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An innovative approach to stop the transmission of trauma

Childhood trauma is far more frequent than one may think. In Québec, about one third of adults report early episodes of negligence, mistreatment or abuse. When they become parents, their children are at a higher risk of experiencing trauma and poor development outcomes.

The intergenerational transmission of trauma is significant, resulting in billions of dollars in costs for Canada every year. Nicolas Berthelot, professor in the Department of Nursing at Université du Québec à Trois-Rivières and Canada Research Chair on Developmental Trauma, is working to better understand this transmission to help break the cycle.

The intergenerational transmission of trauma is significant.

Professor Berthelot and his collaborators are particularly interested in the ways in which parents who have experienced trauma reflect on their own experiences, and the experts’ research confirms their hypothesis that those who develop an awareness of the trauma and understand the mental states linked to their personal history have an easier time adapting to parenthood. This constitutes a protection factor for their children, who, in turn, benefit from a more solid attachment relationship.

This capacity is especially important while waiting for a child—a period that is a key window of vulnerability for parents with trauma in their past. Nicolas Berthelot and his team at the Centre d’études interdisciplinaires sur le développement de l’enfant et la famille believe that intervening during this critical time could help set at-risk courses right.

With that in mind, the researchers are leading the STEP (Soutenir la transition et l’engagement dans la parentalité) prenatal program to support individuals who experienced childhood trauma as they transition and commit themselves to parenthood. The goal is to help these adults make sense of the difficulties they encountered through a series of structured group meetings. The results of the pilot project are promising: the some 15 pregnant women enrolled say they feel less distress and are more engaged in motherhood.

Until this innovative approach is implemented on a larger scale, Québec parents with trauma in their past can watch the 19 free online videos (in French only ) produced by the research team to raise awareness of the parenting experience and direct viewers to aid resources.