Conceptualizing healing through the African American experience of historical trauma.

American Journal of Orthopsychiatry

Z. R. Henderson, T. N. Stephens, A. Ortega-Williams, & Q. L. Walton


For the African American healing journey, it is essential for cultural strengths that preceded and followed the original injury of enslavement, and consequent racially based trauma, to be recognized and elevated. Historical trauma has offered an important framework for understanding how the structural determinants of health are related to mass group-level subjugation for Indigenous people across generations, with a growing focus on protective factors. Here, we expand the application of the historical trauma framework to African Americans, with a focus on intergenerational healing. This exploratory study examined historical evidence of healing among enslaved people of African ancestry on Southern plantations. Two themes associated with how healing practices and strategies were used by healers and seekers of healing—figuring out what to do and fighting back/resisting—were developed using a thematic analysis of a historical text. A conceptual model is introduced illustrating the intergenerational transmission of healing and well-being across generations of African Americans. Implications for policy, practice, and research are explored.

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