“If there is light in the soul, there will be beauty in the person.
If there is beauty in the person, there will be harmony in the
house. If there is harmony in the house, there will be order
in the nation, there will be peace in the world.”
Historical trauma has a huge impact on entire communities. It is a snowballing of emotional and psychological wounding, as a result of group traumatic experiences; this is one that transmitted across generations within a community. This unresolved grief and anger are most times associated with racial and ethnic population groups and those who have suffered major intergenerational losses and assaults on their culture and well-being. We are currently seeing one of the symptoms of historical trauma with increased police shootings in many cities in the United States and other Countries. Historical trauma contributes to physical and behavioral health disorders. The good news is that trauma is treatable and there are many evidence-based models and promising practices designed for specific populations, types of trauma, and behavioral and medical health manifestations.
We are in need of a global paradigm shift that represents a type of “call” to all of humanity to be mindful of the present. When humanity chooses to live in the past, it may accompany thoughts and feelings of unresolved grief and anger. The word paradigm comes from the Greek parádeigma, “pattern.” So a paradigm shift is a distinctly new way of thinking about old problems/ “patterns.” The impact of trauma on human lives, systems of care, and communities has come to the point of crisis. A new paradigm involves a principle that was present all along but unknown to us. Working out of a new framework does more than the old. You can’t embrace the new paradigm unless you let go of the old. The new paradigm will gain ascendance as people grow up with it and work in it soon to form a consensus. After this time, there will be other contradictions, and science, technology, culture, and medicine will continue to break and enlarge ideas. The key word in this paradigm shift is “informed” (McFeature, 2017).
Although it is important to identify individual reactions to specific historically traumatic events or periods, there has been less attention focused on the interrelated effects of trauma experiences on family dynamics, impacting whole communities (Evans-Campbell, 2008; Waldram, 2004). After working over 30 years with children and families, you learn that families know what they need and can reasonably do to make things better; when given a chance to participate in a plan of care or service plan. Therefore, it is important to apply active listening and reflection skills before jumping in with a plan of what needs to be done. When children and families have an opportunity to share some family history you can begin to see clearly the belief systems and culture. As a healthcare provider and social worker, it is about building trust and relationships. The foundation is relational and meets the family where they are.
Trauma-informed systems of care understand that a trauma-exposed patient experiences excessive chronic overstimulation of the sympathetic nervous system (fight/flight). It is important to educate the patient about how our physical health is also impacted by our mental health, and vice versa. The ongoing chronic distress can be responsible for physiological changes that can promote atherosclerosis, the slow buildup of plaque deposits in the arteries of the heart. Also, ongoing chronic distress causes chronic pain syndromes and other physical health issues. When a healthcare provider educates the trauma-exposed patient on the balance of the body, mind, and heart, the patient will be more open to hearing about things they can do to improve their overall health. Using this approach is both empowering and builds trust quickly. It also provides health education as well as breaking down the walls of “stigma” and “judgment” of mental illness.
Part of building trust comes from building a therapeutic relationship with the patient that incorporates cultural factors. Culture may influence beliefs about what might be causing the health problem or the related symptoms. It is about understanding what the patient’s symptoms or illness mean to them and the meaning of treatment. Social and environmental factors are ultimately tied to the patient’s fear of medication and can affect adherence to medication. There are always examples of how culture and identity add richness and color to a tapestry. When you speak of patient-centered care strategies, it should include care that is culturally sensitive and responsive.
Historical trauma involves intergenerational trauma that roots deeply into the perceptions of the trauma-exposed patient. Overall, the impact of trauma is “person specific” and can impact all or some of these areas:
- Body and brain – Neurobiology with the fight/flight/freeze response. The biological response can cause a constant state of hyper-arousal, fear, and anxiety.
- Memory and Perception are fragmented and may cause the survivor difficulty concentrating and staying focused.
- Impact on beliefs, i.e., what it means to feel safe, trust, have self-esteem, feel connected and feel in control of our lives.
- Loss of a frame of Reference, i.e., identity – “Who am I?” and spirituality, i.e., “What do I believe?”
- Difficulty with feelings and the ability to identify and manage and the ability to connect to others.
When we can create a trauma-informed system of care and continuum of care, systems will have the opportunity to reach out to see families and communities healed. The goal of treatment is to empower the patient and give them a sense of control by building on his or her strengths and resilience. However, when someone else in the family or community is experiencing anxiety and fear, it open’s community “wounds” of emotional and physical pain from memories shared with family and community. The trauma triggers become buried in the subconscious mind. When these triggers arise, they can transport the trauma-exposed patient back to the place and time of the trauma event. The patient believes they are fighting for truth which is often attached to a personal identity which is a part of his or her family and community.
New Roads Behavioral Health has a full staff of clinical psychologists, medical staff, and mental health professionals. Therapeutic treatment at New Roads in a residential setting helps to address the deeply complex impact that historical trauma can have on an individual. See if New Roads has a program that meets your needs. Call our helpful admissions team: 888-358-8998
Cinthia McFeature, Ph.D.
Evans-Campbell T. (2008) Historical trauma in American Indian/Native Alaska communities: A multilevel framework for exploring impacts on individuals, families, and communities. Journal of Interpersonal Violence 23(3): 316–338.
McFeature, B. & McFeature-Herron, C. (2017) Integrated Health – HeartPath Practitioner Assessment and Intervention for the Trauma-Exposed Patient. Melbourne, Florida: Motivational Press, Inc.
Waldram J. B. (2004) Revenge of the Windigo: The construction of the mind and mental health of North American Aboriginal peoples, Toronto, Canada: University of Toronto Press.