IV
Introduction
Thank you for your interest in Mind Matters: Overcoming Adversity and Building Resilience. This program was
developed to meet the needs of people who have suffered trauma. Their human brokenness is the guiding
light of this research-based skills curriculum to rebuild their resilience and increase their hope. Mind Matters
draws from current research and best practices to explain the effects of Adverse Childhood Experiences and
their role in toxic stress.
Mind Matters is based on the groundbreaking work of Dr. Vincent Felitti and Dr. Robert Anda on Adverse
Childhood Experiences (ACEs) and toxic stress (Felitti et al., 1988). ACEs refer to traumatic events that
disrupt a person’s safety and predictability in childhood. Examples of ACEs include emotional, physical,
and sexual abuse; parental substance abuse or behavioral health disorder; exposure to intimate partner
violence; parental discord such as divorce or abandonment; a family member’s incarceration; and physical
and emotional neglect. Felitti and Anda’s longitudinal study reveals a grim relationship between childhood
trauma and later health, social, and economic risks that may lead to early death.
Adverse Childhood Experiences result in an array of negative physical and mental health outcomes. Children
who experience trauma are stuck in “fight or flight” mode, a highly reactive emotional state due to the
ongoing perception of danger. Over time, the prolonged activation of this stress response system results in
toxic stress. Toxic stress disrupts the development of the brain architecture and other organ systems. Toxic
stress increases the risk for stress-related disease and cognitive impairment. Due to its effect on the brain and
body tissue, toxic stress has a direct effect on mental, emotional, and physical health and wellbeing, and is a
determining factor in a person’s ability to thrive throughout their life.
Furthermore, historical and generational traumas such as racism are recognized as adverse experiences that
can alter DNA. The most current research indicates that these stressors can be passed from one generation to
another.
Understanding the effects of ACEs is crucial for the effectiveness of this program. We recommend viewing
Nadine Burke Harris’ 15-minute Ted Talk: How Childhood Trauma Affects Health Across a Lifetime to more
completely understand ACEs, historical trauma, and toxic stress.
This program was inspired by two other research studies. The first study found that psychotherapy is an
effective treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder and that there were no differences in effectiveness
between different types of psychotherapies (Cloitre et al., 2011). The second study analyzed 54 trauma
therapy studies and pinpointed which were the most highly effective strategies for healing from trauma.
These were emotion-regulation strategies, cognitive restructuring, anxiety and stress management,
interpersonal skills, meditation, and mindfulness (Benish, Imel & Wampold, 2008). Based on these findings, the
curriculum’s authors realized that most of these strategies for healing could be learned in a psychoeducational
format.
Originally the focus of this program was on youth and young adults, especially those who have experienced
trauma. Today, we find that Mind Matters works with people of all ages in traditional and alternative schools,
community-based organizations, the justice system, and workforce education programs. It is an ideal program
to use in a variety of settings such as family resource centers, churches, group homes, foster care, home
visiting, and independent living programs.
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