Advances in Applied Sociology
2012. Vol.2, No.2, 95-101
Published Online June 2012 in SciRes (
Copyright © 2012 SciRes.
Exploring Irish Multigenerational Trauma and Its Healing:
Lessons from the Oglala Lakota (Sioux)
Kenneth M. Coll1, Brenda Freeman2, Paul Robertson3, Eileen Iron Cloud4,
Ethleen Iron Cloud Two Dogs4, Rick Two Dogs4
1Boise State University, Bo ise, USA
2Northwest Nazarene University, Nampa, USA
3Little Priest Tribal College, Winnebago, USA
4Wakanyeja Pawicayapi (Childre n First), Inc., Porcup ine, USA
Received March 10th, 2012; revised Apr il 1 5th, 2012; accepted April 27th, 2012
This exploratory article reviewed the professional literature related to the construct of multigenerational
trauma and the importance of cultural identity and practices as healing and protective/resilience factors
against such trauma. It also posited that the Irish and the Oglala Lakota (Sioux) of the North American
Northern Plains have commonalities; one commonality perhaps being multigenerational trauma (also
called historical loss, transgenerational trauma/shame). Emerging evidence about treatment of multiage-
nerational trauma with the Lakota through implementing their cultural practices and cultural renewal in
rural settings are also discussed. Finally, this investigation describes results from a focus group expe-
rience with 12 Irish counselors from rural Southeastern Ireland that explored resiliency related to multi-
generational trauma using genograms to describe and compare traumatic and resiliency patterns. {Note:
This exploratory approach does not include Irish Diaspora (e.g., Irish-Americans, Irish-Australians, and
Irish-Canadians)}. It is hoped that based on the results of this approach, further investigations can occur
with these populations.
Keywords: Trauma; Irish; Lakota; Cultural Healing; Renewal; Resiliency
Trauma is defined by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual
for Mental Disorders (DSM-IV-TR) (APA, 2000) as expe-
riences that involve actual or threatened serious injury, or learn-
ing about unexpected or serious harm, or death or injury ex-
perienced by a family member or other close associate. Trau-
matic experiences can include abuse, neglect, domestic vio-
lence, traumatic loss or bereavement, and living within an im-
paired caregiver (e.g., caregiver with depression, alcohol abuse)
(The National Child Traumatic Stress Network, 2006).
Problems experienced by traumatized people include the
DSM-IV-TR diagnosis and/or symptoms of Post Traumatic
Stress Disorder, including marked diminished interest or par-
ticipation in significant activities, feelings of detachment or
estrangement from others, restricted range of affect (e.g., un-
able to have loving feelings), and sense of a foreshortened fu-
ture (e.g., do not expect to have a career, marriage, children, or
a normal life span) (APA, 2000). Associated mental disorders
include substance dependence, depression, acute stress disorder,
disruptive behavior disorders in children (e.g., conduct disorder
and oppositional defiance), phobias, and sleep disorders (U.S.
Department of Health and Human Services, 2001).
Multigenerational Trauma and Its Consequences
The emerging definition of multigenerational trauma relates
to the idea that subsequent generations learn from and are af-
fected by parents, grandparents, other extended family adults
who are traumatized, that is experienced unexpected or serious
harm, or death or injury experienced (e.g., genocide, sexual
assault, torture, murder) (Levine, 2001). This phenomenon in-
volves learning to experience an intense fear, helplessness, or
horror through viewing another’s experience of trauma (e.g.,
anger, depression, and alcohol/drug abuse) and learning to re-
act/act in similar fashion (The National Child Traumatic Stress
Network, 2004; Nelson, 1998). The terms historical or cultural
trauma have also been used to accent the depth and breadth of
certain traumatic experiences shared by many (e.g., genocide,
There is a growing body of evidence that multigenerational
trauma (also called historical loss, transgenerational trauma)
and its consequences is prevalent in historically oppressed and/
or colonized peoples (Pupavac, 2002; Stone, 2003; Whitbeck,
Adams, Hoyt, & Chen, 2004). Evidence of multigenerational
trauma has emerged in studies of multigenerational Holocaust
survivor families (Levine, 2001), refugee families, and families
aro und the world dealing with multigenerational effects of gen o-
cide, mass killing and other collective violence. Levine (2001)
reports about a number of Holocaust family studies with several
recurring themes, including chronic and severe depression, dis-
turbance in memory and cognition, feelings of guilt, marked by
anxiety and sleep disturbances (Levine, 1998). More recently,
Whitbeck, et al. (2004) found that American Indian parents
indicated high levels of anger and depression directly attributed
to multigenerational trauma (historical loss). Indeed, Stone
noted that conceptualizing individual problems with historically
oppressed and/or colonized peoples through the multigenera-
tional trauma “lens” is key for helping with successful healing.
