MSW 521 (Discussion -1) Module 6 Understanding Intergenerational Transmission of

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Module 6 Understanding Intergenerational
Transmission of Trauma after Mass Violence
In defining historic/intergenerational transmission of trauma, explain how social workers
can address trauma transmitted from one generation to another using storytelling in
families.

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.
Native Americans and Historic Trauma
Cromer, Gray, Vasquez, and Freyd (2018) highlighted that historical trauma impacts a
large group of individuals who identify with each other in particular ways, and unlike
intergenerational transmission of trauma, results from institutional betrayal. Institutions
can be governments, and in the case Native American populations, it is well
documented that the United States government betrayed Native Americans in a variety
of ways that reflect genocide or ethnic cleansing, particularly in the attempt to
Americanize Native American children and take the land of Native America people. It is
noteworthy, however, that Native Americans also experience transgenerational trauma
within families across generations, i.e. possibly via parenting.
Native females have been especially vulnerable to the institution’s betrayal, primarily via
the Indian Health Service (IHS). Smith (2005) highlighted that native women were
raped, children were removed from the care of their mothers for the purpose of making
children American, and sterilizations were performed without informed consent to
control the growth of the Native population. Smith shared data that showed the
sterilization policies in the 1970s. In 4 of 12 areas that the IHS served (Albuquerque,
Phoenix, Aberdeen, and Oklahoma City), 3001 native women of the age to bear
children were sterilized between 1970 and 1973, which was 5% of all Native women
who could bear children (General Accounting Office, 1976). The speculation is that
there were many more unreported and undocumented sterilizations in all areas (Smith,
2005, p. ).
There are far too many examples of how Native people have been marginalized and
oppressed to address in this lesson. However, Cromer et al. (2018) noted in order to
address the historic trauma and institutional betrayal, the “historic losses” could
potentially be healed through the grief process. By comparison, the intergenerational
transmission of trauma in families will likely warrant various therapeutic approaches that
focus on families. Both approaches may be needed to address the homicide, suicide,
domestic violence, and substance abuse rates in the Native communities that are likely
outcomes of some combination of both historic and transgenerational trauma.
Social Work Response
Social workers are challenged to address the trauma that Native peoples have
experienced over many years, especially Native women. In this case, social workers
must be culturally aware of the trauma that Native people have experienced and be
especially patient in recognizing tribal culture relative to their own culture. This means
being accomplished in many areas wherein traveling social workers (TSWs) are
contracted to provide service to Native populations. In these areas, it will be helpful for
social workers to have a compassionate understanding of historic trauma and losses in
order to provide services that focus on helping Native populations grieve their losses.
In addition, those social workers who work with Native families should be competent in
implementing interventions that allow family members to tell their stories and provide
narratives within and across generations. In this regard, the ability to implement
narrative family therapy will be particularly helpful. This approach takes on salience in
allowing members of families in each generation to provide the family narrative/story
over several generations. In doing so, it will be important for social workers to respect
tribal culture and normative practices that often warrant special awareness and attention
in providing services.
Summary
This lesson focused specifically on intergenerational transmission of trauma, or
transgenerational trauma and/or intergenerational trauma. How trauma is transferred
from one generation to others was discussed, especially how epigenetics, or how
trauma my result in changes in gene activity in some way that is transferred to other
generations. Epigenetics may explain how the stress of social inequities the Maori
population has experienced in New Zealand may result in trauma expressed as
musculoskeletal pain. Last, historic trauma that results when an institution, such as a
government, betrays an entire group of people as was the case in Native American
peoples.

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