea’s extensive study of medical nutrition, positive psychology and neuroscience led her to create a health media platform, In8Vitality, blending ancient wisdom and modern science to empower you to recover from stress and burnout. All of her books, corporate wellness programs, documentaries and products are ethically and consciously designed for enhanced vitality and life mastery.  Andrea is also a documentary filmmaker, international TEDx speaker, and health technology advocate. As both a healer and teacher she is also sought-after media personality who has shared empowering insights on resilience on the Oprah Winfrey Show, the Dr. Oz Show, iTV This Morning, CNN, the Today Show, Thrive Global and as a news anchor for Discovery Health Channel. Now, as Founder of the #RealSelfLove Movement Andrea speaks globally to reduce the stigma of mental illness and to support people on their journey to authentic living. In Andrea's latest book, The Real Self Love Handbook, she explores her personal journey from depression to real self-love and how The Cornerstone Process, a 5-step self-discovery process is setting people free from limiting beliefs due to trauma and adverse childhood experiences. Other popular anthologies include Holistic Healing and The Top 10 Traits of Highly Resilient People, each compiled by Dr. Pennington.