Monthly Archives: June 2023

5 takeaways from the 2023 Virtual Hill Day

By Samantha Cooper June 29, 2023

Empty vintage congress hall with seats and microphones

Denis Kuvaev/

The American Counseling Association hosted the 2023 Virtual Hill Day on June 14. This event highlighted ACA’s legislative agenda for the year and included a panel on how the legislative process works and another on how to prepare counselors to meet with congressional representatives. Here are five key takeaways from the event:

1) Help advocate for these seven mental health legislative issues.

In 2023, ACA is prioritizing the following seven areas: veterans’ mental health, students’ mental health, education professionals’ mental health, maternal mental health, career counseling, student loan assistance and equitable health care.

The goal is to make mental health care more accessible by incentivizing counselors to work in areas affected by the mental health provider shortage. For example, ACA supports the Mental Health Professionals Workforce Shortage Loan Repayment Act, which would reimburse one-sixth of a counselor’s student loans for every year they work in an underserved area, and the Equal Health Care for All Act, which would make equal access to health care a protected civil right and prohibit discrimination based on race, national origin, sexual orientation, gender identity, disability, age or religion.

For other important legislative issues related to mental health, visit ACA’s Government Affairs and Public Policy page.

2) Get to know your state legislature.

Know how your state legislature works. It may seem obvious, but each state works very differently. For example, some states meet every year and others every other year. In North Dakota, where Sen. Sean Cleary serves as a member of the state Senate, congressional sessions last for 80 days every other year. It’s important to know when your state legislation meets so you can determine when it’s the best time to introduce your cause to your representatives, Sen. Cleary told the audience.

3) Find allies.

Allies are invaluable for helping get legislation passed. “You do need people to be able to champion and push it [the bill] through the process,” Sen. Cleary said. “The importance of building those relationships [with allies] … when you’re advocating is tremendously beneficial.”

Washington State Rep. Mari Leavitt told counselors not to rely solely on state representatives to push legislation. Instead, she recommended they find and collaborate with “unusual allies” — other groups and organizations that support the legislation they’re pushing.

Mara Boggs, the state director for U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia, agreed that allies can come from places people may not typically expect. For example, she said that state staff can be helpful advocates. These people have often been on the staff the longest and therefore are some of the most influential team members, she explained. So getting to know them could increase the changes of the legislation being seen.

4) Respect people’s time. 

People’s time is important, so make sure you are organized when you meet with members of Congress, said Lisa Pino, an attorney and a Health Innovators Fellow at the Aspen Institute. She told the audience to prepare three main points about the legislation and be ready to explain why members of Congress should support it. “Being clear and consistent really helps so the agencies can more easily translate to their leadership what you’re trying to communicate,” she explained.

5) Don’t expect any guarantees. 

Congressional staff members cannot make promises or guarantee that a representative will see or pass a certain piece of legislation, noted Layla Brooks, the senior legislative assistant for U.S. Rep. Troy Carter of Louisiana. She recalled how one group got upset when the bill they supported didn’t pass because they thought that asking for her support meant the legislation would definitely be signed into law.

“We [staff members] are not supposed to make promises,” Brooks said. “Give us grace and time.”


Watch a recording of 2023 Virtual Hill Day.

Learn how to engage your legislator with ACA’s Advocacy Action Toolkit.


Samantha Cooper is a staff writer for Counseling Today. Contact her at

Opinions expressed and statements made in articles appearing on CT Online should not be assumed to represent the opinions of the editors or policies of the American Counseling Association.

Voice of Experience: Professional organizations

By Gregory K. Moffatt June 27, 2023

black-and-white image of a speaker giving a talk in front of a large audience

Matej Kastelic/ 

I’ve been a supervisor for over 30 years. During my last supervision session with prelicensed clinicians who are about to get their full license, I tell them: “After today, you will never have to speak to another professional in the field again.” 

Of course, that isn’t a recommendation but a fact. The point is that counselors can easily become isolated within the walls of their practice. Therefore, their professional interactions have to be intentional. 

Roadblocks to professional interactions 

As counselors, we often have 15 to 20 clients or more per week. On top of that, we often work unusual hours. Late afternoons, evenings and weekend appointments make it less likely we will see other professionals who have more standard working hours.  

One of my closest professional friends has her own private practice and sees clients up to 40 hours per week. I couldn’t carry that heavy of a caseload, but even if I did, having that many clients doesn’t leave much time for collegial interactions. 