Multigenerational Trauma Mechanisms
Especially related to seminal, cataclysmic traumatic events
(e.g., genocide), each successive generation may experience
and act out their own trauma (e.g., poverty, alcohol abuse, do-
mestic violence, rural isolation, from Stone, 2003). Thus each
successive generation of new parents can (inadvertently) “re-
traumatize” their children (Stone, 2003). On-going oppression
and poverty increase vulnerability to trauma, yet multigenera-
tional drug and alcohol abuse and other chronic mental health
problems may persist regardless of socioeconomic level (Tho-
mas & Schwarzbaum, 2006). Stone (2003) and Levine (1998)
discussed the long-term effects of trauma as systemic and mul-
tigenerational, with continued themes of exaggerated and con-
flicted feelings of anxiety, panic and depression in subsequent
generations. Both authors noted that re-traumatization reaches
across several generations. In a recent study, Whitbeck, et al.,
(2004) found that such trauma can be found several generations
after seminal traumatic events (e.g., traumatized American
Indians referencing the deva stating effects of the 1890 Wounded
Knee massacre on their families 110 years later).
The Importance of Cultural Identity and Practices as
Protective (Resilience) Factors against Trauma
As Thomas and Schwarzbaum (2006) indicated that “per-
sonal identity is cultural identity” (p. 1). They also assert that
“cultural identity and self concept are developed not only
within the context of the consciousness of other’s perceptions
but also within historical images (sic) of culture” (p. 4). “People
do not wake up one day and decide to act a certain way. His-
torical, sociological, anthropological, political, and geographi-
cal explanations are needed to make sense of a person’s life
choices, life cycle events, and patterns of individual and rela-
tional behavior (pp. 4-5).
There is growing evidence that strong identification with in-
digenous and traditional culture creates a positive cultural iden-
tity and act as a positive and protective factor against trauma
and its consequences (Richeport-Haley, 1998; Singh, 1999; Sue
& Sue, 1999; Yeh, Hunter, Maden-Behel, Chiang, & Arora,
2004). Moodley and West (2005) found that cultures from
around the world have produced rich traditions that are associ-
ated with mental health healing, including many present-day
Christian rituals. They remind us that Western counseling and
psychotherapy, when viewed in the context of the history of
mental health healing, is relatively new. Indeed, while western
mental health practices are seen as the “gold standard”; more
and more people around the world are turning back to indige-
nous cultural practice for mental health healing. Moodley and
West recommend a combination approach of therapy and cul-
tural practices as an emerging “best practice” for mental health
healing with adults and children, including trauma.
Stone (2003) as well as Moodley and West (2005) cite se-
veral studies from around the world indicating that the infusion
of cultural practices (e.g., traditional music, dance, language
development) increases mental health functioning, with Stone
asserting that such infusion is crucial for healing trauma. As an
example, Whitbeck, Chen, Hoyt, & Adams (2004) recently
discovered important new evidence that multigenerational (his-
torical) loss and trauma affect American Indian alcohol abuse.
They also found that greater enculturation (the degree to which
individuals are embedded in their cultures) is a significant re-
siliency effect on alcohol abuse.
