Healing Complex Trauma 1: A unity of minds, hearts, and Culture

Patricia Vickers, Ryan Moyer


This article presents discussion suggesting that healing from complex trauma, including the intergenerational transmission of trauma, not only requires holistic treatment, but also training and educational resources for healthcare professionals to better facilitate healing. The training program is based on the mentoring process held in many Indigenous traditions throughout British Columbia, where one learns methods and theories through life experience. Tracing the contributing factors of trauma as it relates to colonisation and Indigenous wellbeing, this paper offers discussions for the necessity of reconceptualising the concept of trauma and its relationship with expressions of cyclical violence and compensatory behaviours to avoid reality, including sexual violence and substance use, respectively.  This reconceptualisation of trauma, founded on ancestral teachings of a unity of heart, mind, and culture; draws on strengths of Western science while grounding itself in common Indigenous ancestral wisdom, informed an experimental curriculum entitled Healing Complex Trauma 1: Finding the Internal Language that served as both treatment and training module for 16 Indigenous (and two non-Indigenous) health and wellness service providers for Indigenous populations.  The curriculum was developed by Dr Vickers in consultation with the Somatic Experiencing Trauma Institute and Dr Bessel van der Kolk, and was delivered in Tk’emlups territory British Columbia, Canada from May 28th—June 29th, 2018.  The program found success through three distinctly hybrid treatment and educational streams, including a) the neurobiology of trauma, Beginner levels I, II, and III from the Somatic Experiencing (SE) Training Institute; b) group therapy for personal processing and experiential learning of SE methodologies; c) integration through art therapy and qi gong movement.  The program was grounded on common cultural values and principles of respect and unity. One participant, an Indian Residential School Survivor, fluent in his Indigenous language and on faculty at an Indigenous training Institute remarked: “this program will always work.” It is recommended that locations throughout the world experiencing high rates of trauma-related violence and compensatory behaviours, including sexual violence and substance use, integrate and promote curriculums that underline this aforementioned connection, including its deep colonial roots and intergenerational nature. 


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