Another one of my colleagues works in a private practice where she leases office space. There are more than a dozen other clinicians in that office building, and she doesn’t know anyone’s name. Everyone comes in, they go to their respective offices and they close the door. 

Even continuing education doesn’t require face-to-face interaction with peers anymore. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, my home state of Georgia had restrictions regarding online continuing education, with no distinction between synchronous and asynchronous hours. A clinician could use only 12 hours of online learning for license renewal, with the remaining 23 hours required to be in person.  

Now in Georgia it is possible to earn all 35 continuing education hours online as long as 25 of those hours are synchronous (including ethics). Although online learning has made our lives easier, this is yet another way we disconnect from professional interaction with colleagues. Synchronous workshops may not require the participant to engage, making it easy to hide in the background. 

For those who are fully online in their practice, working from home makes it challenging to interact with other professionals in the field as well.  

Benefits of professional organizations 

Professional organizations create an environment where one can acquire professional interaction on a more personal level. Conferences, workshops and lunch-and-learns create a platform for professional development. I go to at least one professional conference every year.  

I’m a hopeless introvert and my social needs are practically zero, but I value the relationships I’ve built over the years through my involvement in professional organizations. These connections have provided a fertile resource for referral options and updates in the law, ethics and board rule changes. They are also a resource for deliberating ethical dilemmas. 

Most professional organizations have specialized districts/divisions that are tailored to the needs of various geographical regions or specialized areas of practice. 

Finally, membership fees practically pay for themselves through discounts on conference registrations, free publications/journals and access to the resources mentioned above. 

Advice on joining organizations   

When I first began my career in mental health, I was a member of eight different professional organizations. I paid those membership dues every year, but eventually I realized that most of them were not serving my professional needs. I gained nothing from their publications, didn’t attend their conferences, and rarely found anything useful for my practice in their newsletters and announcements. 

Today I’m a member of half that many, yet all of them serve me. I’ve been to all their conferences at one time or another and know people within those organizations that I can contact if I have ethical questions. I am partial to state organizations, or state chapters of national organizations, because they are more attuned to the specific laws and governing bodies in one’s state. 

Counselors should also be careful about joining groups to become “certified.” Some organizations have impressive-sounding titles that, in reality, are meaningless. The American Organization of Certified Psychotherapist sounds great, but I just made it up. These fluff groups have no criteria for membership other than paying fees, but they act as if joining makes the clinician more competent or part of an exclusive club. Having one of these organizations on your resume or curriculum vita might do you more harm than good. 

I require my supervisees to be a member of at least one professional organization while under my supervision, and they must demonstrate to me how that organization serves their needs. This is a part of one’s professional growth that needs to continue long after formal supervision has ended. 

Don’t be an isolated clinician. Get involved in a regional, state or national professional organization. 


Gregory K. Moffatt is a veteran counselor of more than 30 years and the dean of the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences at Point University. His monthly Voice of Experience column for CT Online seeks to share theory, ethics and practice lessons learned from his diverse career, as well as inspiration for today’s counseling professionals, whether they are just starting out or have been practicing for many years. His experience includes three decades of work with children, trauma and abuse, as well as a variety of other experiences, including work with schools, businesses and law enforcement. Contact him at

Opinions expressed and statements made in articles appearing on CT Online should not be assumed to represent the opinions of the editors or policies of the American Counseling Association.

ACA and SAIGE co-host webinar on LGBTQ+ advocacy and allyship

By Samantha Cooper June 26, 2023

two hands form a heart; one has a rainbow bracelet on the wrist

On June 7, the American Counseling Association and Society for Sexual, Affectional, Intersex, and Gender Expansive Identities co-hosted a webinar, Speaking in Support of LGBTQ+ People Through Advocacy and Allyship, on how counselors can support LGBTQ+ clients.

Dominique Marsalek, ACA’s state government affairs manager, began the webinar by introducing some of ACA’s legislative priorities for the year and discussing two types of advocacy counselors can use to support queer clientele:

  1. Issue advocacy promotes a particular position supported by interest groups and focuses on policies that could affect this position (such as gender-affirming care) on all levels.
  2. Legislative advocacy involves acting to support or discourage the passage of a certain kind of legislation.

Gene Dockery and Valeo “Leo” Khan-Snyder, the two other presenters, continued the conversation on advocacy by discussing how counselors can become advocates for the LGBTQ+ community in the wake of the homophobic and transphobic laws being introduced around the country.