Irish Multigenerational Trauma
Research to-date clearly underscores that survivors of mas-
sive trauma and their families are not a homogenous group of
vulnerable, dysfunctional individuals; instead they display a
wide range of coping strategies (Levine, 1998). It is with this
proviso that Irish Historian James Lee (1994) asserted that
many current mental health problems in Irish society may be
best understood in the context of what he calls “historical
wounding”. Similarly, the Irish researcher Moane (1994) noted
that in Irish society “there are psychological patterns inherited
from colonization which may be transmitted through family
dynamics even while rapid social change is occurring” (p. 263).
Lee (1994) and Moane (1994) proposed that centuries of Eng-
lish oppression and colonialism relied on mechanisms of tight
control, which included:
Physical coerc ion;
Sexual exploitation;
Economic exploitation ;
Political exclusion, and
Control of ideology and culture.
They postulated that, for many individuals and families in
postcolonial Irish society today, these mechanisms have left a
deep psychological legacy of trauma and its consequences of:
Ambivalence toward the colonizer;
Suppression of anger and rage;
A sense of inferiority;
Loss of identity;
Horizontal violence, and
Vulnerability to psychological distress.
Specific traumatizing experiences for the Irish (per Lee and
Moane) include systematically treated as an “inferior race” by
the oppressing culture (British), subjection to starvation (the
Irish Famine) even while vast quantities of foods were being
exported, indiscriminate killings, land grabs, religious persecu-
tion, language and music censorship, and educational oppres-
sion. Indeed, many Irish today continue to reference their dis-
tain of past British actions. They especially reference the
wholesale suffering inflicted by the Black and Tans, the special
auxiliaries that the British recruited to suppress Irish indepen-
dence in the early 20th century and the systematic suppression
and violation of indigenous Irish rights in the northern 6 coun-
ties throughout the 20th century (Kirkpat ri c k, 2006).
Although multigenerational trauma has not been specifically
studied with the Irish, several Irish studies have indicated asso-
ciated alcohol-related research that supports, at least tangen-
tially, multigenerational trauma, as substance abuse is strongly
correlated with trauma (The National Child Traumatic Stress
Network, 2004; Stone, 2003; Whitbeck et al., 2004). While
countries such as the U.S. have recently declined by more than
1% in alcohol consumption over the last 10 years, Ireland has
increased by more than 39% (World Health Organization,
2006). In fact the Republic of Ireland has risen to fifth place in
the World Health Organizations’ global rankings for alcohol
consumption (World Health Organization, 2006). Other recent
studies have consistently indicated higher alcohol use by Irish
than other ethnic groups. Indeed, the Irish are the only ethnic
group in the United States that has not adapted to U.S. drinking
norms after several generations; instead keeping to higher Irish
drinking norms (Galvan & Caetano, 2003; Van der Walds,
Copyright © 2012 SciRes.
Urgenson, Weltz, & Hanna, 2002). Binge drinking is also dra-
matically on the rise in Ireland, especially among young women
(World Health Organization, 2006). In terms of multigenera-
tional transmission, the Irish researchers Morgan and Grube
(1994) indicated that in Ireland, parental modeling is quite
strong in predicting abusive drinking behavior; and as an illus-
trative example, quoted an old Irish proverb—“The person who
drinks is often lucky, while the nondrinker is often unfortunate”
(p. 401). Perhaps further indicating the presence of multigene-
rational trauma, Ireland has higher comparative rates of depres-
sion, domestic violence, post-traumatic stress, and child abuse
as compared with other countries in the European Union (World
Health Organization, 2006).
