War & Its Impact on Families and Communities

Lab Cycle Oct 2020 - July 2021 Report


Patrick Dougherty & Jens Riese


William Aal, Manda Johnson & Christine Arau




We started out with a group of 26 participants and completed with 21 participants. We met for 15 group sessions from November 19 2020 – June 17 2021, with an extra session for resourcing competencies for those who wanted to join. In this lab, we focused on War & Its Impact on Families and Communities. We invited, explored, held and started to integrate collective trauma related to both “doing harm” and “being harmed”. We expected to have both personal and transgenerational trauma present in participants, and were prepared to treat this as an opening into the collective impact of war. We invited specific family, community and national examples of the manifestation of collective trauma, trusting the emergence of what is ripe through a strengthening group coherence. We also explored how war is both a cause as well as a symptom of collective trauma, and looked at what it takes to break the perpetuation of war.

We explored the following questions:

  • What constitutes the historical background to war as it manifests as collective trauma today?
  • How does the trauma of war influence the construction of identity (e.g. “victim” and “perpetrator”) and the process of ‘othering’, e.g. between former war opponents and those groups that are labeled as having done harm vs. having been harmed?
  • How does the trauma of war influence the development of cultural architecture governing the current relationships between nations, ethnic groups, communities, generations within those, and families?
  • How does our use of language reflect and reinforce the consequences of this trauma?
  • What are the blind spots of this trauma that culture turns its back on (e.g. “collateral damage” of war; the war trauma and shame carried by those labelled “perpetrators”, etc.)?
  • How does this trauma show itself in times of crisis (e.g. Covid-19, inter-country conflict, climate emergencies)?
  • Can we collectively create a coherent ‘we-space’ and a process of witnessing that leads to an integration and eventual healing of this trauma?

Stages of our process as a group:

1. Synchronising & Resourcing
In the first three sessions of our Lab, we spent a significant amount of time building group coherence and developing personal resourcefulness amongst the participants. This helped with self regulation and co-regulation as a group. We used an image of being together in a lifeboat and the greatest resilience being that we link arms and take this journey together. The lifeboat was a metaphor that stayed alive throughout our journey together. We also created two different group poems and a final art collage to support integration along the way and as we completed. We spent the last three sessions devoted to integration and looking forward beyond the Lab. We were afforded extra time for the beginning and the ending phases of our Lab, meaning that we met fortnightly for fifteen sessions, furnishing our Lab with time as a great resource.

2. Meeting the Collective Trauma Landscape
We gathered stories and images with historical texts to create a timeline. All participants in the Lab were encouraged to contribute and the events that constituted our timeline covered the last 2000 years - all carrying significance for someone in the Lab. We were immensely assisted in the creation of this timeline by a professional graphic designer and were most grateful for that. We looked at the timeline together first as an overview, and then attuning to one or two specific blocks of time, knowing that there were many other events that could also have been included. We did not go through all events on the timeline in their entirety, but the timeline served a very specific purpose, which was to reveal the universality of war in everyone's story, ancestry and culture. This, in itself, was a deeply felt ‘aha’ moment that put everyone on the same page, regardless of background or identity.

3. Exploring Individual & Collective Conditioning
We proceeded to spend time focused on family of origin experiences. We invited and gave time to exploring the individual family narratives. Determination to move on and leave the past behind served as an approach to reveal themes of half-spoken or unspoken experiences, as well as unresolved, undigested layers of trauma held by parents and not directly communicated, influencing the lives of their children but without context to understand the subtle energetic messages that still prevail. We proceeded to explore narratives in the environment of the community and cultural fields of participants.

4. Listening to Ancestral Roots & Voices from the Field
Through each layer of exploration, we invited information and understanding about what has been left out, and what was inconsistent and unspoken. This served as preparation for tapping into the ancestral space, from which voices came through loud and insistent as we held circles of men and women, each listened to by the other gender. Here some ancestral and collective voices were brought in. We are aware that there would be much more exploration than we had time and space for. Also, while going deeper would have allowed for more contentious issues to surface, it would have required greater trust and safety to develop a field capable of receiving the rage, humiliation, responsibility and other strong emotions and challenges that may have risen.

5. Integrating & Restoring
We held regular triads to support both integration and restoration. We always held a grounding meditation within the process of each session. We dedicated time towards the end of each session for integration. We encouraged participants to record their experience and to keep working with both their personal practices and to seek professional support if they felt the need to process particularly challenging personal experiences. We created poems together as well as a completion collage. The group also used a Whatsapp chain to communicate during the journey.

6. Transforming & Meta-learning
We are aware of many positive shifts that took place during this Lab journey in participants’ family dynamics and relationships. An increase in the ability to stay related in the face of challenging and deeply emotional experiences was strengthened for many participants. A deepened understanding and compassion for all people implicated by war, regardless of side, and a softening of hearts was regularly witnessed during the journey. For many, the validation of inner disturbance that many had carried their entire life without previously attributing it to the aftereffects of war was a huge relief in itself. A significant number of participants went on to join a Trauma-informed Leadership course with the intention to become better equipped to participate in a world beset by challenging times.
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Moments of Challenge

  • Early recognition that everyone needed to be adequately resourced with competence for self-regulation and group coherence. We slowed down to develop these competencies together.
  • Preparing the timeline was time-consuming and emotionally heavy, particularly for the facilitators. Again we needed to slow down, and it became apparent that everyone had been waiting for this opportunity for a lifetime and even for generations.
  • Team conflict that needed commitment and sufficient dedicated time. 


  • Initial co-creation of a group poem
  • The blessing of Jen’s son to deliver a beautifully crafted timeline
  • Dozens of moments in participants’ sharings, depth, truthfulness, and reverence within the group, and so much care which grew into extraordinary connection
  • Finding home and companions to explore this territory brought relief, tears and delight
  • Men’s and women’s circles with the other gender listening
  • Deep inner healing, piece by piece, individually and ancestrally, as we traversed the material, with so much benefit and integration


  • Our coherence building worked really well alongside the careful selection of participants
  • Bi-weekly meetings adds coherence and integrity to the process 
  • 20-25 is a good number of participants, allowing intimacy to develop between everyone
  • CTIP emerged naturally and works really well for historical trauma
  • Gender mix in co-facilitation is important
  • Valuable to include trainees, giving them more of a role
  • It would have been necessary to dedicate more time and space to offer a deliberate invitation for anger, which in our Lab ended up not being expressed
  • The Facilitator Team needs to understand the importance of, and be available to, processing whatever arises with the knowing that this is the work of the Lab showing up in us individually, often with information that is important to include as a team.


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Our Lab Team

Patrick Dougherty

Patrick Dougherty

Jens Riese (1)

Jens Riese

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