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Healing Historical Trauma
Native American Health

Article Annelise Batten

The Native American Initiative (NAI) recently hosted a training titled Native American Health: Historical Trauma and Healing Practices. The training focused on intergenerational trauma—the lasting impact trauma can have on individuals and their descendants.

Repeated trauma can lead to an accumulation of symptoms that affect the collective unconscious of an entire group of people, known as historical or intergenerational trauma. As the trauma continues, the meaning associated with the event or events will change as the affected person’s identity develops across their lifespan. This identity can be understood as a foundation of how an individual views themselves and their interactions with the world around them, and the meaning associated with experiences such as surviving trauma.

We understand how development of self is influenced by interactions with caretakers who exhibit dysfunctional behaviors such as substance abuse and mental illness. In this way we can see how healing our direct clients may potentially be helping to heal future generations. We can help break the cycle and empower our clients by tapping into the coping skills they have or that their culture has had in the past. We can build on the resiliency and strength in each one of our clients to help them move forward.

Understanding intergenerational trauma and culturally appropriate models of care can make mental health issues and our work in general feel more relevant to clients. With this understanding, we can begin clearer discussions about the implications of therapeutic work for many “minority” populations.

While NAI’s presentation was focused on Native Americans, the concept of historical trauma, along with awareness of historical events that have affected other populations, can provide a foundation for understanding how multiple generations of trauma impact our clients. Understanding historical or intergenerational trauma helps us as clinicians see patterns more clearly and shift our work to fit the needs of individual clients in a culturally respectful way. For more information about the NAI, visit their website,