Gibbons (2005) noted two recent Irish movies that illustrate
multigenerational trauma. In the movie, “The Field”, set in the
1950s, Gibbons (2005) indicates that “the dysfunctional family
of Bull McCabe self destructs (violently) rather than triumphs
over the traumas of the past” (p. 214). Gibbons also referenced
the movie “This is my Father” in which a burned-out, despon-
dent modern day Irish-American travels to Ireland after his
mother’s death to visit family. Gibbon notes that “the family
past he uncover is not the nostalgic world of the “Quiet Man”,
but a community who’s inter(generational) hatreds bring about
the suicide of a father he has never known, and the flight of his
ostracized, expectant mother to America” (p. 223). Gibbons
noted that as these movies illustrate a central premise of healing
from multigenerational trauma—only when one recovers their
cultural identity and memory are they free from the traumas of
the past. Stone (2003) indicated that in cultures that struggle
with multigenerational trauma, a seminal, catac lysmic traumati c
event (e.g., genocide, war), often creates a cascading effect of
trauma in subsequent generations. The Famine or “Great Hun-
ger” of the mid 19th century may be such an event for the Irish.
Testimonials to Irish Multigenerational Trauma—
The Famine Legacy
There is a paucity of sociological and/or psychological stu-
dies supporting (or refuting) the psychic effects of the Irish fa-
mine or other traumatic events in Irish history. However, se-
veral influential and astute observers of Irish culture believe
such a legacy exists, especially related to the famine. Cormac
O’Grada (1999), Ireland’s premier economic historian asserted
that “the Irish famine was much more murderous, relatively
speaking, than most historical and most modern famines, that is
lasted long beyond when most general accounts (are) used to
end (it), and that its ravages reached all counties, classes, and
creeds. Its enduring impact is reflected in a continued desire in
Ireland to remember those things we (ourselves) never knew”
(p. 232). The famous Irish American writer, Frank McCourt
(2001) from Limerick in referencing famine trauma indicated
that “in the racial unconscious of the Irish there must be some
demon tormenting us over food” (p. 218), and “we are expected
to suffer retroactively, we were told then and we know it now,
the famine was the worst thing ever to happen to the Irish race;
(oh) the psychological effects of hunger, how it breaks you,
how it hinders any kind of emotional development” (p. 220).
Thomas Keneally, the Irish-Australian writer (1998), follows a
similar theme in his book “the Great Shame”, asserting that the
Irish famine “has produced in the Irish themselves a certain
amount of that survival shame which one encounters also in
certain survivors of the Holocaust: the irrational but sharp
shame of still standing when so many fell; the shame of having
been rendered less than human by cataclysm” (p. 605). Whelan
(2005) supported these observations, and noted that the key to
such multigenerational trauma is to be to move away from an
individual’s memory that internalizes past traumas as depres-
sion to a more culturally enabling form, which embraces cul-
tural practices and pride. Such a transformation can be aided by
development of cultural identity and participation in cultural
practices. One traumatized indigenous group that is answering
some of these questions (Braveheart, 1999; Whitbeck et al.,
2004) is the Oglala Lakota (Sioux) people.
Lessons from the Oglala Lakota (Sioux):
Cultural Identity and Practices as Healing for
Multigenerational Trauma
The Irish and the Lakota have been compared conceptually
due to similar histories of colonization (Hayden, 1997; Wall,
1999). There are obvious comparisons between the Irish and
Lakota peoples.
To summarize (from Lee, 1994; Stone, 2003):
Both indigenous cultures have long histories of colonization
(which is different from oppression);
Both cultures currently struggle with extremely high rates
of alcoholism and drug addiction;
Both cultures have experienced systematic repression of
their religions, languages, music and other traditional cul-
tural practices;
Both cultures are historically rural and have endured po-
verty, land loss, and experienced being forced into living
situations and conditions against their will (e.g., relocation
to reservations, cities).
Irish and Lakota Intersections
Indeed, there are some historical and current examples of
cultural “resonance” between the Irish and Lakota. There is
evidence that massive and multigenerational trauma tends to
create in people the desire to help other oppressed people (Cut-
ler, 2006; Levine, 2001). For example, this resonance and ac-
tive empathy for other oppressed people (e.g., slaves and free
blacks) on the part of the Irish and Irish immigrants in Phila-
delphia was well documented by Ignatiev (1995). In the rural
American West, there are clear indications that prominent im-
migrant Irish leaders stepped forward in support of American
Indians in general and the Lakota people in particular in much
greater numbers than prominent leaders from other immigrant
groups (e.g., German, Scandinavian).
