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Intergenerational Trauma: How Therapy Can Help

Trauma changes organisms — including human beings — on a cellular level. Trauma and other factors can even alter the way you express your genes, a phenomenon known as epigenetics. 

Since 1966, researchers have noted the high prevalence of mental health issues among children and grandchildren of Holocaust survivors. The list has expanded to include individuals who descended from oppressed and traumatized populations, such as Native Americans and enslaved African-Americans.

Our expert counselors at The Soho Center for Mental Health are sensitive to how coping patterns that arise after a trauma can be unconsciously transmitted to offspring for generations. If you suffer from the symptoms of anxiety or depression, you don’t have to know why in order to get help.

At our Greenwich Village offices in New York City, New York, or over the phone with teletherapy, we help you process and heal from intergenerational trauma. Here’s how therapy can help.

Bring unconscious patterns to light

Most of us operate on autopilot, guided by deeply held yet subconscious beliefs about how safe the world is, how we should respond to it, and our place in it. Through talk therapy, you learn to identify your core beliefs and how they affect your behavior and mood. 

You can benefit from this process either during individual therapy or as part of family therapy. For instance, through therapy, you may realize that you’re trying to heal trauma suffered by your parents or grandparents or protect them from the world, rather than focusing on your own needs.

Break the silence

Often, people who suffer trauma or abuse feel ashamed or stigmatized by their experience. They may try to cope by never talking about their past and bottling their feelings inside. Yet, their rage and hurt could manifest in parenting techniques — such as physical or emotional abuse or withholding — that have a strong impact on you.

Knowing the trauma and discussing it openly without shame helps you understand and heal from it. If your family is affected by longstanding oppression, such as racism or other forms of discrimination, you also learn ways to communicate that clearly as part of your history, whether other people believe it, accept it or feel threatened by it.

Learn better coping techniques

Once you identify the source of your trauma and the coping mechanisms you and your family have devised to survive, you can replace those that aren’t working with those that allow you to move in the world with more freedom and a feeling of safety. You learn strategies that help you become less reactive and more in control of your own responses and emotions.

Heal the trauma

We also specialize in a type of therapy called eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR), which was developed to help heal trauma. During an EMDR session, you talk about a troubling memory or emotion while simultaneously moving your eyes back and forth.

Traumatic events and negative feelings can interfere with your brain’s ability to process information. You may even feel like you relive the trauma repeatedly, as in the case of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The eye movements in EMDR stimulate a part of your brain that helps you process and incorporate the memories while also feeling safe. 

Many theories explore why EMDR is so effective at healing trauma. One theory postulates that the back-and-forth movement of your eyes during a session mimics the way your eyes behave while walking forward in safety. 

In contrast, when you are under threat, you zero in, your eyes focused solely on the threat. Looking from one side to the next signals your brain that there are no immediate threats to your safety.

If you believe that you and your family are suffering from intergenerational trauma, use our online form, or call our friendly staff during office hours to schedule a consultation. You may also choose teletherapy, which we conduct through confidential and affordable video/phone consultations.

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