Professor Michael O'Loughlin, Ph.D., studies intergenerational trauma and the impact trauma has on human suffering.

Two elderly German men sitting among the rubble of the Battle of Berlin in May of 1945.

Two elderly German men sitting among the rubble of the Battle of Berlin in May of 1945.

As a clinical psychologist, psychoanalyst and award-winning scholar of early childhood education, Michael O’Loughlin, Ph.D., a professor at Adelphi, has long been familiar with the impact of trauma on human suffering. But the more he dealt with it on the clinical level, the more he came to understand trauma as having not only personal but also social and historical dimensions.

“I realized that any child born into a family by definition is going to be a bearer of the trauma of the family unless the trauma has been addressed and resolved,” Dr. O’Loughlin said. “And, unfortunately, we know that when a war occurs, or a genocide, or a refugee crisis,” the challenges of daily life are so demanding that “the majority of people are left to internalize their suffering.” He noted that philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein once said: “I turn into stone but my pain goes on.”

While Dr. O’Loughlin has been studying and writing about intergenerational trauma since the mid-2000s, 2014 saw the publication of two significant contributions to the field. Coedited with Marilyn Charles, Ph.D., Fragments of Trauma and the Social Production of Suffering: Trauma, History, and Memory (Rowman & Littlefield, 2015) examines the experience of trauma in a variety of global settings, from Maori communities in New Zealand to distressed African American neighborhoods in the United States.

“That’s really a book about application of trauma to clinical or educational work,” Dr. O’Loughlin said. A companion volume, The Ethics of Remembering and the Consequences of Forgetting: Essays on Trauma, History, and Memory (Rowman & Littlefield, 2014), which he edited, is “a more theoretical book, and the essays are focused primarily on trauma-related problems in different parts of the world.” Among the topics are the consequences of exhuming mass graves in Spain after the fascist era; designing a 9/11 memorial in New York City; and the effects of trauma on ongoing generations of Irish immigrants in London. 

“They’re all attempts to show how people—not only psychoanalysts but anthropologists and historians—are using this kind of theory to help understand the memories that are buried by society. Intentionally buried,” Dr. O’Loughlin said. “And how we can reclaim those memories, and hopefully use them to create a healing space for societies.”

Dr. O’Loughlin divides his teaching equally between the Ruth S. Ammon School of Education and the Gordon F. Derner Institute of Advanced Psychological Studies, where he teaches elective courses on trauma in the Ph.D. and master’s degree programs. Two of his doctoral students are currently doing dissertations in this field: one on Lithuanian deportees in the 1950s and the other on survivors of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings during World War II.

His own writing in this field has recently taken an autobiographical turn. “I just finished writing another chapter on my own life history and how the things that I inherited, good and bad, affected my ability to be creative and to be free in the world, or inhibited that in some respects,” he said. “And I’m entertaining the possibility of writing a book on the Irish famine and its long-term intergenerational effects.”

This article was published in the 2016 issue of Erudition magazine. 

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