One example of an Irish leader actively supporting the La-
kota (and other Tribal groups) was John Boyle O’Reilly, a cru-
sading Irish immigrant journalist who went on record as being
pro-Indian when news of the 1876 Battle of Little Bighorn
made its way east. He wrote that Custer was a fool and the
Sioux (Lakota) were the real champions; a very unpopular
stance at the time (Padden & Sullivan, 1999). Another Irish
immigrant who exhibited rare vision and compassion in matters
related to the Lakota and other American Indians was Thomas
Loraine McKenney, who served as superintendent of the Indian
Trade Bureau in the early 20th century. Often to no avail, he
lobbied presidents for American Indian rights, battled federal
corruption in American Indian trades and tried to stop the ille-
gal sale of alcohol to the tribes (including the Oglala Lakota
Copyright © 2012 SciRes. 97
Tribe on the Pine Ridge Reservation).
Another example was County Caven-born Thomas Fitspatrick
who negotiated the fair-minded 1851 Treaty of Fort Laramie
that secured the Black Hills for the Lakota people (which was
violated in 1874, when the Black Hills were illegally taken by
the U.S. government—an issue still in great dispute today)
(Padden & Sullivan, 1999). In addition, David Quinn (2005)
wrote about his great uncle, Michael Quinn, who fled the op-
pression of the Famine and its aftermath to the American West
only to find he needed help from a Lakota traditional healer to
relieve his nightmares about his brother’s death from the Fa-
In present day, Irish writer Eamonn Wall (1999) upon a visit
to rural western South Dakota, home of the Oglala Lakota,
asserts that it is only natural for the Irish and Lakota, upon
learning about each other, to feel a kindred spirit. As he noted
“certain issues of land, language, identity, religion, culture-
make our histories comparable. Also, such terms as genocide
and colonization can be used in discussion of both (cultures)”
(p. 118). The Irish historian, Kevin Whelen described indige-
nous Irish before 1850 in terms similar to rural Indian villages
in America “in this intimate face-to-face world… a rich oral
culture was encouraged… Singing, dancing, and story telling
emerged as the prized art forms. All this life was intricately
interwoven. The vivacity and gaiety of the society, as well as its
hospitality, was constantly commented on by pre-Famine visi-
tors” (Hayden, 1997). In recalling a recent trip to Pine Ridge
reservation, Irish-American Tom Hayden noted that like the
American Indians, poverty, prejudice, alcoholism and other
mental disorders have ravaged Irish communities and that in
many ways, the Irish have been the Indians of Europe. Walters
(1997) also pointed out that “the British tend to refer to the
Famine as an unpleasant shared tragedy, as if both parties were
morally equivalent and mutually to blame. We in America have
similar attitudes of denial until quite recently towards the mil-
lions of Native Americans who suffered under our manifest
destiny” (p. 14).
Multigenerational Trauma as an Accepte d Construc t
The phenomenon of multigenerational trauma is largely ac-
cepted in the American Indian communities in general and the
Lakota communities in particular as a key concept, and it is
often understood to be a root cause of the suffering of Ameri-
can Indian families (Brave Heart, 1999; Manson, 2000; Whit-
beck et al., 2004). Stone (2003) writes that “tribal communities
are impacted by a historical trend perpetuated by the dominant
or affluent Euro-American culture. This has included numerous
systemic influences across history: 1) Dispossession, 2) Bio-
logical warfare, 3) disruption of culture, 4) Indian wars, 5) the
federal and religious boarding schools (disruption of family and
language), 6) termination, 7) relocation, 8) modern influences
(gangs and drugs). Each of these systemic influences has, in
turn; predisposed parenting practices within the tribal commu-
nities and thusly the neurodevelopment and developmental
psychopathology of tribal people. Understanding this systemic
intergenerational process affecting tribal communities and indi-
viduals gives the professional behavioral health worker insight
into the depth and breadth of the underlying dynamic often
manifesting itself in the form of psychiatric disorders and ad-
dictive behaviors” (p. 1). Reclaiming tribal identity and spiritu-
ality are considered necess a ry (Stone, 2003).
