Working With Collective Trauma

Dr. Keith Witt Defenses, Emotional, Interpersonal, Perspectives, Psychology, Video, Witt & Wisdom: Live with Dr. Keith 3 Comments


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atch as Dr. Keith and Corey explore the meaning of “collective trauma”, in contrast to the personal traumas most of us are familiar with (and many are struggling with).

Collective trauma is more than the sum aggregate of all our our individual traumas. It is a trauma that exists between us, rather than within us individually — though it can certainly be internalized and expressed by an individual, and then transmitted from one individual to another. But they are different kinds of trauma, which require different interventions and rehabilitations in order to treat.

And genuine trauma — both individual traumas and shared collective traumas — is being generated every single day as a result of this pandemic.

Frantz Omar Fanon was a psychiatrist and political philosopher who believed that many mental health patients would benefit more from being re-integrated into their family and community, rather than isolating them and treating them institutionally. During the Algerian war he found it nearly impossible to treat Algerians for their trauma, because the horror of the war was still ongoing — in other words, he couldn’t treat individual traumas because they tended to originate in an ongoing shared trauma that was itself an endless source of individual traumas.

He said:

“Tyrants have always used their technique of “psychological artillery” in an attempt to cause havoc and confusion in the minds of people and hypnotize them with intimidation and cynicism. The result is a collective trauma that will pass through generations. There is no magic formula of rehabilitation. Collective trauma can be alleviated through cohesive and collective efforts such as recognition, remembrance, solidarity, communal therapy and massive cooperation.”

So our question to you is, how might Integral Life be of service to you? How can we help create platforms and community experiences that can help support this sort of “recognition, remembrance, solidarity, communal therapy, and massive cooperation”, at least within our own sphere of influence? If you have any thoughts, let us know in the comments below!

Music by Justin Miles and Stuart Davis

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Dr. Keith Witt

About Keith Witt

Dr. Keith Witt is a Licensed Psychologist, teacher, and author who has lived and worked in Santa Barbara, CA. for over forty years. Dr. Witt is also the founder of The School of Love.

Corey deVos

About Corey deVos

Corey W. deVos is Editor-in-Chief of Integral Life, as well as Managing Editor of He has worked for Integral Institute/Integal Life since Spring of 2003, and has been a student of integral theory and practice since 1996. Corey is also a professional woodworker, and many of his artworks can be found in his VisionLogix art gallery.

Notable Replies

  1. Just wanted to share some thoughts about what has been happening- most important for me was to know what was happening in other countries as to how they are affected and dealing with the pandemic. Watching live videos and people sharing about their experiences and struggles have helped me get in touch with my own struggles and questions too. The feeling of solidarity especially knowing that many groups and organizations are doing their part in helping cope with this crisis. The different opinions given by individuals and networks have helped me understand the whole picture and sift from those information what might be true and what is not helpful. Feeling connected with my own context and the global context is what gives me the hope and inspiration to act as ONE!

  2. That was really a beautiful show. Felt lots of moral indignation as the show developed and brought up my own personal collective trauma patterns related to class divisions in society. Really thought the contributions from others deepened the discussions and could see the complexity emerge within Keith’s dialogue from the reflections from others. I was wondering about the approach of both Corey and Keith and feeling that they were reflecting and representing the divide from left and right. Keith appearing to be more orientated towards individual responsibility towards their own trauma and Corey bringing in the structural, historical and political dimensions of collective trauma. Holding the differences in approach and finding loving, compassionate awareness for the leaders who are not capable of doing this towards themselves or others was great to see. I felt that I evolved while I was watching the show and to finish with the collective we meditation brought tears to my eyes as I felt a deep connection to all. Integral life is a shining beacon of hope in these difficult times and the deep resonance coming from the years of practice meeting the emerging crisis, offering some direction and clarity is just what is needed. Thanks for a great show!

  3. Every day now, increasingly, one reads headlines in the internet news that have the word pain,loss, or grief in them. While individual personal psychological trauma is largely marked by fear and anxiety, collective trauma in general is marked by feelings of loss and grief (and their derivatives at times, such as anger). With the pandemic and economic shutdown, there is so much of that. Start with a read of this article to understand the varieties of loss and grief we’re talking about: Or consider that loss breaks down into different categories: loss of attachments (to people, roles, concepts of self, body/health, life); loss of turf (place/space, home, position/status, etc.); loss of structure (routines, activities, jobs, framework of daily life); loss of future (dreams, plans, goals, ideas of what the future would be); loss of meaning (sense of reality or sense of self or world/others shattered); loss of control (in any domain or aspect of life). (Angeles Arrien, citing William Bridges). There are different kinds of grief as well: immediate, anticipatory, and chronic prolonged grief, for example.

    Collective trauma also often has implications in the area of morality. For instance, “moral injury,” a term first used to describe Vietnam veterans who returned from the war with a sense of having transgressed their own conscience, their own sense of right and wrong. Some experts say moral injury in veterans is more likely to be causative in suicide than PTSD, and the VA is just beginning to address it. But veterans are not the only people who experience moral injury. Long before the pandemic, moral injury was being described in health care professionals; doctors and nurses who were in the position of having to make decisions not based on best patient care, but on insurance, “managed care” and hospital policies. During the pandemic, moral injury has become even more acute, with some health care workers having to consider rationing care and contemplating how to decide who to treat/try to save, and who not (including decisions about themselves).

    These Integral episodes around the pandemic and its fall-out are definitely needed, imo, and maybe the need for doing some shows focusing on loss and grief will become apparent. I think of David Kessler, author of “Finding Meaning: The Sixth Stage of Grief” as probably a good resource. He worked with Kubler-Ross (and also Mother Theresa) and is offering some free online support groups to help during the pandemic with loss and grief (at

    I also think, since there are going to be Integral podcasts focused on art/beauty, that this is another way that Integral can keep some focus on “these particular times,” as art can bring new and different narratives, and offer the chance to “step outside oneself” for a moment, get some distance.

    Thanks for all you are doing.

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