“Right now, we have more than 520 anti-LGBTQIA bills in various states. We also have several at a national level — and this is the highest number we’ve ever had,” said Dockery, chair of SAIGE’s Public Policy Committee and a doctoral candidate in counselor education and supervision whose research focuses on trans and queer liberation, advocacy and disability justice. “This is a deadly issue for trans people. A lot of what is happening is a concerted effort by conservative groups. These are bills that are prepackaged with nearly identical language being sent from state to state.”

The speakers discussed how Senate Bill 1580, which Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis recently signed into law, allows Florida health care providers and payers to decline care or payment for certain services if they “conscientiously object” for any reason. This means that those in health care can deny transgender individuals gender-affirming care without repercussions.

As a transgender man, Khan-Snyder said he has seen firsthand the harm this legislation has done.

Khan-Snyder, a SAIGE Public Policy Committee member, and Dockery stressed that counselors need to become advocates for their clients to prevent more laws like this from being passed. But they also caution that this work can take a toll on counselor as well.

“The advocacy work we’re doing is inherently traumatic,” noted Khan-Snyder, a clinical mental health counselor who works with marginalized populations, particularly LGBTQ+ clients in rural communities. “This isn’t just impacting our clients; it is also impacting our advocates.”

So much of counselors’ focus tends to be on the clients that the counselors often neglect their own safety and mental health, added Dockery, who is nonbinary. Dockery explained they face a lot of risks since their name and gender identity are publicly available. Same with Khan-Snyder, who shared that he had to create a plan to leave his state in case his personal information got leaked.

The speakers told the audience that cis and straight counselors can help advocate for their clients by meeting with legislators, connecting with LGBTQIA+ organizations and creating support networks.

“Make it known to other people that you are here; you are doing the work. Show up to events that are legislatively focused, show up to school board meetings … to the extent that it is safe for you,” said Khan-Snyder. “Be visible and active in doing the work.”

Part of doing the work, he continued, is to learn more about the queer community and its individual members as people. This way, we can take their desires and needs into account when we advocate on their behalf, Khan-Snyder noted. He stressed that an advocate’s job is to uplift people’s voices.

Both speakers also discussed how advocates can keep up to date and in touch with the queer community: They can follow local news sources as well as queer and trans journalists, connect with LGBTQIA+ organizations and reach out to teaching unions. Dockery added that teaching unions can be useful resources because many teachers are concerned about the educational restrictions resulting from these bills.

“You have to hold space for people publicly, but you also have to stand up for us privately,” Dockery said. “What are you saying [and] what are you doing when we’re not looking? Because if you’re not doing this when we aren’t looking, you’re not actually an ally.”


Samantha Cooper is a staff writer for Counseling Today. Contact her at

Opinions expressed and statements made in articles appearing on CT Online should not be assumed to represent the opinions of the editors or policies of the American Counseling Association.

Behind the Book: Counselor Self-Care (2nd edition)  

By Lindsey Phillips June 23, 2023

A woman sitting on a chair drinking coffee or tea with her eyes closed and the cover image of the Counselor Self-Care book, second edition

Since the first edition of Counselor Self-Care came out in 2018, we have experienced many new stressors, including the COVID-19 pandemic, social injustice and political polarization. These events have presented new challenges and highlighted the need for self-care even more. Gerald Corey, Michelle Muratori, Jude Austin and Julius Austin recently released the second edition of their book Counselor Self-Care, which offers personal narratives and practical advice on managing stress, establishing boundaries, finding meaning in life, improving relationships and putting a self-care plan into action.   

Counseling Today spoke to Gerald “Jerry” Corey and Michelle Muratori, two of the co-authors, to learn more about this new edition. Corey is a professor emeritus of human services and counseling at California State University at Fullerton and a distinguished visiting professor of counseling at the University of Holy Cross in New Orleans. He is also a licensed psychologist and a fellow of three mental health organizations, including ACA. Muratori is a faculty associate in the School of Education at John Hopkins University. 


How does the second edition differ from the first?  