Similarly, Whitbeck, et al. (2004) discovered that “a move-
ment is growing on reservations and among urban American
Indians that seeks to understand the intergenerational psycho-
logical consequences of more than 400 years if genocide, “eth-
nic cleansing”, and forced acculturation (p. 1).
In referring to the psychological and behavioral impact of the
boarding school era from about 1930 to 1960, Manson (2001)
noted that the ripple effects of the boarding school system, like
all of the assimilation policies toward American Indians, can
still be seen today. Some of the tragic effects that have only
recently come into light were boarding school experiences and
legacies of physical, emotional, and sexual abuse of children, as
well as a lack of parenting, and historical grief from this trauma.
These are commonly regarded as contributing factors for cur-
rent high rates of alcoholism, depression, suicide, posttraumatic
stress and domestic abuse. Cited as a seminal traumatic event
for the Lakota, much as O’Grada described the Irish Famine,
Giago (2003) recently wrote that trauma suffered from the
Wounded Knee massacre still fester after more than 100 years.
The National Child Trauma Stress Network (2004) in conjunc-
tion with the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administra-
tion have recently funded several American Indian sites to, in
part, study this phenomenon, including the Oglala Lakota. The
Lakota project is adapting evidenced-based assessment and
treatment (e.g., Trauma-Focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy)
to track outcomes from traumatized youth and families engag-
ing in traditional healing ceremonies and support networks as
well as individual and family counseling. A photo of burying
the dead at Wounded Knee is displayed on this project’s bro-
chure cover page.
Evidence of Healing
For Lakota and other American Indian people, the efficacy of
infusing traditional spirituality, language, teachings, and cere-
monies are supported in various studies and are recommended
remedies for increased mental health and school performance
(Beals, 1997; Beiser et al., 1997; Brentro, Brokenleg, Van Bo-
ckern, 1998; Garrett, 1999; Marbella, Harris, Diehr, & Ignace,
1998). The use of the traditional “tiospaye” an extended family
network and multigenerational support system (which may
include developing genograms) is a key component to treat-
A recent outcome evaluation of a family mental health ser-
vices program (called Nagi Kicopi—Calling the Spirit Back)
provides an illustrated example. This outcome study was repre-
sentative of 50 troubled Lakota parents and youth who were
provided with many traditional Lakota practices and ceremo-
nies as mental health and family functioning treatment (e.g.,
sweat lodge ceremonies, drumming, talking circles, language
development, womanhood and manhood ceremonies) (Coll,
Freeman, & Robertson, 2005). The results indicated impressive
positive trends in general family functioning after 6 months as
well as increased strengths—including interpersonal, family,
intrapersonal, and emotional and sc ho ol functi on in g.
Such positive results speak directly to the effectiveness of the
infusion of cultural identity and practices for individual, family
and potentially community healing from multigenerational trau-
ma. In-depth parent interviews support this evidence quite
powerfully. For example, one parent stated “We really like this
program. It has changed my way of parenting, and I (mom) will
pass on this new way of parenting to my children and their
Copyright © 2012 SciRes.
