Historical Trauma

Historical Trauma… what is it?

Historical trauma has a couple myths to it. Some believe, as the name would assume, that it is a history of trauma in one's life; perhaps childhood trauma. Some believe it is trauma historically sustained by minoritized ancestors. However, we can think about it as a mix of the two and everything in between.
Historical trauma, as defined by Dr. Maria Yellow Horse Brave Heart, is "collective emotional psychological injury, over the lifespan and across generations, resulting from a cataclysmic history of genocide." This is an umbrella term, meaning it may include specific forms of trauma such as physical, sexual, psychological, racial, social / emotional, and spiritual. You may also hear terms such as "intergenerational trauma," or, "transgenerational trauma." Although very similar to historical trauma, intergenerational trauma encapsulates traumatic events that are experienced in one generation which affect later generations. Research indicates that historical trauma has factually caused intergenerational trauma (Brave Heart, MYH 2011).
Historical trauma is different from types of trauma such as developmental and environmental, because it in fact may include these different forms of trauma and be the root cause, if these are patterns felt across generations in a family and by a cultural / racial group. Historical trauma is far reaching, felt over generations, that present patterns of disparity we see today not only in the United States, but in many countries with a history of colonization and oppression on certain cultural groups.

Who does this affect?

You may be asking, does this affect me? The answer may become clearer as one understands their cultural identity and remembers that historical trauma is understood and felt in the context of culture and race. Meaning, if the cultural, racial, and/or ethnic identity that makes up who you are has historically faced catastrophic events such as colonization, genocide, ethnic cleansing, slavery, and/or other forms of systemic oppression, than yes, this causes
historical trauma.

What do I do?

If learning about historical trauma resonates with you, there are many ways to gain more information. High Mountain Counseling and Training Institute offers trainings focused on and around historical trauma. We also have multicultural specialists as a part of our team to assist in healing through counseling. Below, you can also find additional resources to learn more about historical trauma and support. Like any trauma, we want to increase protective factors by focusing on and introducing strengths. This can include a process of reclaiming culture that has been forcibly lost, as well as acknowledging the level of grief that can come from uncovering trauma at this level (Brave Heart, MYH 2010). Of course, it is always important to remember that if your family and ancestors have faced historical trauma, you also have an incredibly vast capacity for resilience to work through mental health struggles due to being here today and the strength it takes to make it through systemic oppression across systems.


Kimberlé Crenshaw, a 2017 NAIS People of Color Conference speaker, civil rights advocate, and professor at UCLA School of Law and Columbia Law School, talks about intersectional theory, the study of how overlapping or intersecting social identities—and particularly minority identities—relate to systems and structures of discrimination.

The Native American Rights Fund is pursuing strategies to support the healing of boarding school survivors; Native American children, families, and communities; and tribal nations.

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High Mountain Counseling & Training Institute is a full service counseling agency and training institute that provides high quality treatment and education that is nationally and internationally recognized as being on the leading edge of innovation in the mental health and educational world.