As co-authors, we encourage you to take an honest look at how you are caring for yourself and providing care for the clients you serve. We are involved in professional work in different settings and are at different stages in our careers. Individually and collectively, we strive to offer a balance of challenge and support as you consider ways to enhance your personal and professional life through self-care. Here are some of the highlights of the second edition: 

  • Significant changes in the delivery of mental health services occurred during the COVID-19 pandemic, and we discuss the shift in the delivery of mental health services, along with the increased demand for services, and how these changes have contributed to empathy fatigue and counselor burnout.  
  • Developing self-care strategies to cope with the stressors around COVID-19 is a new topic, and every chapter discusses the special challenges to self-care we face in a post-pandemic era.  
  • This new edition underscores the link between self-care and clinical competence. Making a commitment to self-care and wellness is a pathway to competent professional practice.  
  • We devote more time addressing ways to develop resilience in the face of increased sources of personal and professional stressors and ways to prevent burnout and impairment.  

Since your first edition of Counselor Self-Care, we have faced several new challenges, including the COVID-19 pandemic. How have these challenges changed the way counselors view or approach self-care?  

The four of us felt compelled to revise this book largely because of the negative impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and deteriorating societal conditions on counselors’ well-being. We are living in tumultuous times; we are experiencing polarization and divisiveness in society and attacks on well-established rights. We have witnessed the shocking overturn of Roe v. Wade and a sharp increase in oppressive legislation targeting the rights of the LGBTQ+ community.  

Counselors have heard about the hazards of the profession and the importance of practicing self-care for many years, but this topic has often been given lip service. However, certain events of the past few years have been especially rugged, leaving mental health professionals vulnerable to undue stress, burnout, compassion and empathy fatigue, and vicarious trauma. As we say in our book, the demand for mental health services has skyrocketed as increases in social isolation, anxiety, depression and other signs of distress have been reported. Self-care is even more critical these days for helping professionals to maintain their wellness and clinical competence. Counselors have been tested in unprecedented ways, sometimes beyond their limits, so self-care must be a priority and counselors understand this in a very real way.  

How does self-care differ depending on a counselor’s career stage or their professional setting?  

At the various stages of our career, there are different challenges to be met. In Chapter 2 (“Seasons of a Career”), we describe some of our own challenges.  

Jude and Julius Austin share their experiences in graduate school and show how they focused on surviving rather than thriving. Their self-care took a back seat to the demands of their graduate programs. Then, during the early part of their careers, the Austins had to balance self-care with the practical realities of getting married, purchasing a home, beginning a family and meeting the tasks of academic life as new professors.  

Michelle Muratori also discusses how during the early stage of her career, she struggled with overcoming perfectionism in her work. By mid-career, she juggled many professional roles and found her passion in teaching counseling to graduate students. She realized that self-care was not optional if she wanted to succeed in her career.  

During his early career, Jerry Corey lived for his work, but then by the middle of his career, he learned that there were limits to what he could do professionally and still take care of himself. 

Every stage of our career taught us that self-care was not just a luxury but a necessity to be able to enjoy a full and productive life. 

Gerald Corey and Michelle Muratori sit together holding a copy of Counselor Self-Care, second edition

Gerald “Jerry” Corey and Michelle Muratori, two of the co-authors, display the second edition of Counselor Self-Care. (Photo courtesy of Heidi Jo Corey.)

What are some lessons you have learned about your own self-care throughout your professional careers?  

I (Jerry) have been an educator for 60 years, and at the late stage of my career, I recognize how crucial it has been for me to practice self-care over the span of these years. For example, I have been committed to an exercise program since my 20s, and now at age 86, I attribute the stamina I possess for teaching and writing to decisions I made earlier in life, such as taking care of myself physically.  

Another key lesson I learned is the importance of professional relationships. I have not retired, but I have slowed down some. I currently teach intensive courses in counseling theories, group counseling and professional ethics at the University of Holy Cross in New Orleans. In 2020, I was challenged to move from in-person classes to Zoom classes, and I discovered that this work provides a source of meaning and purpose in my life.  

Throughout the book, I describe turning points in my professional journey and lessons learned about self-care and caring for others. 

What are some tips for creating and committing to a self-care plan? What is included in the plan?  

All four of us stress how essential it is to make a comprehensive assessment of how we take care of ourselves in all aspects of our lives and what changes we may want to make. A realistic plan is necessary if we hope to make changes in our ways of thinking, feeling and behaving. The plan must be your own and one that you are willing to consistently practice. When making your plan, consider the following:   

  • Don’t expect your plan to be perfect and give yourself permission to have setbacks.  
  • Be kind and compassionate with yourself and realize that being harshly self-critical will not help in making the changes you desire.  
  • Realize that if you want to take care of others, you must first take care of yourself.  

