The risk of societal trans-generational trauma in Northern Ireland
by Claire MURRAY and Dalia FERRAN for Northern Ireland Foundation
14 August 2012
Philip McTaggart, the founder of PIPS (Public Initiative for the Prevention of Suicide and self-harm) and one of many individuals who have accessed psychotherapy after the suicide of a loved one, has discussed his individual struggle at a workshop, “Trauma in the Community,” held at St Mary’s University College, Belfast.
Philip’s goals are to create awareness, save lives, and to help the community by recognising the signs typically expressed by suicidal individuals. Philip explained how he didn’t want to transfer his own depression onto his two children, and therefore sought help, which led him to understand the concept of “trans-generational trauma”.
Philip was accompanied by Bríd Keenan, a Gestalt Psychotherapist since 1995; Margaret Seawright, from Suicide Awareness on the Falls Road; and Dr. Jim Galezwski and Dr. Barbara Kelly, two Clinical Psychologists from the Chicago School of Professional Psychology.
Bríd wanted to study what happened to people when terrible events occurred. During a study in West Belfast, she found that there was little or no psychotherapeutic support for one of the counties with the biggest carnage of loss of life and injury. She thus found herself providing the longed for support, throughout the communities.
Bríd believes that to minimise the transferral of trauma onto future post-conflict generations, we must first recognise what has happened to us and secondly, we need to learn about trauma and how it is transmitted.
Bríd aired her concerns regarding a lack of research into trans-generational trauma in South Africa, Vietnam, Palestine and Ireland, all of which have had large numbers of their populations experience trauma.
However, valuable research has been found through studies carried out by the North American Jewish community. In 1996, clinicians observed that there were large numbers of children belonging to Holocaust survivors seeking treatment in Canadian clinics. This subsequently highlighted the direct or indirect affect of traumatized parents on their children.
Bríd provided further evidence trans-generational trauma by discussing the findings of a study investigating the effects of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in babies of mothers exposed, during pregnancy, to the World Trade Centre attacks. Collated data suggested that the effects of maternal PTSD can in fact be observed very early in life.
For that reason, Bríd and her accompanying specialists believe it is their “political duty to our society” to learn about trans-generational trauma, and therefore help the public understand and access the various “body orientated” treatments for trauma.
Both Dr Jim Galezwski and Dr Barbara Kelly believe that our society — one that doesn’t want to talk about depression, isolation or trauma — needs to obtain the quality resilience, which can allow a person to “bounce back” when their current coping mechanisms no longer work. This will therefore, they argue, lessen the chance of suicide and self-harm.
Before the conclusion of the workshop the attendees were provided with an opportunity to ask questions. One individual highlighted the fact that a scarce amount of Loyalist males make use of self-help groups and therapy. Another person shared his concept of a 24-hour“safe house” for individuals contemplating suicide.
Both of these contributions from the Q&A session could lead to future research in the area of suicide and trans-generational trauma.