Psychotherapeutic Work with Intergenerational Trauma

With Module Speakers:
Dr Pamela AlexanderDr Aileen AlleyneDr Doris BrothersProphecy ColesDr Françoise DavoineDr Dori LaubDr Isha Mckenzie-MavingaDr Clara MucciProfessor Franz RuppertMaya Jacobs-WallfischDr Estela WelldonLennox Thomas (1952-2020),

  • This online resource provides a unique package of lectures and presentations by the speakers below, supported by notes, captions and diagrams
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Dr Pamela Alexander
Interrupting intergenerational cycles of trauma and violence - Part I

In this presentation, Clinical Psychologist, Dr Pamela Alexander discusses the clinical significance of research findings that show that the dynamics of future intimate partner relationships and parenting abilities can be anticipated from early childhood attachments. These findings give us the possibility of considering more exactly how intergenerational patterns of neglect and abuse can predict someone’s capacity for loving relationships – both as a parent and a romantic partner. The parent-child attachment relationship can either exacerbate or mitigate the effects of a history of maltreatment on intergenerational cycles of violence. We will see that intimate partner violence both results from a history of child maltreatment and contributes to these intergenerational cycles through the impact on the child’s ability to regulate emotions and through internal working models of self and other. The trauma history of both partners in childhood is found to be important, however most parents who experienced violence in childhood do not become abusive towards their own children or partners. How are they able to interrupt the intergenerational cycle of trauma? Dr Alexander proposes that alternative sources of attachment, such as a good therapist or one non-abusive parent, can counteract the effects of a history of maltreatment and interrupt the cycle of violence before it reaches the next generation.

Video of lecture – 37 mins

Interrupting intergenerational cycles of trauma and violence – Part II

Video lecture with slides – 33 mins

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Aileen Alleyne 
Dr Aileen Alleyne
Intergenerational trauma to intergenerational healing

In this presentation, Dr Aileen Alleyne explores the unconscious psychological processes of intergenerational trauma in the Black community in Britain, tracing a line between the historical traumas and racial oppression faced by that community and consequential vulnerabilities of daily life. Dr Alleyne represents those dynamics in the form of a Cycle of Events showing the specific mechanisms and effects of intergenerational trauma. She elaborates each stage of the cycle to illustrate the therapeutic issues involved and the processes necessary for bringing about healing of black identity wounding. This presentation is informed by both a socio-political framework and psychoanalytic theory that centres on black-white relationships and the development of the self.

Audio lecture with transcript and slides – 51 mins

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Dr Doris Brothers
A relational systems approach to intergenerational trauma

How does trauma get passed from one generation to the next? In this presentation, Dr Doris Brothers offers an explanation that is based on the concept of “traumatic attachments.” This reflects her relational systems understanding of trauma as the destruction of the certainties that pattern psychological life. Arising out of the need to restore a sense of certainty about psychological survival, traumatic attachments tend to coalesce into patterns of relating which are so inflexible and resistant to change that they profoundly affect parent-child interactions over generations. The thesis is illustrated via clinical case history.

Audio lecture with transcript and slides – 49 mins

Intergenerational trauma, Freud and bullying

This accompanying presentation focuses on the traumatic attachments underlying the rigid dualisms at the heart of such relational phenomena as bullying and dichotomous gender. By way of illustration, Doris Brothers examines the extent to which Freud’s life, attitudes and thinking reflect themes of bullying as a response to the traumatizing anti-Semitism that pervaded his family’s history. The impact that this may have had on the culture of psychoanalytic training organisations is explored.

Audio lecture with captions – 11 mins

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Prophecy Coles
A psychodynamic exploration of the unconscious transmission of trauma across the generations

Through some fascinating accounts of some apparently intractable psychotherapeutic cases, psychoanalytic psychotherapist Prophecy Coles explains how the concept of intergenerational trauma has enabled her to unlock core issues. In some instances, these breakthroughs in the treatment emerge through unexpected ideas or insights; in others, through strong countertransference experiences in which feelings such as rage or fear are confronted. In the course of unravelling these moments in the therapy, the therapeutic couple become able to identify traumatic events experienced by their parents or grandparents and to weave these into their own narrative. She suggests that the inner world is not just peopled by our mother and father (or lack of these) but by many other significant others jostling for a part to play in the mind. Assessment based on intergenerational history is discussed.

