CUPS Corner: Understanding the Impact of Trauma


Now that you know more about what we do at CUPS (click this link if you’re still unsure) let’s talk about how we use science and our understanding of trauma to inform our practice. One common question we find ourselves answering is, “what do you mean when you say you are based in science?” This is a big question, but we will start with the basics because the answer to this is the foundation of everything we do at CUPS.

Trauma & Adverse Childhood Experiences. About 20 years ago, a study was published linking certain types of childhood trauma (neglect, abuse, and household dysfunction) with poor later life outcomes. The results showed that individuals with childhood trauma, called Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs), had an increased risk for heart disease, diabetes, cancer, addictions, HIV, anxiety, poor mental health, early death, and more. In fact, having experienced four or more ACEs is considered high risk for poor health outcomes. Since this discovery, the body of research showing the negative impact of childhood trauma has continued to grow.

Although trauma negatively impact impacts brain development in young children, the presence of a caring and supportive adult can minimize the risk of experiencing the lifelong negative outcomes listed above. Every individual responds differently to adverse events depending on both internal and external factors. However, due to the important role that external factors play in helping individuals succeed, this research must be taken into account when thinking about how systems and community agencies are delivering programs and services to populations that have experienced high levels of trauma. At CUPS, 65% of our clients have four or more ACEs, compared to just 12% of the general population of Alberta. As a result, these concepts are at the core of what we do.


Idea: Are you curious about your ACE score? This link will let you take the 10-question survey.

Please note: these questions ask directly about different types of childhood trauma. It is important to remember that the ACE survey does not assess your resilience factors. If you find this post and/or taking the survey has brought up unpleasant memories or you are concerned about your well-being don’t hesitate to contact your health care provider, Calgary Counselling Centre, or Distress Centre Calgary to connect with a mental health provider in your area.

Brain Science. In addition to the mounting research around ACEs, our understanding of how the human brain develops has also grown. Advances in neuroscience have shown that preventing and mitigating trauma in childhood is essential for healthy brain development and leads to better outcomes in life. Furthermore, this body of literature, known as Brain Science, can help mitigate the negative effects of trauma when designing programs and services for individuals that have experienced high levels of trauma. Our partners over at the Alberta Family Wellness Initiative (AFWI) say it best:

Science tells us that the experiences we have in the earliest years of our life actually change brain architecture in lasting ways. That has consequences across the lifespan for physical health and mental health, including addiction. It’s up to all of us to help kids in our communities develop strong brain architecture, and to support families where someone is struggling with a health problem related to negative early experiences.

Over the past 30 years CUPS mission has been to help individuals and families living with the negative impacts of poverty and trauma move to a state of health and wellness. Because of this mission, we could not ignore the emerging science regarding trauma and its connection to negative health outcomes. As result, we began to re-think the way we approach our work and place an emphasis on (1) mitigating the harmful impacts of trauma (2) preventing trauma from happening in the first place - all with the ultimate goal of building resilience.

Here is CUPS Senior Director of Program Service and Delivery, Darryn Werth, to talk about how we think about trauma and Brain Science at CUPS:

To achieve our goal of building resilience, we aim to be an organization that is aware of the impacts of trauma on our clients and to embed the principles of Brain Science into everything we do. We achieve this through various methods such as staff trainings, delivering programs and services that take a trauma-informed and 2-Generational approach, and a designated integrated care team.

Hopefully this blog has provided you with some insights into how we use Brain Science at CUPS to make a difference in the lives of our clients. Stay tuned for our next blog where will talk about our Brain Science-based assessment tool that helps clients build resilience when they come to CUPS. That’s right, we don’t just talk about trauma, we aim to build resilience that spans generations!


We could not do the work we do at CUPS without the unwavering support of our partners. The Community Partner Spotlight highlights a partner that has been instrumental in helping us make a larger impact in our community.


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Cenovus has been a strategic partner of CUPS for many years. In 2018 alone, Cenovus provided approximately 100 volunteers for different events going on at CUPS. Over the years, Cenovus has always placed a strong emphasis on volunteerism and staff engagement that has translated into countless volunteer hours at CUPS.

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In addition to volunteers, the unrestricted funding that we receive each year from Cenovus has allowed us to continue our operations during difficult economic times in Calgary and help meet the needs of those that are most vulnerable. In fact, Cenovus played a huge role in helping us move into our new location in 2012. Their dedication to their community has been demonstrated time and again through their unwavering support. Furthermore, their commitment to forming strong community partnerships has enabled CUPS to become who we are today. Cenovus has made a huge impact on the clients at CUPS and the community in general through their ongoing generosity. We look forward to our partnership moving forward into another 30 years and beyond!

Interested in getting involved at CUPS? Click here.