children. The program has helped my child so much that now
other youth look to him as a leader. My child is more positive
now. He does not rob, cuss, or steal, and he is overcoming the
bad label he had at school.” Another parent noted “It is won-
derful! The changes in my daughter and in the family have been
very positive. For example, my daughter was crying almost all
the time when she entered the program. Now she is not, and she
is more confident, assertive.” Another parent said “My oldest
daughter’s grades are up and my son is acting more responsibly
as well. The program produces life-time changes not just quick
fixes like others.” Yet another parent indicated that “It has
helped a great deal. My son’s behavior is much improved, as is
his attitude. He is much more positive now.” Another recent
case study with an American Indian girl in a residential treat-
ment facility indicates similar results. Infusion of tribal cere-
monies (smudging, inipi (sweat lodge ceremonies) had notice-
able influence on depression and aggressive behaviors Coll, et
Similarly, according to Fitzgerald (2003) and others (Bairner,
2005; O’Laoire, 2005) the Irish are making strong efforts to-
ward renewing culture, especially in language, music, sport and
traditional dance. It is not clearly known at this time how effec-
tive these cultural renewal practices are in reducing substance
abuse and mental health issues in Ireland. The importance of
such efforts is not in doubt, however. For example and specific
to the Irish language, O’Tauthaigh (2005) recently noted that
“the abandonment of native language, to say nothing for its
enforced abandonment, inevitably involves a disorienting rup-
ture in cultural continuity at several levels; not only an alien-
ation from landscape (place names) and inherited historical
narratives and communal myths, but also a deep psychological
trauma, at an individual and communal level, caused by the loss
of a rich inherited matrix of wisdom and knowledge” (p. 47).
Irish Pilot Study
Focus Group
A group of professional Irish counselors working in rural set-
tings directly with adults and families dealing with rape and
other trauma were recently asked to explore if an approach
similar to Lakota multigenerational trauma healing efforts would
work with their clients.
1) 10 Professional Counselors (from Southeastern Ireland)
2 males
8 females
Average age = 45
Age range = 30 - 65
Average years of experience = 10
Range = 3 - 31 years
2) Major Client Issues
Child abuse
Sexual violence
1) The qualitative paradigm for the focus groups interviews
was based on von Eckartsberg’s (1998) existential-phenome-
nological model, which focuses on understanding and describ-
ing the human experience (Christofi & Thompson, 2007). The
three parts of this model were utilized—bracketing (to increase
awareness, the primary investigator was first interviewed and
asked the same questions as the participants), selecting partici-
pants (individuals were both articulate and willing to talk about
their and their family experiences), and phenomenological data
gathering (avoided interjecting data collector’s own experiences
into to participant content) (Christofi & Thompson, 2007). In
terms of data analysis, Polkinghorne’s (1989) protocol was
utilized (asking the participants to dividing the information into
four units, discern the essential meaning of each unit, and clus-
tering the meaning units into themes that constitute the descrip-
tion of the phenomenon (Christofi & Thompson, 2007). For the
participants, the process was explained with informed consent.
2) Procedure
Counselors were provided a brief power point description
of Multigenerational trauma with quotes and information
from American Indian studies (no mention of Irish).
All participants completed a four (4) generation genogram
(see Figure 1).
Identified Patterns related to trauma and its consequences;
Identified strengths and role models in the genogram*;
Discussed usefulness for self understanding and with clients.
1) Direct Quotes about this approach
This way of identifying multigenerational trauma is very
relevant to our culture and clients;
Powerful—it brought out the multigenerational protestant/
catholic conflicts in my family, which explains some things;
It shows that the famine created trauma in the entire popu-
This is helpful for me as a therapist to identify my own
journey and influences.
2) Direct Quotes about this approach’s utility for clients
Can promote insight quickly;
The client can draw from “successful” ancestors—use as
inspiration, sources of strength;
This approach can show various and powerful manifesta-
tions of multigenerational trauma and protective factors;
It is important to know and value contributions of the
grandparents’ generation (this is often overlooked);
This can be a good way to develop effective treatment plans
—especially after some therapeutic progress is made.
3) Genogram template used in the training (see example—
Figure 1).
4) Narrative (see example—Appendix).
This exploratory article reviewed the professional literature
related to multigenerational trauma and the importance of cul-
tural practices as healing and protective/resilience factors against
such trauma. It also posited that the Irish and the Oglala Lakota
(Sioux) of the North American Northern Plains have multigene-
rational trauma in common (also called historical loss, trans-
generational trauma/shame). One recommendation for healing
*The Genogram has been widely and effectively utilized for over thirty years
to identify patterns of family behaviors, rules and roles (DeMaria, Weeks, &
Hof, 1999).