Video with transcript – 40 mins

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Dr Françoise Davoine
The "stoppage of time" due to intergenerational trauma PART I: Theoretical presentation

Together with her partner Dr Jean-Max Gaudillière, Dr Françoise Davoine’s life work has been focused on understanding intergenerational history as a key to the apparent “craziness” of her patients’ psychotic delusions. In these two presentations, she suggests that the hiding of abuse and crimes when the truth has been impossible to accept (for example, an experience of a war atrocity), requires the defence of delusion within the family. We see how the secreting of trauma by a parent or grandparent can leave an unconscious impression of those events in the mind of a child or grandchild which later re-emerges in the imagery of a psychotic episode. She proposes that good psychoanalysts are those who can hear clinical stories as “quixotic”, explanatory diversions that may be communicating the trauma of a past generation; that it is only via openness between the two partners in the therapy relationship that the buried, historical truth can emerge in both minds and allow healing to occur. This presentation is illustrated with references to Laurence Stern’s novel, Tristram Shandy, which the speaker offers as a classic illustration of intergenerational trauma.

Video lecture with transcript and slides – 29 mins

The “stoppage of time” due to intergenerational trauma
PART II: A clinical example of healing the intergenerational trauma of both patient and therapist

In this audio recording, Dr Françoise Davoine unravels the hidden trauma underlying a patient’s psychosis by connecting it to the ghosts of her own family’s intergenerational pattern of repression.

Audio lecture with transcript and slides – 29 mins

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Dr Dori Laub
Discovering and witnessing lost fragments of narrative in the family stories of Jewish Holocaust survivors as a source of emotional healing Part I Talk

In this audio presentation, Dr Dori Laub describes the impact of intergenerational trauma on the children of Jewish holocaust survivors. He reflect upon the stories of his psychoanalytic patients and people he has treated psychiatrically, including his work on the frontline during the Arab-Israeli Yom Kippur war of 1973. He considers how the very act of bearing witness to accounts of the family’s Holocaust trauma can be transformational for the patient, especially when there is no other person who is open to the emotional truth of their experience. In this talk he relates the importance of discovering significant details of a patient’s story that fill missing gaps in their personal and family narrative. What is striking, he suggests, are the questions that one does not ask in what he calls moments of “countertransference blindness”. In his examples, we hear how by bringing missing pieces of narrative to consciousness that the patient becomes able to integrate a truth about their family and the intergenerational influences over their own psyche.

Audio with captions, images and transcript – 19 mins

Discovering and witnessing lost fragments of narrative in the family stories of Jewish Holocaust survivors as a source of emotional healing
Part II Interview

In this interview, Dori Laub considers specific examples where the traumas of parents and grandparents have afflicted his psychoanalytic patients or hospitalised holocaust survivors in Israel from whom he took testimonies. Often, he suggests, these patients’ inherited wounds become known through the analyst’s countertransference enactments. He offers examples of his unwitting collusion with the omission of a central piece of the family history that was unbearable to allow into consciousness but became known to him nonetheless due to his sense of acting out an element of the hidden family history. By reworking narratives with his patients to try and reach the truth, and replace a “pseudo history” of their trauma, unexpected connections with family members emerge. As they do so the analyst can offer himself as a witness – more than a listener but another person feeling the patient’s loss and grief.

Audio with captions, images and transcript – 15 mins

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Dr Isha Mckenzie-Mavinga
Black rage and internalised oppression: the impact of intergenerational racism

In this lecture, Isha Mckenzie-Mavinga illustrates how racism continues to cause and compound trauma and depression. It is often forgotten that slavery was damaging for both the perpetrators and the enslaved. While both parties have played a significant role in moving on from this atrocity, silences about the impact of slavery and colonialism on developmental processes can mean that clients may not have appropriate support for recognizing the intergenerational impact of this collective trauma. In her book, Black Issues in the Therapeutic Process Isha devised the concept of recognition trauma, presented as a challenge to dominant Eurocentric theory and attitudes when working with family origins, cultural context and intergenerational trauma. This presentation considers the inherited effects of slavery and colonialism as an influence on mental health in the narratives of African/Caribbean psychotherapy clients.