(See Chapter 9 for specific guidelines on what to include in an effective action plan.)  

What are three good strategies for managing stress as a counselor?  

In our book, we discuss several stress-management strategies, including mindfulness, meditation, tai chi, yoga, Pilates, experiencing nature, religious and spiritual involvement, sound nutrition, exercise, recreation, service to others, personal therapy and cultivating the practice of self-reflection. The truth is that we all have preferences for certain forms of self-care and stress management, so we hesitate to recommend particular strategies over others.  

I (Michelle) find that spending time in nature does wonders for my soul. I often drive to a nearby lake to give myself time to reflect, get some fresh air and take a brisk walk. I also have benefitted from personal therapy, managing my boundaries and practicing breathing techniques to keep my stress at bay. Connecting with friends over the phone or Zoom and watching my favorite shows to change focus and immerse myself in someone else’s story have also been essential to my wellness and stress management.  

While some self-care practices may be helpful for all of us, we must be willing to engage in practices that have meaning to us. A “good strategy” is one that we can commit to putting into practice. 

Self-care can be particularly challenging for counselors working with trauma, grief and loss. What advice do you have for counselors working in these areas?  

The book features several outstanding essays on the topic of self-care from professionals in the field. In one essay, Dr. Sherry Cormier, a certified bereavement trauma specialist, shares insights about self-care for grief counselors and provides sage advice on how they can remain grounded while working with clients who are in so much pain. She recommends the following:  

  • Learn to sit with clients without absorbing their emotional energy.  
  • Be mindful of your breathing during sessions and use self-care tools to disconnect after intense interactions with grieving clients.  
  • Debrief with a colleague and release anything that does not belong to you.  
  • Use movement and physical exercise to release stuck energy.  

Counselors working with clients experiencing grief, loss and trauma are at risk of empathy fatigue. Helping clients requires us to be present and make connections, but we also need to find ways to disconnect. 


Cover of Counselor Self-Care, second edition


Watch a promotional video about the book and hear from Jude and Julius Austin, the other co-authors.


Order Counselor Self-Care (second edition) from the ACA Store.




Opinions expressed and statements made in articles appearing on CT Online should not be assumed to represent the opinions of the editors or policies of the American Counseling Association.

A cultural framework for generational trauma

By Jyotsana Sharma, Carolyn Shivers and Cadence Bolinger June 20, 2023

A father hugs his son while standing outside. Both are looking down.

Ruslana lurchenko/

Intergenerational trauma, much like the definition of trauma, is often subjective and complex. Trauma can be broadly defined as an event or recurring event that can overwhelm the body and its ability to cope in a variety of different ways. Based on an individual’s capacity, trauma may be met by resilience or growth with the help of positive support systems and adaptive coping mechanisms, or it may overwhelm the survivor’s mind and body and lead to traumatic stress reactions or other debilitating effects. The traumatic experience may then directly or indirectly impact descendants, resulting in intergenerational trauma or the transmission of trauma between generations. Because intergenerational trauma, like all experiences, is highly subjective, each person may experience it differently. In this article, we define intergenerational trauma as any traumatic experiences survived or actions perpetrated on communities or individuals that contribute to enduring biopsychosocial changes, including adverse repercussions for survivors or abusers, and direct, indirect or vicarious implications for their children and grandchildren, both within a culture and across cultures.

Intergenerational trauma is often understood in the context of historical or cultural violence. Children and grandchildren of Jewish survivors of the Holocaust, Native American and First Nation survivors of residential schools, and other survivors of ethnic genocide have described feelings of unease, anxiety and fear, despite having never directly experienced a traumatic event themselves. In many cases, traumatic experiences were never shared with these descendants, and it is only through exploration of their ancestors’ lives that these individuals could begin to understand and start working through their own struggles.

More recently, clinicians and researchers have recognized that individual traumas such as interpersonal violence (IPV), domestic violence, sexual violence, emotional abuse/neglect or deprivation can also contribute to the intergenerational transmission of trauma. In other words, trauma does not have to be experienced at a community level to affect later generations. Any individual trauma can disrupt a generational system in ways that travel through time.

Although research and practice acknowledge the variety of possible events that lead to intergenerational trauma, there are few theories on how such trauma is transmitted. Some modern studies have found genetic underpinnings of trauma (i.e., transmission through changes in the genetic code of survivors who experienced the trauma). However, as with most psychological phenomena, it is equally important to consider the role of nurture. It is possible that trauma survivors may consciously or unconsciously develop behaviors and reactions that transfer fear, avoidance, anxiety or hopelessness to their offspring, thus unintentionally passing on distorted core beliefs, values, thought processes or emotions.

