Can Family Therapy Resolve the Impact of Intergenerational Trauma?

Can Family Therapy Resolve the Impact of Intergenerational Trauma?

It is no news that exposure to traumatic experiences may increase people’s vulnerability to substance use disorders. Scientific research has proven the high correlation between trauma and addiction. When these adverse and traumatic experiences occur in childhood and within the home environment, the negative health impacts can be even more long-lasting. In general, people who grew up with intergenerational trauma are at a higher risk of having PTSD and mood disorders. These are common pre-conditions of substance addiction, leading to a dual diagnosis. Fortunately, Laguna Shores Recovery Center has the expertise to treat these complex conditions.

What Is Intergenerational Trauma?

Families are meant to be places where people create legacies and preserve traditions. They should have a nurturing effect on the next generation. Unfortunately, not all families are on the track to building healthy relationships. Families are also places of neglect and emotional pain. These negative experiences may be passed down from generation to generation. 

To understand the impact of intergenerational trauma, one needs to address what trauma is. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), trauma refers to events or situations that result in physical or emotional harm. Despite the pervasiveness of traumatic experiences, their complex nature has yet to be understood by the general public. Trauma may impact the whole person, including his or her physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual well-being. 

Intergenerational trauma refers to negative events that happen within a family system. The negative impact may be passed down through parent-child relationships. Because of the closed nature of a family system, trauma is often hidden and even silenced while its impact continues to compromise people’s quality of life. In sum, intergenerational trauma is systemic and cultural. 

What Is a Family System?

We ought to understand intergenerational trauma from a family system perspective. This refers to the interconnected and interdependent nature of a group of kin relationships. Whether a family is composed of a nuclear group or an extended network of relationships, individuals in a family system are connected closely by strong biological and/or emotional bonds since birth. 

A family system can malfunction when members enter into conflicts and marriages dissolve. There can also be pre-existing and untreated mental health issues, leading to neglect, abuse, or even domestic violence. When one family behaves in an unhealthy or harmful way, it will ripple through the entire family system in a profoundly negative sense. This is especially true for children who grow up in dysfunctional families. Health experts have found that adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) place young members of the family system at a disadvantage in terms of physical and mental development.

How Can Family Therapy Treat Intergenerational Trauma?

Family therapy has a few advantages when approaching intergenerational trauma. First of all, a trained family therapist is knowledgeable about the complexity and lasting impact of intergenerational trauma. They specialize in diagnosing symptoms and treating the deeper root causes of intergenerational trauma. For example, a family therapist may examine the medical history of family members to see if there are mental illnesses in the family history. 

A specialized family therapist who is trauma-informed should understand both the systemic and cultural aspects of intergenerational trauma. Noting the systemic nature of intergenerational trauma, a therapist may center around how key relationships impact other members of the family. With cultural knowledge, a family therapist can analyze and identify how cultural beliefs (e.g. about shame and guilt) may play an important role in how family members treat each other. The treatment plan should allow for more cultural sensitivity and affirm the strengths of these cultural norms while recommending improvements. 

Practical Techniques in Family Therapy

A family therapist understands how intergenerational trauma spills into relationships within a family system. He or she will help identify unhealthy communication patterns. These may include both verbal and non-verbal communication. By observing, identifying, and interrupting communication patterns, family therapy may release stress and rebuild trust among members of the family. 

Another commonly used technique in family therapy tries to give trauma a voice. This is necessary because family systems often tend to silence and avoid talking about past trauma. These practices are passed down to the second and later generations, forming habits of secrecy and distrust. An experienced family therapist will facilitate two-way conversations between parents and children, allowing them to tell their own stories. By shedding light on the relational dynamics, both parties may gain more awareness and improve. 

Healing From Shame and Secrecy

By rebuilding open lines of communication across generations, family therapy helps individuals discuss their suppressed emotions and correct misconceptions, not just about past events, but about each other. In order to achieve this goal, a therapist will need to help the family heal from a sense of shame and secrecy. 

From a health perspective, intergenerational trauma can and should be shared openly. It is not a sign of weakness but of strength and resilience. Family therapy that effectively treats intergenerational trauma can help people understand their identities. Laguna Shores Recovery Center has a quality family therapy program to assist recovering individuals and their families.

Addiction may co-occur with mental health challenges that result from intergenerational trauma. This is when trauma-informed family therapy provides the best route to treatment. If you work with a trained and experienced family therapist, you and your family can get help in addressing psychological, behavioral, and emotional issues in the family system. Laguna Shores Recovery Center offers family therapy as part of an integrated treatment plan. We have a full service including detox, medication, 12-Step groups, and relationship skills coaching. We also provide an outpatient program to support you and your loved ones in achieving long-term health. Schedule an appointment with us at (866) 774-1532. Trauma-informed family therapy can help you and your loved ones thrive again.