Copyright © 2012 SciRes. 99
Copyright © 2012 SciRes.
Use the sheet of paper attached to sh ow the multigenerational genogram (4 to 5 ge n erations back if possible) of yo ur f amily.
1) What TRAUMATIC patterns do you see? (look for patterns such as Alcoholism? Broken relationships? Depression, physical and/or sexual abuse?)
a) What consequence s did /do these patterns have on you?
b) What consequences did/do thes e patterns have on your child(ren)?
2) What positive RESILIENCY patterns do you see? (especially look for strong family relationships? po sitive role models)
a) What consequence s did /do these patterns have on you?
b) What consequences did/do thes e patterns have on your child(ren)?
What other patterns do you see (e.g., Extent of involvement with Iris h culture , Spirituality)?
Treatment Recommendatio ns for:
Key-use as appropriate
Gender Parameter of Square or Circle Language Acculturati on Relationships
= male = same ethnicity
= speaks native
language [ ] = most of life on reservation/in
home town = close relationship
= female = another ethnicity = bilingual = degree of acculturation (to
mainstream Europe, U.S.) * * * * = broken relationship
X = deceased = mainstream culture *practices/practiced traditional
dance and /or music = strained or conflictual
B = birth year, M = marriage year, D = divorce year.
Figure 1.
Culture-centered genogram.
Irish multicultural trauma is to culturally adapt the Lakota ap
proaches described (e.g., increase availability, accessibility and
intentional use of traditional Irish cultural practices in mental
health treatment—dance, music, sports, and language). See
The Irish singer and pop icon, Sinead OConnor wrote and
sang these words as part of her song “Famine”. Are these credi-
ble assumptions?
“We (Irish) lost our history, and are still hurting. We’re like a
child that’s been battered; we feel all the painful feelings but
have lost contact with the memory. This leads to massive self-
destruction, alcoholism, and drug addiction. That’ s what’s wrong
with us. We’re suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.
There has to be healing through remembering, grieving, and
forgiving through knowledge and understanding.”
They indeed seem to be, and healing through remembering
and understanding the “Irish way” is recommended.
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Appendix: Narrative Example—Cousins
Dennis and John were cousins. In the 1840s Dennis’s family
lived in Miltown Malbay and were tenants on a small piece of
land. John’s family lived in Ennis, where John’s father worked
as a carter (mover). Dennis and John were 9 years old when the
potato blight came to County Clare. John’s family went to live
with Dennis’ family. Both families survived the Irish famine by
fishing off the west coast of Ireland. Both families spoke the
Irish language fluently, and were strong in practicing traditional
Irish customs and ceremonies.
Dennis grew up, made a living working with and tending
livestock, and had two sons and a daughter. Dennis’s children
kept the Irish language, participated in traditional Irish dance,
and played traditional Irish music (flute, drum) while making
livings as farmers, laborers. Dennis’s grandchildren thrived in
the Irish Free State, becoming police, teachers, and skilled la-
borers. Dennis’s great grandchildren now live in Dublin, Cork,
Wexford, among other places and are physicians, lawyers, go-
vernment workers and a few have vacation homes near Mil-
town Malbay. Some are actively involved in the Irish language
renewal movement, and many are still involved with Irish
dance and music.
John also grew up, and moved to Limerick where he took
odd jobs and also had two sons and a daughter. John’s children
did not keep the language or other Irish traditions. Both sons
became heavy drinkers and worked as unskilled laborers. John’s
grandchildren continued the cycle of alcoholism and physical
abuse with some incarcerated from time to time. Some of John’s
great grandchildren have recently embraced their Irish identity,
one reportedly is learning to be a fluent Irish speaker and
teacher, another is playing the Irish flute, and another is re-in-
troducing Irish customs to the extended family (e.g., formal
dinner and celebration of St. Patrick’s Day as a religious holi-
day). These great grandchildren of John’s have broken the cycle
of alcoholism and physical abuse for themselves and their chil-
dren and point to a re-connection with their Irish identity as the
major reason.
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