Although intergenerational trauma may affect many of our clients, it often goes unnoticed. In addition, the complexity of generational trauma is difficult to assess, so we developed a framework — the cultural framework of generational trauma (CFGT) — to help support practitioners when working with complex, intergenerational traumatic experiences. The framework can be used in a culturally diverse society, and it can be adapted to all individuals, regardless of the nature and origin of the traumatic events.

A bioecological approach

As counselors, we need to broaden the way we view trauma, especially trauma that emerges from experiences of interpersonal violence, and consider how it can affect multiple generations and, most importantly, how these processes may differ across social and cultural realms. To do this, we propose counselors use a targeted bioecological framework when addressing the impact of social and cultural contexts on the experience of individual trauma(s), especially as it relates to the intergenerational transmission of trauma. Mental health practitioners can adapt this macro approach to understand clients’ worldviews and the implications that the intersections of the individual, the trauma, and the social and cultural contexts might have on advertently or inadvertently transmitting patterns of trauma intergenerationally.

The CFGT integrates the Bowen family systems theory, Yael Danieli’s Trauma and the Continuity of Self: A Multidimensional, Multidisciplinary, Integrative (TCMI) framework and Bronfenbrenner’s bioecological model. The CFGT uses the macro lens of Bronfenbrenner’s bioecological model, which helps us understand the multiple layers of disruption that trauma causes and the capacity of this disruption to travel across generations within family systems through a set of complex interconnected processes. In our framework, trauma and violence exist not only within the individual or between the person who carried out the abuse and the survivor but also within surrounding familial, social and cultural contexts. For example, our framework includes children who have witnessed abuse toward someone else, been on the receiving end of the abuse, or been manipulated or used as a means for carrying out violence or abuse.

The Bowen family systems theory helps us understand interpersonal dynamics within family systems, and the TCMI helps explain how trauma and violence cause ruptures that travel from the survivor to their social and cultural contexts and vice versa. It’s important to note that the influence between survivors and sociocultural systems is reciprocal, which can lead to various trajectories of traumatic stressors, recovery or growth.

The CFGT consists of the following four components, which we adapted from Bronfenbrenner’s bioecological model:

Person. Our framework is centered on the victimized individual or survivor who is in conflict internally or with another individual. The individual’s unique worldview has been influenced by their genetics, family, and social, political and cultural contexts. Any trauma the individual faces has the capacity to transform the entire family system, starting with the individual and rippling out toward the family system and components of that individual’s sociocultural contexts.

Context. The individual affected by trauma or violence is surrounded by social, political, economic and cultural contexts, which form their environment. They are also influenced by various systems in their environment such as family members, friends, colleagues, community, religious organizations, neighborhood, society (e.g., U.S. society, Midwestern society), socioeconomic status, political trends and culture as it relates to race, ethnicity and country of origin, as well as the beliefs and biases held by the survivor and individuals in each system. These systems influence the survivor and are influenced by the survivor. By specifying multiple aspects of the environment, our framework helps encourage counselors to explicitly consider spheres of influence that might be affecting the individual’s trauma and vice versa. For example, if there has been a pattern of triangulation in a client’s family system, then maybe the client and counselor need to explore how triangulation has carried across the generations and whether it plays a role in their current family life.

Process. Most of the disruption happens within the family (chosen or otherwise) because it is the closest system to the individual. Family members who try to help or support the person affected by trauma or violence are often also affected themselves. Similar processes could then exist for traumatic transfer to other members of the survivor’s environment. If a child survivor, for example, shares their trauma with a school counselor, then that counselor may now be affected by the trauma vicariously. Religious/spiritual leaders who provide support or guidance to the survivor and family and law enforcement officials who are called to assist during or after a trauma or violence occurs can also be influenced by the survivor and the survivor’s family unit.

In addition, with the passage of time, the survivor may experience healing, which can also transfer to others and lead to healing within the family and the social and cultural context surrounding the survivor. But if healing does not occur or it does not fully occur, the patterns of coping, the altered values or beliefs, and the ways in which the survivor or the family unit has changed can transition from the survivor’s generation to the next. Bowen family systems theory refers to this process as multigenerational transmission and defines it as a process through which behaviors, attitudes, skills, values, ideas or assumptions directly or indirectly transfer from one generation to the next via patterns of coping.

