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Unlocking the Secrets of Cultural Trauma: Why CALD Therapy is Essential

Updated: Mar 17

Unlocking the Secrets of Cultural Trauma: Why CALD Therapy is Essential

When we think of the word ‘trauma’ we often do not often consider chronic traumatic events from our cultural environment. Cultural and religious traumas are often overlooked aspect that can have profound negative effects. So what does cultural trauma mean? Intuitively, we infer that it is trauma inflicted upon a people as a result of being from a specific culture. A more encompassing definition of cultural trauma is the conscious and unconscious collective psychological wounds inflicted upon a group of people due to systemic oppression, historical injustices, or intergenerational trauma. People who have experienced cultural traumas can harbour feelings of loss, shame, and disconnection from cultural identity. However, by integrating cultural practices into therapeutic interventions, culturally informed counsellors can facilitate healing and resilience within CALD/ culturally diverse communities. Let us explore the concept of cultural trauma, its impact on mental health, and the importance of incorporating cultural practices into the healing process.

Understanding Cultural Trauma

We experience cultural trauma from events or experiences that threaten our fundamental beliefs, values, and identities of a cultural group. Many historical events can contribute to this, such as: colonialism, genocide, forced migration and discrimination. Cultural trauma then becomes synonymous to intergenerational trauma becaue it is often passed down through generations. This then leads to larger systemic, socio-economic, public health and mental health issues. Mental health issues such as depression, anxiety disorders, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), complex PTSD (CPTSD) and various maladaptive coping strategies that are also seen as ‘cultural’ such as substance abuse.

The Role of Cultural Practices in Healing

Connecting with the roots of one’s culture, community and country can be healing. Cultural activities tend to be communal in nature, and they encompass various practices like storytelling, prescribed rituals, art, music, dance, as well as spiritual beliefs and practices. These play a crucial role in the healing process for individuals and communities affected by cultural trauma because they provide safe avenues for connection, safe expression, and resilience. They allow people to reclaim their cultural identities and narratives with pride. Culturally informed counsellors help clients discover and connect to these cultural practices, weave them into therapeutic interventions, and also assist their clients tap into their cultural strengths and resources, fostering healing and empowerment. CALD/ culturally informed counsellors who are of the same or similar cultural background can also offer the gift of lived experience. Often speaking with a CALD/ culturally informed counsellor from a similar cultural background accelerates the therapeutic process.

Building Cultural Resilience

The hallmark of cultural practices is in its communal nature. Human connection promote healing and cultural resilience. The sense of belonging, solidarity, and support are fostered through various collective traditions. Often times, cultural wisdom is also embedded within myths, folklores, and legends. The shared human connection and wisdom traditions play important roles in mitigating the negative effects of trauma with greater strength and resilience. CALD/ culturally informed counsellors understand the value of preserving cultural practices and explore them with their clients.

Integrating Cultural Practices into Therapeutic Interventions

CALD/ culturally informed integrate cultural practices into therapeutic interventions. This might be collaborating with community leaders, elders, and other cultural experts. However, it predominantly involves having a breadth of experience with culturally diverse/ CALD settings and being skilled in adapting therapeutic models to cultural needs. CALD/ culturally informed counsellors are also aware of the limitations of the therapeutic models, and that they were often developed in a predominantly Western and/or Anglo-Saxon demographic. Such counsellors seek out the expertise of their colleagues, have extensive referral networks, and are able to be curious of and align with clients' cultural values and worldviews. For example, the question of applying ‘boundaries’ are also known to be a contentious one in collectivist cultures. CALD/ culturally informed counsellors are aware of the nuances, consequences and the practicalities of setting ‘boundaries’ in collectivist cultures.


In summary, cultural trauma is an important yet often overlooked aspect of mental health that affects individuals and communities in Australia and worldwide. Given increasing migration, human movement and human displacement, societies are getting more and more transcultural and cosmopolitan. Integrating cultural practices into therapeutic interventions, being culturally and transculturally informed, adaptive, well connected and curious, CALD counsellors play a significant role in facilitating healing from cultural trauma.

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