Annual Counseling Conference Addresses Intergenerational Transmission of Trauma

Geneva faculty conduct the conference onlineIn April 2021 the Counselling Department at Webster University Geneva held its third annual Trauma Conference, in collaboration with Global Health Equity Foundation (GHEF) and its founder Dr. Tayeb Al Hafeez. Conducted online, this year's conference ddressed the Intergenerational Transmission of Trauma and its Impacts on Individuals, Families and Communities.

The Conference aimed to expand the boundaries of our understanding of trauma by hearing from experts and practitioners from various fields - including Medicine, Social work, Literature and Drama. Dr. Muthoni Fernand, chair of Counseling at Webster University (based in St. Louis, USA), also participated. In all, over 50 people attended the two-day conference of keynotes and workshops, including students from Webster’s M.A. in Counselling.

Rituals can promote resilience within families, helping to organise and structure the expression of contradictory and conflicting meanings...but can also constrain


An impressive lineup of speakers referenced their own clinical work and reseaerch in connection with the topic of intergenerational trauma.

The first keynote speaker was Dr. Steven Kniffley from the U.S., who addresses issues of race-based stress and trauma in communities of colour. His clinical work is primarily with black males and with law enforcement departments, to address conflicts between communities of colour and the police. At a subsequent workshop that explored the impact of racial trauma on psychological, physical and relational health, Kniffley discussed evidence-based interventions for assessment and treatment.

The second keynote, Dr Caroline Williamson Sinalo, spoke about the need to reconsider applying narrowly focused, Western- based understandings of trauma to other non-Western contexts in the post-colonial, post-genocidal circumstances of Rwanda where she has researched local, non-pathologising approaches for a number of years. Her workshop focused on alternative approaches to working with trauma in Rwanda, integrating posttraumatic growth theory with local perspectives on Rwandan identity.

Dr. Tayeb al Hafeez, executive director of Global Health Equity Foundation (GHEF), spoke of the work of the Foundation in attempting to build access to health for refugees and the gaps in assessing and treating trauma related to war. Working in Germany with a theatre director, a composer and two actors, GHEF have developed a wordless play called "Ghosts" as well as a film of a 20-minute play called "Shadows," which was shown during the conference.

Following a moving performance, the two actors Lucas and Lou participated in the Q&A that followed.


Conducting the conference from GenevaDr. Angela Veale spoke about the different transgenerational transmission pathways of trauma- biological, attachment and narrative pathways and possibilities for disruption. She presented two case-studies – one from Northern Uganda with formerly abducted young women and strategies to manage disclosure with their children, and a second exploring the role of Syrian refugee men in disrupting transmission of patterns with their children.

Dr. Chitra Subrahmanian of Webster Geneva addressed the role of rituals in promoting resilience within families. She described them as naturally occurring events that can help to organise and structure the expression of contradictory and conflicting meanings but can also constrain and stifle and maintain distress and dysfunction. Chitra worked with the attendees to elicit their responses to different templates

Geneva faculty member Megan Patterson-Brown and Riccardo Rodari led a workshop on the ICT -- Integrative Community Therapy model -- a model based on a systemic and anthropological approach introduced in the favelas of Brazil by an ethno-psychiatrist, Dr. Barreto. The workshop outlined the 7 steps of the model and led a group-process to provide the participants with a lived experience of the model.

The two-day conference ended with an interesting and lively panel discussion with Tayeb, Angela and Caroline, facilitated by Dr Gail Thiesen-Womersley, staff psychologist at the U.N. High Commission for Refugees in Geneva.

Webster University Geneva faculty members Catherine Butterly (pictured above), head of the MA in Counseling, and Vlad Glaveanu, head of the Psychology and Counseling Department in Geneva, extend their deepest thanks to the wonderful team of conference organizers and supporters, including Carolina del Torres Ugarte and Puja Schroth, as well as to Celia Joachim, Webster Geneva events coordinator.

Related News