Adult-Onset Trauma and Intergenerational Transmission: Integrating Empirical Data and Psychoanalytic Theory

This article addresses the tension in psychoanalytic thinking regarding adult-onset trauma and its potential effects on children who were not directly exposed to the same parental trauma. Psychoanalytic theory emphasizes early attachment trauma as predictive of the response to trauma later in life. This emphasis on early trauma delayed recognition of adult-onset trauma-related disorders and the development of adequate trauma-focused treatments. Presently, the confluence of findings from multiple disciplines, including trauma studies, biological research, and epidemiological data from across the globe, demonstrates the potentially devastating impact of adult-onset post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) following exposure to trauma, such as war, terror, and assaultive violence. Empirical evidence highlights the critical role of post-trauma family and social support in recovery from PTSD or, alternatively, in delayed PTSD. Given the numbers of servicemen returning from combat zones with post-traumatic disorders and other populations around the globe exposed to extreme political violence, new effective trauma-focused treatments are needed. Integration of perspectives within psychoanalytic theories and “cross pollination” among the fields of psychoanalysis, attachment studies, cognitive-behavioral psychology, neuroscience, and trauma research will enhance innovative and effective interventions that harvest beneficial therapeutic elements from multiple approaches.

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Irit Felsen, Ph.D. | 2017
In: Psychoanalysis, Self and Context (PSC) | 12 | 1 | 60-77
Delayed Onset, Holocaust (en), Intergenerational Effects, Posttraumatic Stress Disorder, Psychotrauma, PTSD (en), Survivors, Veterans