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The role of organisations in healing generational trauma

By Kace O'Neill | |5 minute read

Different groups, such as Indigenous Australians and other minority groups, can experience trauma at a higher rate than others. Building a workplace culture of acceptance and understanding can make all the difference.

The experience of trauma comes from a number of circumstances. For many, it is not only individual trauma they experience but also the trauma of an entire community that can cross generations.

HR Leader recently spoke to Dr Cathy Kezelman, president of the Blue Knot Foundation, who offered insight on the unique traumas that can arise for Indigenous Australians and other minority groups.


“The traumas of colonisation, dispossession and oppression have been passed down from generation to generation and must be acknowledged for what they are. That said, the principles of healing are also around safety, trust, empowerment, choice, as well as the need for cultural sensitivity, cultural safety and cultural respect,” Kezelman said.

“We all want to be understood for who we are, for where we come and for what we have experienced.”

Wellbeing and mental health are critical factors taken very seriously within workplace spaces. Trauma, and generational trauma for that matter, don’t often fall into that mould, even though it is extremely prevalent for a number of employees.

Understanding is the key. Creating an environment where differences in upbringing, culture, and experiences can prove to be vital when it comes to supporting someone through the journey of healing their trauma.

“We need to come together with humility and hope. We all need and deserve genuine empathy and compassion. The principles of healing are around human connection and a sense of belonging and meaning, and for Indigenous Australians, around re-establishing connections to land, spirit, kin and family,” Kezelman said.

This role falls to organisational leaders. Creating that sense of understanding should filter from the top down to all employees, organisation-wide.

“The role of organisational leaders is to build a culture in which differences are understood and embraced, in which judgement and bias are removed, and in which everyone feels safe and are supported to be who they are,” Kezelman said.

On a personal level, going through that healing journey can feel like an isolated endeavour. That is why having that support system from your workplace can be crucial throughout the process, as well as relying on family and friends. Healing is different for everyone, just as experiences of trauma are different too.

“People who are experiencing ongoing trauma do better if they find a place of calm and comfort. This includes learning how to feel grounded and manage the often strong and fluctuating emotions they can experience. It means forming safe connections with others, including family, friends, and, for many, a professional counsellor or therapist,” Kezelman said.

“There are many pathways to healing, from traditional talk therapies to approaches which work with the body. There is greater awareness now of the importance of bodywork as trauma is stored in the body.”

If those various pathways are in place, along with support and understanding from your workplace, then that healing journey is no longer isolated. Work hours take up a lot of our daily life, so receiving assistance on that journey, at work, can be the turning point for getting through trauma.



Your organization's culture determines its personality and character. The combination of your formal and informal procedures, attitudes, and beliefs results in the experience that both your workers and consumers have. Company culture is fundamentally the way things are done at work.

Kace O'Neill

Kace O'Neill

Kace O'Neill is a Graduate Journalist for HR Leader. Kace studied Media Communications and Maori studies at the University of Otago, he has a passion for sports and storytelling.