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Description: If you glance at the title of the article that is linked below you may think that the article is yet another look at the impact of Donald Trump’s victory on the mental health of Americans. That is partly true, but the article linked below goes further and draws to our attention the importance of considering not just individual factors when looking at the impact of large-scale life events on human beings but also considering the collective social effects of those events as well. Before you read the article linked below, think about what the term collective trauma might actually refer to and think about how the concept of collective trauma might be properly defined from the point of view of its psychological impact. Once you have thought that through read the article linked below and see where its author goes in responding to these questions.

Source: Our Americans Experiencing Collective Trauma? Neil Gross, Gray Matter, Sunday Review, New York Times.

Date: December 16, 2016

Photo Credit:  Marion Fayolle, New York Times

Links:  Article Link –

It is important to note that Kai Erikson who studied the effects of the horrible Buffalo Creek flood of 1976 was a sociologist. Collective trauma means more than just a large number of traumatized individuals who may or may not be struggling with issues related to posttraumatic stress disorder. The concept of collective trauma requires us to consider the possibility that shared major life events like floods, earthquakes, and other natural disasters as well as acts of terrorism may essentially become part of our shared cultural experience and as such go beyond individual traumatic impacts. Essentially, events that give rise to collective trauma sever the social bonds that link members of the community. When those links involve close friends or relatives we can easily notice their loss. However, when the links are those that connect citizens within a town or city it is often harder for us to notice and ultimately to cope with the impact of the loss of those links. In terms of the recent presidential election the author of the article linked above points to the dramatic social change that has occurred in the United States with the loss of well-paying manufacturing jobs that allowed lower and middle class wage earners to cope as the heads of their families. With the loss of those jobs and the fact that service industry jobs pay less, and as a consequence are not acceptable as an alternative, what has arisen is a form of collective trauma into which Donald Trump tapped as part of his presidential bid. While it is tempting to make an individual attribution to the manipulative nature of Donald Trump it is perhaps more important to attend to the psychological impacts that arise from large-scale social change. The individualistic focus within general psychology often makes it difficult for us to pay attention to the impact of large scale social change. Nevertheless, concepts like collective trauma need to be an important part of how we understand individual and community psychological functioning.

Questions for Discussion:

  1. What is collective trauma?
  2. Why is it difficult to properly understand collective trauma from within a psychological theoretic perspective?
  3. Think about one or two major events in recent history that may involve or give rise to some form of collective trauma and explain what sort of impact those events may have had on individual psychological functioning?

References (Read Further):

Eyerman, Ron (2015) Is This America? Katrina as Cultural Trauma, University of Texas Press.

Smelser, N. J. (2004). Psychological trauma and cultural trauma. Cultural trauma and collective identity, 4, 31-59.

Nagata, D. K., Kim, J. H., & Nguyen, T. U. (2015). Processing cultural trauma: Intergenerational effects of the Japanese American Incarceration. Journal of Social Issues, 71(2), 356-370.

Baker, S. M., & Baker, C. N. (2016). The Bounce in Our Steps from Shared Material Resources in Cultural Trauma and Recovery. Journal of the Association for Consumer Research, 1(2), 314-335.