The Intergenerational Transmission of Trauma

by Michael Canino, MD

On Saturday, February 24th, Ira Brenner, MD, presented The Intergenerational Transmission of Trauma in a well-attended three-hour program hosted by Thomas Jefferson UniversityThis Program in Psychoanalytic Studies engaged 129 professionals, residents, students, and interns with a wide range of clinical backgrounds and offered 3 Continuing Education/Medical Education Credits.

Dr. Brenner opened the program by using Helen Epstein’s metaphor of the “Iron Box” to describe the intergenerational transmission of trauma (IGTT) as a psychodynamic phenomenon that all clinicians should be aware of, despite the notion that it rarely presents itself as a “chief complaint.”  He provided a thorough history of the concept of IGTT starting with its’ first identification in the children of Holocaust survivors during the 1960s all the way through the recent school shooting event in Parkland, Florida.  He exposed the audience to a range of psychodynamic theories that have been applied to IGTT as well as some specific approaches to treatment the informed clinician may use with those suffering from it.  He showed video clips to depict IGTT in cinema, as well as in interviews with those affected, and concluded with several clinical examples taken both from his own practice and others to provide a real-life context for applying his research and experience.

Over the course of his talk, Dr. Brenner reviewed several psychodynamic concepts such as identification, resilience, and survivor’s guilt, specifically with respect to how they must be considered not only when working with patients experiencing symptoms of IGTT, but with anyone having a trauma history.  The audience remained thoroughly engaged as evidenced by the myriad of questions asked throughout and after the program.

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