Friday Factoids Catch-Up: Toward Cultural Competence: Understanding Historical/Generational Trauma of African Americans

Historical trauma is relevant to examine regarding African Americans because those who never experienced the traumatic stressor themselves, such as children and descendants of people who experienced race-based genocide/slavery, can still exhibit signs and symptoms of trauma. In the United States alone, African Americans have experienced over 350 years of oppression, generations of discrimination, slavery, colonialism, imperialism, racism, race-based segregation and poverty (Ross, n.d.).


In addition, African Americans currently are exposed to frequent and even multiple daily microaggressions, which are defined as, “Events involving discrimination, racism, and daily hassles that are targeted at individuals from diverse racial and ethnic groups” (Michaels, 2010). “Racial microaggressions are brief and commonplace, and include daily verbal, behavioral, or environmental indignities, whether intentional or unintentional, that communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative racial slights and insults toward people of color,” (Sue, Capodilupo, Torino, Bucceri, Holder, Nadal, & Esquilin, 2007). The impact of historical and generational trauma can affect people of color such that internal impressions/views of self begin to skew, and negative behavior and emotions such as anger, hatred, and aggression become self-inflicted, as well as imposed on members of one’s own group (Ross, n.d.).


Stigma related to mental illness also impacts views on mental health and help-seeking behaviors because African Americans who received services, as well as those with no prior experience with mental health services, associated these supports with embarrassment and shame (Thompson, Bazile & Akbar 2004). The researchers also found that African American participants in mental health services have mistrust around mental health practitioners, and that it may be challenging for psychologists and psychotherapists to be free of the attitudes and the beliefs of the larger society, especially due to stereotypes.


Asbury, Walker, Belgrave, Maholmes, and Green (1994) found that perceptions of provider competence, self-esteem, emotional support, and attitudes toward seeking services were significant predictors of seeking service. In addition, racial similarity, perception of provider competence, and perceptions of the service process determined continued participation. Pole, Gone, and Kulkarni, (2008) and Sue (1998) found that overall, African-Americans attended average to fewer sessions (underutilize services), as well as terminated from services earlier than European Americans.


When conducting psychological interventions with African Americans it is important to be mindful of their cultural beliefs, as well as current oppression (stereotypes) faced by this population, and to be culturally sensitive to the issues and experiences that the African-American community has historically confronted, and continues to experience (Ross, n.d.). When conducting psychological treatment with people of color, it is important to be mindful of the historical and generational trauma African Americans have faced, as well as keeping in mind how internal oppression can impact their views on mental health and help-seeking behaviors.


Asbury, C. A., Walker, S., Belgrave, F. Z., Maholmes, Green, L. (1994). Psychosocial,     cultural, and accessibility factors associated with participation of African  Americans in rehabilitation. Rehabilitation Psychology, 39, 113-121.


Michaels, C. (2010). Historical trauma and microagressions: A framework for culturally-  based practice. Children, Youth & Family Consortium’s Children’s Mental Health Program. Retrieved from


Pole, N., Gone, J. P., & Kulkarni, M. (2008). Posttraumatic Stress Disorder Among  Ethnoracial Minorities in the United States. Clinical Psychology: Science & Practice, 15(1), 35-61. doi:10.1111/j.1468-2850.2008.00109.x


Ross, K. (n. d). Impacts of historical trauma on African Americans and its effects on help-seeking behaviors. Presentation. Missouri Psychological Association.


Sue, D. W., Capodilupo, C. M., Torino, G. C., Bucceri, J. M., Holder, A. M. B., Nadal,     K. L., & Esquilin, M. (2007). Racial microaggressions in everyday life: Implications for clinical practice. American Psychologist, 62(4), 271-286.


Sue, S. (1998). In search of cultural competence in psychotherapy and counseling. American Psychologist, 53(4), 440-448.

Thompson, V. L., Bazile, A. & Akbar, M.D. (2004). African American’s Perceptions of Psychotherapy and Psychotherapists. Professional Psychology: Research and  Practice, 35, 19-26.


Katy Roth, M.A., CRC
WKPIC Doctoral Intern


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