Welcome to Module 6!

This week, one focus is on understanding the intergenerational transmission of trauma the results from mass violence events and how trauma is transmitted from one generation to other generations. In this regard, we explore the storytelling interventions that social workers might use if they see trauma in a second or third generation. We also examine the narrative exposure therapy as a means of addressing the trauma that youth experience with exposure to armed conflict. Both discussions this week focus on intergenerational transmission of trauma and how social workers might assist a selected population that survives a mass violence event. At the end of the week, consider how social workers might recognize the transmission of trauma in families, particularly in families that come to the United States from war-torn countries or in families of indigenous populations within the United States.

Ray, L., Outten, B., Andrew, P., & Gottlieb, K. (2019). Disrupting the intergenerational transmission of trauma among Alaska Native people: A conceptual model for Family Wellness Warrior Initiatitve. Journal of Health Disparities Research & Practice, 12(2), 40-68.

Kangaslampi, S., Garoff, F., & Peltonen, K. (2015). Narrative exposure therapy for immigrant children traumatized by war: Study protocol for a randomized controlled trial of effectiveness and mechanism of change. BMC Psychiatry, 15(1), 1-14.

Module 6: Intergenerational Transmission of Trauma

Transgenerational Trauma or Intergenerational Trauma Transgenerational trauma is a conceptual framework for explaining how the effects of trauma can be transferred from one generation to another (Dekel & Goldblatt, 2008; Fossion, Rejas, Servais, Pelc, & Hirsch, 2003). As such, the proposition in the framework is that a survivor(s) who experience a traumatic event transfer the trauma effects to the next generation, and in some cases, subsequent generations. Similarly, historical trauma occurs when a group or population experiences trauma wherein the trauma was widespread, affected the group as a whole, and there was intent to traumatize as many members of the group as possible (Oneill, Fraser, Kitchenbaum, & McDonald, 2018). For example, historic trauma has been documented among Holocaust survivors, Native Americans, descendants of slaves, and other survivors of war conflicts.



Symptoms of transgenerational trauma may vary by group and include a variety of symptoms that present in families, i.e. communication, family conflict, and other family- related issues. The first generation of survivors likely experience posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and subsequent generations may experience any number of symptoms depending on group membership and the degree of dysfunction in the family. Within this context, family work and intervention in some form seem needed to prevent the transmission from one generation to others.

How Trauma Is Transferred Generationally Early research on the transmission of trauma seemed to suggest that the intergenerational transmission of trauma was primarily a result of social learning. However, more recent research suggests that the study of epigenetics may further explain transgenerational trauma, as well as its reversal (Yehuda & Lehrner, 2018). By definition, epigenetics is the study of heritable changes in gene function that do not involve changes in DNA sequence (Merriam-Webster, 2020). Cloud (January 18, 2010) noted that “at its most basic, epigenetics is the study of changes in gene activity that do not involve alterations to the genetic code but still get passed down to at least one successive generation.”

Nolan-Hoeksema (2006) noted that women’s endocrine system may become overactive and dysregulated in response to stress related to trauma via the hypothalamic-pituitary- adrenal feedback system (HPA). In this context, Baker (2018) explored the possibility that the musculoskeletal pain many Maori people experience in New Zealand may also be a dysregulated response to internal and external stressors they have experienced in trying to acculturate into the European New Zealand culture, i.e. social inequities. Based on the findings of a phenomenological study, Baker concluded that the musculoskeletal pain among Maori people may be a result of historical trauma and acculturation stress. As such, treatment is needed that addresses the emotional and social health in order to address the physical pain that Maori and reverse the trauma affect.

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