Skip to main content

Cultural Trauma: Developing An Ear for the Unspoken in the Room

SLIDES || printable handout

Michelle Johnson_photoWhat does it mean for a therapist to be aware of the history of the person in the room – particularly when the individual is a member of a cultural group that has endured oppression, subjugation, and violence? This workshop presents the concept of “cultural trauma” to enhance therapeutic work with clients who may enter treatment with stories of intergenerational trauma that remain unspoken yet significantly impact their identity, experience, and presenting problem. Using case examples, Michelle Johnson will describe manifestations of cultural trauma and provide tools for therapists to consider their clients’ cultural legacies. This workshop will focus on how to broach the unspoken, collaborate with clients on the telling of their stories, assess for the relevance of cultural trauma, and adjust treatment accordingly. The presentation will also touch briefly on the impact of the cultural heritage of the therapist in this process.

Michelle C. Johnson, MSW, LCSW is the Program Manager for the Pro Bono Counseling Network at the Mental Health Association in Orange County, and an adjunct faculty at UNC-Chapel Hill in the School of Social Work. Her previous positions include Associate Director at the Orange County Rape Crisis Center, where she supervised client service and education programs and coordinated the short-term therapy program; psychotherapist at the UNC-CH Counseling Center; and family specialist at East Chapel Hill High School. Ms. Johnson has a private practice in Chapel Hill and specializes in clients who have survived sexual violence and other traumas. Michelle works with a small training group, Dismantling Racism Works, dRWorks, focused on working with organizations and the community on understanding institutional and cultural racism.