Drawing on Bowen’s concept of family projection, which refers to how parental figures transmit or project their own personal anxieties or interpersonal relationship issues onto the children within that family system, it is possible that the survivor’s generation transfers biopsychosocial patterns (e.g., fears, anxieties, defensiveness, depression, relational dissatisfaction, unhealthy coping after trauma or violence). Survivors may also transfer patterns of being or existing or even meaning making onto descendant generations.

Time. Like Bronfenbrenner’s chronosystem, our framework includes the factor of time — both throughout an individual’s life span and across generations. We propose that the factor of time be considered not only continuous but also repetitive: Processes, interactions and complex intersectionalities occur in small yet recurring ways. With the passage of time, efforts toward recovery or growth might result in healing for the survivor and their social and cultural contexts. On the other hand, if the survivor struggles with traumatic stressors, there is also the possibility that these patterns of trauma or violence will influence, transition or transfer to another generation by seeping into the life of this survivor’s descendants.

Once the descendant’s biopsychosocial patterns are disrupted, that adverse experience becomes an essential part of the child’s lived experiences. Therefore, this aspect of time represents multiple ways in which experiences of trauma and violence repeat over the course of several lifetimes through social interactions, genetics, behavioral patterns, values or attitudes, sneaking from one generation to the next like a soul wound without the survivor’s or their descendants’ awareness.

Applying the framework

One advantage of our cultural framework is that it can be used across generations (i.e., for the survivors of trauma and violence and for the survivor’s descendants or extended families). A key element of the CFGT is the passage of time, which is important with intergenerational trauma. To illustrate how our framework could be used with a survivor and someone in later generations affected by their parents’ trauma experiences, we apply the CFGT framework to a case example; the data for the case study came from the first author’s dissertation study, which used semi-structured interviews to examine the impact of culture on trauma recovery and posttraumatic growth among survivors of IPV. Our survivor, JJ (pseudonym), was a 40-year-old Mexican woman who had experienced IPV between the ages of 30 and 37.

Person. JJ was married to her abuser, who exhibited escalating patterns of emotional abuse such as manipulation, isolation, gaslighting and physical violence (including shoving, hitting and choking).

Context. JJ’s abuse included intersectional social, political, cultural, economic and community factors, all of which contributed to her experience of IPV and attempts to seek support. JJ described her upbringing as a Mexican woman and discussed how divorce was frowned upon for women in her culture. Although her mother was a divorced, single parent, her grandmother, who also lived with them, was very traditional.

The community where her abuser forced her to move after marriage was isolating for JJ. She felt alone because she didn’t know anyone in this place, and her friends and support system were all back in the city that she had left. JJ’s then husband was gaslighting her and isolated her from her church community in an attempt to manipulate her and reduce her credibility. For example, after JJ suffered injuries from physical abuse, he would refuse to take her to church; instead, he would go by himself and tell the church community that she was struggling with mental health issues, which was not true. This facilitated even more isolation for JJ because now the church community not only thought she was unwell but also didn’t believe her when she told them about the abuse. She also described how police officers did not believe her when she reported the abuse. According to her, the officers sided with her husband, who was manipulative but maintained positive social relationships with the officers.

JJ also reported that social influences played a role in both preventing and encouraging her to leave her abuser. Some of JJ’s neighbors encouraged her to pray and work to “be a better wife” because JJ’s husband had again manipulated the narrative of the abuse and told them she was struggling with her home life and kids, but the neighbors didn’t realize the full extent of what was happening. But she also had friends from before her marriage who, after learning about the abuse, encouraged her to seek individual counseling. After JJ decided to leave her husband and move to a domestic violence shelter in another town, her friends supported her through the process of establishing an independent life for herself and her children.

Process. JJ experienced domestic violence for more than seven years, and the abuse escalated over time. Her abuser was not physically violent with her at the beginning of their relationship. JJ described how the emotional and psychological abuse began shortly after they got engaged, and her spouse became increasingly controlling when she was pregnant — putting her on a diet and demanding that he attend all her medical appointments. The spouse’s need for control was a common theme throughout the process and affected her socially and financially. His controlling nature was the underlying reason behind their move to a small town where JJ was cut off from all cultural and social support. Her spouse would prevent her from talking to anyone he believed was “on her side.” He also sold her car and took control of the finances, which limited her freedom and increased her dependence on him.

