Posted by & filed under Abnormal Psychology, Health Psychology, Indigenous Psychology, Intergroup Relations, Psychological Disorders, Stereotype Prejudice Discrimination, Stress Coping - Health.

Description: In previous posts I have directed attention towards a couple of aspects of a perceived need for those interested in Psychology (well, everyone actually) to reflect up and act towards the indigenization of the discipline of, and the doing or, Psychology. Figuring out what this means and figuring out how to act in theory and in practice in relation to and in engagement with First Nations, Metis and Inuit peoples and populations is going to be an ongoing task and I will be coming back to it from time to time in this blog. In this post I want you draw upon what you may have gained through your engagement with my previous posts in this area (links are listed below in the References section) and consider the question of how Psychology should approach the research and conceptual challenges of understanding the impact of historical trauma on health outcomes in indigenous populations. Western Psychology is clear about the potential impacts of personal trauma in individual development, mental health and wellness but not very clear at all about how to properly understand the role of historical trauma in health outcomes due to the complexity of trying to track complex causal connections across decades and across multiple generations. Culturally and historically grounded issues, as I have discussed previously, are, for Western Psychology, not just hard and complicated but perhaps are non-sensical given how the discipline is organized. So, what to do? Well, the article linked below describes an attempt to systematically review Psychological research into the question of the how historical trauma impacts the health outcomes of current indigenous peoples and what it has to say is actually more instructive for what it declares it cannot say than for what it suggests it can say about the reviewed research on this question. If you read nothing else of the paper read the Final Reflections and Conclusion sections on the last two pages of the paper to see parts of the biggest take-aways from this work.


Source: Gone, J. P., Hartmann, W. E., Pomerville, A., Wendt, D. C., Klem, S. H., & Burrage, R. L. (2019). The impact of historical trauma on health outcomes for indigenous populations in the USA and Canada: A systematic review. American Psychologist, 74(1), 20.

Date: October 6, 2019


Article Link:

I will not add to the conclusions of the article authors but will simply provide a few of their own words:

“At the conceptual level, it remains unclear whether IHT is best appreciated for its metaphorical or literal functions….

In many ways, IHT has gained traction by bringing much needed attention to historical events and processes that have powerfully shaped the experiences of contemporary Indigenous peoples, which allows for more accurate renderings of those experiences for the benefit of both psychological science and Indigenous peoples. This historical contextualization is all the more remarkable given current reductive trends in psychology (e.g., privileging of biological, behavioral, and intrapsychic explanations) that work against contextualized inquiry (e.g., centering historical disadvantage, entrenched poverty, and oppressive systems). It is also clear, however, that the IHT literature would benefit from additional attention to historical nuance and human diversity to avoid simplistic accounts and essentialist traps .Moreover, IHT—like racial trauma—grapples with contextual influences on psychosocial and health phenomena to better appreciate the experiences of historically oppressed and socially marginalized populations. As documented in this SR, there remain challenges to identifying consistently robust patterns of psychological injury or harm from ancestral experiences with colonial violence and oppression.

… resilience can be conceptualized in collective as well as individual terms. Drawing on a concept originally introduced by Elsass(1992),Thomas, Mitchell, and Arseneau (2016)used the term cultural resilience to describe the ways that Indigenous communities have thrived despite adversity while also maintaining and promoting robust cultural identities.” (pages 32-33)

Questions for Discussion:

  1. What is historical trauma and how does it impact members of indigenous populations several generations removed from the initial traumatic events?
  2. Why do Western Psychological concepts, theories and perspectives seem to not be particularly helpful in understanding the trans-generational impacts of historical traumas?
  3. How do systematic review such as the one linked above advance efforts to indigenize Psychology (or do they)?

References (Read Further):

Elsass, P. (1995). Strategies for survival: The psychology of cultural resilience in ethnic minorities. NYU Press.

Thomas, D., Mitchell, T., & Arseneau, C. (2016). Re-evaluating resilience: From individual vulnerabilities to the strength of cultures and collectivities among indigenous communities. Resilience, 4(2), 116-129.

Pearce, M. E., Christian, W. M., Patterson, K., Norris, K., Moniruzzaman, A., Craib, K. J., … & Spittal, P. M. (2008). The Cedar Project: Historical trauma, sexual abuse and HIV risk among young Aboriginal people who use injection and non-injection drugs in two Canadian cities. Social science & medicine, 66(11), 2185-2194.

Bombay, A., Matheson, K., & Anisman, H. (2014). Appraisals of discriminatory events among adult offspring of Indian residential school survivors: The influences of identity centrality and past perceptions of discrimination. Cultural diversity and ethnic minority psychology, 20(1), 75.

Bonanno, G. A. (2004). Loss, trauma, and human resilience: Have we underestimated the human capacity to thrive after extremely aversive events?. American psychologist, 59(1), 20.

Links to Previous Posts on Indigenous Psychology: