The Noah Project

Rebuilding a sustainable world.

Healing Historical Trauma Through Traditional Culture

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Dina Gilio-Whitaker ‘s review of Leslie Korn’s new book Rhythms of Recovery: Trauma, Nature, and the Body brings up an issue often ignored by health professionals – the role historical and cultural trauma can have on the emotional and physical well being of the individual.

Medicine, like politics, is often a matter of perspective; for many cultures illness is caused by being out of balance emotionally, spiritually, mentally or physically. Trauma, too, can cause imbalances that lead to physical illness by disrupting the body’s natural rhythms that maintain wellness. So argues Leslie E. Korn, author of a new book entitled “Rhythms of Recovery: Trauma, Nature, and the Body,” published and released this year by Routledge.
And, unfortunately, all too often the healthcare industry is of little help. “In my experience I observed that the physical and mental health professions are very compartmentalized in our approach to treatment. The physical health people treat the body and the mental health people treat the mind but nobody [other than those we call ‘healers’] really helps the client integrate and understand how the symptoms, the discomforts or distress that they’re experiencing are a whole [system],” Dr. Korn explains.
 In addition to integrating mental and general healthcare modalities, what distinguishes this book is its recognition of the role of culture and historical trauma. For American Indians the history of genocide and colonization has resulted in what psychologists call postcolonial stress disorder, which occurs not only on an individual but community level and often goes unacknowledged.
“I wanted to deconstruct this ideology of diagnosis which continues to be victim-blaming and exists outside the cultural epoch in which they’ve been formed. They’re conditioned, culture-based responses and I wanted to shake up people’s ideas about these diagnostic categories and these rigid approaches to treatment. The concept of ‘normal’ is a social ideology that causes further consternation and dichotomies for indigenous peoples and people in particular who grew up in a traditional community or who still have traditional values,” Dr. Korn told Indian Country Today Media Network.
Trauma can be transmuted, Dr. Korn contends. A passage from the book describes it this way: “Integrative posttrauma therapy emphasizes a comprehensive perspective of whole human development and functioning, including body/mind/spirit and gender and culture-specific issues, multiple styles of communication, active engagement and empathic expression, activism and advocacy…and the transformational potential of trauma,” (pg. 143).
For Native people the transformational power of trauma can be found in traditional ceremonies and rituals. From a Western scientific, biological perspective, the positive effects of ceremony lay in its ability to trigger hormonal responses in the brain that can break harmful autonomic nervous system patterns created by trauma. Although the healing effect of ceremony is far from a new concept for Indian people, Rhythms of Recovery helps to bring understanding and legitimization of traditional healing practices into the conventional model of medicine and mental health. One of the enduring legacies of colonialism has been the demonization of Native religions and spiritual practices which were outlawed during the assimilation period. Today, Native ceremonies such as the sweat lodge are further delegitimized in the public’s eye when people are injured or die as a result of misappropriation by unqualified, non-Native scam artists.

Author: Daniela

I was born in Croatia, at that time Yugoslavia. My family moved to the US when I was very young, but I still treasure the memories of my grandfather teaching me how to protect myself against the "evil eye," my grandmother shopping early every morning, at the open air market, to buy the freshest vegetables for the day's meals, and the traditions that were the underpinnings of our society. Someone once noted that "For all of us that want to move forward, there are a very few that want to keep the old methods of production, traditions and crafts alive." I am a fellow traveler with those who value the old traditions and folk wisdom. I believe the knowledge they possess can contribute significantly to our efforts to build a more sustainable world; one that values the individual over the corporation, conservation over growth and happiness over wealth.

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