Video of lecture with slides – 53 mins

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Dr Clara Mucci
Past generations, trauma, loss and the modes of psychic transmission

Clara Mucci asserts, “We don’t just get a patient. We get someone who is the last part of a chain of family heritage.” This presentation examines the paths that intergenerational trauma takes as it transmits from one generation to the next. Within a framework of psychoanalytic and attachment theory, Clara Mucci elaborates how early relational trauma in the form of disorganised attachment is the most damaging means via which trauma from one generation passes to the next. This is explained by the primary care-giver’s incapacity to offer the emotional regulation that is necessary for healthy development. Furthermore, a parent who has adopted the defence of dissociation is likely to have a dissociating child. She proposes that secure attachment mediates against future traumatic effects, by enabling one to negotiate loss and process future traumas. Therapy for intergenerational trauma, she suggests, occurs in the form of enactment, where the trauma of past generations may become expressed. Clinical and theoretic material is drawn upon from her own practice and also from such authors as Giovanni Liotti, Dori Laub, Ilany Kogan, Philip Bromberg and Allan Schore.

Video lecture with slides – 44 mins

Past generations, trauma, loss and moving beyond the victim-persecutor dyad

This presentation builds on Clara Mucci’s theoretical discussion in Part I, and considers psychoanalytic treatment approaches for the effects of the traumatic experiences in the lives of parents, grandparents and ancestors. One clinical challenge is the decreasing clarity, symbolisation, narrative formulation of the original trauma as it passes from generation to generation. Somatic awareness or even psychosis may be the only way that it is expressed. Equally striking is a tendency towards victim-persecutor relational dynamics. We will look at the possibility of raising these effects to consciousness, easing symptoms and ultimately going beyond these dynamics into greater psychic freedom.

Video lecture with slides – 50 mins

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Professor Franz Ruppert
Multigenerational psychotraumatology: Symbiotic trauma and entanglements across generations

In this lecture, Franz Ruppert explores both the nature of trauma and its intergenerational transmission. Experiences of trauma, he suggests, lead to splits in the human psyche by which the intolerable feelings are suppressed in a range of survival strategies. In the process of bonding it is impossible for a mother or father to avoid passing on something of their own traumatic experiences to their children. Even when parents try to hide and neglect their own traumas, their children will sense these, primarily due to a lack of safe emotional contact. This normally results in the children experiencing vicarious or “symbiotic trauma” in which the child suffers from and identifies with the split-off traumatised feelings of their parents. An understanding of this process, he proposes, is the therapeutic key to stop this ongoing process of transferring trauma from one generation to the next, and he explains how Constellation of the Intention work can offer an effective therapeutic tool for breaking the family pattern.

Video of lecture with slides- 1 hr 9 mins

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Lennox Thomas
Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome in the Afro-Caribbean Community

In this interview Lennox Thomas talks to Jane Ryan about post-slavery syndrome as a psychological vulnerability running from generation to generation through the Afro-Caribbean population. The syndrome is marked by high levels of anxiety and low self-esteem that is embedded in many families, and reinforced by current societal conditions. While many Afro-Caribbean patients come to therapy for relationship and family issues in the normal way, Thomas suggests they also have to process actual racial prejudice – or their expectation of it – as a thwarting and threatening condition of their daily lives resulting in a sense of being at risk. This anxiety is not simply contained within the psyche of the patient; it has descended through their ancestors and parental experience of white people from slavery onwards. Thomas suggests that despite these challenging external conditions, therapy can support black patients in building their resilience and self-confidence, and many discover a much greater sense of agency and confidence as a result. He also discusses the importance of understanding negative relational issues – for example, the difficulty black men often experience in securely attaching to their children – as behavioural patterns that were originally established by plantation economics; in grasping the origin of such behaviour, it becomes possible to alter that pattern to engender greater family resilience and more secure attachments in future generations. The video is accompanied by two papers: Caribbean Attachment and Parenting Roles and Black Men by Lennox Thomas.

Video interview – 29 mins

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