The CFGT allows counselors to see how the process of interpersonal violence is deeply embedded within the sociocultural context in which the violent relationship exists and how it can change and evolve over time. In JJ’s case, the contexts she was in at various times both perpetuated the violence (e.g., law enforcement officers refusing to believe her) and helped her escape (e.g., finding social support and legal assistance at a domestic violence shelter a few miles away from where she lived). Because the CFGT explicitly incorporates change over time throughout the entire framework, it allows counselors and clients to work through the complexity of the process as it exists within a person’s sociocultural context and vice versa.

Time. The time aspect of JJ’s case is particularly illustrative because she described both how her ancestors’ experiences affected her (looking backward) and how she could see her own experiences affecting her children (looking forward). JJ’s mother was divorced, and JJ recognized the stigma her mother faced as a divorcee in Mexican culture. This stigma influenced JJ’s opinion of her own marriage and contributed to a cultural pressure to “find a man” and stay married no matter what, which was largely influenced by her grandmother’s views on marriage.

JJ also described how her son received a temporary detention order in school when he was 5 because of behavior problems stemming from his mother’s abuse by his father and subsequent divorce. JJ and her abuser shared custody of their children, which resulted in her abuser trying to triangulate the children against JJ. He was also physically abusive toward the children.  Although JJ did not fully describe how much her children knew about her abuse, she said that the children did witness some of the violence directed toward her and they were also victimized by the father. Using the CFGT can help counselors understand the intergenerational impact of JJ’s trauma, independent of and in conjunction with the children’s own trauma.

Time also shaped and changed the context of JJ’s story. When JJ was living in a small, isolated community where people knew and believed only what JJ’s abuser was telling them, she was stuck. Moving to the domestic violence shelter, however, allowed her to find support from people in this new community and from friends she had known before the marriage. In the CFGT framework, time applies to both influences across generations and changes across time for an individual during their lifetime and journey toward recovery.


JJ’s story is particularly apt because she worked for years with a team of counselors (both her own and her children’s), attorneys, support staff and friends to free herself from her abusive relationship. She eventually established her independence, gained custody of her children, provided them with a safe environment and worked on her own trauma recovery. Through counseling and the recognition of her experience (person), the influences of her environment and culture (context), and the impact of both the past and future on the experience (time and process), JJ was able to develop strength, resilience, self-acceptance and confidence and grow from her experiences.

I (Jyotsana) met JJ while conducting interviews for a research study. One of my fondest memories of her was when she was in her art studio on a video call with me. After she shared her story with me, I asked her, “How are you going to move forward from here?” She spun her camera across the room and said, “Just for starters … I’m in my studio … my own studio.”

In cases such as JJ’s, the CFGT could help provide mental health professionals with insight into key psychoeducational interventions, advocacy related to policy changes, and social justice-focused approaches for survivors of trauma and violence and those affected by generational trauma. The CFGT may provide the groundwork on which holistic treatment modalities can be developed or formulated. We believe the CFGT is a comprehensive and culturally sensitive approach, and we are confident that focused research efforts will be able to provide evidence that this framework is a useful foundation for the treatment of clients affected by trauma and violence.

It’s also important to highlight that, like trauma, recovery and growth can also transfer from one generation to the next. Recent research on protective factors has acknowledged the potential for healing to be transferred through generations just as trauma from adverse experiences can be. Now it is up to counselors to be open-minded and adopt the CFGT as a holistic framework for education, research and practice. We are confident that by adopting this framework, mental health professionals can better assess, conceptualize and treat clients who display patterns of unresolved generational trauma.


Jyotsana Sharma is an assistant professor in the Counseling and Counseling Psychology Department at Oklahoma State University-Tulsa. She is also a licensed clinical mental health counselor in New Hampshire, national certified counselor and approved clinical supervisor. Her research focuses on trauma recovery and posttraumatic growth, with a particular emphasis on the sociocultural factors affecting these processes. Contact her at

Carolyn Shivers is an associate professor of psychology at Niagara University. Her work involves understanding and eliminating barriers to inclusion for people with physical, cognitive and psychiatric disabilities.

Cadence Bolinger is a doctoral student in the Counseling and Counseling Psychology Department at Oklahoma State University-Stillwater.

Opinions expressed and statements made in articles appearing on CT Online should not be assumed to represent the opinions of the editors or policies of the American Counseling Association.