Healing generational trauma in Black families: a journey of empowerment

Hendrix Hammond

Hendrix Hammond

UKCP psychotherapist Hendrix is a consultant family and couple psychotherapist and supervisor, dedicated to working with diverse clients facing a wide range of family and interpersonal challenges.

October is Black History Month in the UK – the annual celebration of the remarkable achievements and contributions of Black individuals to our society. It's also an opportune time to address a crucial but often overlooked issue many Black families face: generational trauma. In this blog I offer insights for practitioners. 


The impact of generational trauma 

Generational trauma, which is sometimes called ancestral or intergenerational trauma, revolves around the concept that traumatic experiences and their psychological consequences can be inherited from one generation to the next. It can be rooted in historical events such as slavery and colonisation, as well as systemic racism and discrimination experienced through generations. It can look like a parent/carer who has experienced trauma, struggling with emotional regulation or attachment issues, or has difficulty providing their children with a safe and nurturing environment. In addition, modelling unhealthy behaviours and communication patterns to their children can perpetuate transgenerational trauma.

This trauma can leave long lasting scars on family dynamics, mental health and overall wellbeing. Recognising and addressing generational trauma within Black families can be a lifeline to breaking unhealthy patterns that have persisted for generations. 


The crucial role of therapy

Therapy is a vital beacon of hope in the quest to break the chains of generational trauma. It offers the opportunity to work towards healthier family dynamics and stronger interpersonal relationships. Through therapy, individuals and families can begin to heal the wounds of the past and develop more constructive ways of functioning.

Here are key areas of focus when working with Black families impacted by generational trauma:

  • Unpacking historical trauma: A trauma-informed approach is essential when working with Black families. Therapists must recognise how trauma affects families and approach therapy with a profound understanding of its far-reaching consequences. By exploring historical trauma, therapists can help families gain insight into its impact, fostering awareness, compassion and empathy.
  • Cultural competence: Therapists working with Black families must embody cultural competence and openness to understand and appreciate these families' unique challenges. Adapting treatment approaches according to the client's presentation is essential. In addition, cultural differences must be acknowledged, and therapists should honour the distinct experiences that Black individuals and families have endured.
  • Promoting interpersonal healing: Highlighting the importance of family involvement in therapy is crucial, as generational trauma often impacts the entire family unit. Therapy facilitates the improvement of family dynamics by addressing communication barriers, guiding family members in expressing their feelings constructively, and nurturing compassion and empathy across generations.

For those practitioners who want to develop their understanding and practice of working with transgenerational trauma I would recommend two books; Isha McKenzie-Mavinga ‘Black issues in the therapeutic process’ and Resmaa Menakem ‘My grandmother’s hands: Racilaized trauma and the pathway to mending our hearts and bodies’.

The journey to heal generational trauma within Black families is multifaceted, filled with challenges and opportunities. Through therapy, individuals and families can embark on this transformative journey of empowerment, breaking free from the shackles of the past and forging a path toward a brighter and more resilient future. As we celebrate Black History Month, let us also celebrate Black families' strength, resilience and healing capacity.


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