Date of Award

Fall 12-2020

Degree Type


Degree Name


Degree Program

Counselor Education


Educational Leadership, Counseling, and Foundations

Major Professor

Barbara Herlihy, PhD, LPC-S, NCC

Second Advisor

Brian Beabout, Ph.D.

Third Advisor

Zarus E. P. Watson, Ph.D., LPC, NCC


Addressing historical trauma in populations that have been exposed to long-term mass violence, persecution, and systematic oppression is a critical step in the healing process in affected communities and societies. Despite the growing consensus for adopting a multilevel approach to mitigate the present-day impacts of historical grievances, extant literature on collective mental health interventions that address historical trauma is limited, fragmented, and largely theoretical. The purpose of this constructivist grounded theory study was to examine how mental health practitioners respond to the challenges of historical trauma at the community and society levels, and to explore the functions that professional counselors can assume in collective historical trauma interventions. Intensive interviews were conducted with 12 mental health practitioners who had firsthand experience delivering community-based and/or society-level mental health interventions for historical trauma.

The study shed light on six empowering processes that manifested across the various historical trauma interventions delivered by the participants. These empowering processes were: (a) holding the space; (b) naming the problematic; (c) revisiting history; (d) decolonizing trauma and healing; (e) mobilizing and building capacity; and (f) translating awareness, knowledge, and skills into action. Each of the six empowering processes seemed to promote mindful engagement by facilitating meaning in context and purposeful action. Mindful engagement seemed to enable people to transition from a state of disconnection to connection and eventually to action. All six empowering processes are consistent with the scope of practice and the knowledge and skills of mental health counselors. The implications of the findings for counselors and counselor educators and recommendations for future research are discussed.


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