School of Behavioral Sciences


Doctor of Education in Community Care and Counseling (EdD)


Mitch Morrison


African American women, complex stress, parenting, attachment theory, differentiation of self, Bowen, transgenerational trauma, meaning-making, Family Systems Theory


Counseling | Educational Psychology


This qualitative phenomenological study aimed to examine the psychosocial impacts of unresolved grief and trauma within the dynamics of parenting styles of African American women. The theories used to guide this study include family systems theory, first introduced by Murray Bowen in the 1950s, and attachment theory, developed by John Bowlby in 1969, as they intersect and provide a foundation for understanding emotional bonds, social relationships, and parent-child attachment wounds at the core. This phenomenological qualitative study answered the following central research question: “How has trauma exposure affected African American women’s awareness of their traumas within their lived experience and parenting practices?” Data were collected from 15 African American women. Criteria for this study were participants who were born in the United States, at least 25 years of age, a parent, stepparent, or adoptive parent to one or more children, and have adverse childhood experiences. Audio recordings, participant observations, and a reflective journal were used to collect, organize, and analyze the data. The research findings identified eight themes and 12 subthemes to address awareness of trauma and barriers to counseling. Each theme answered the research questions of this phenomenological study. Results from the study suggested that African American women experience contextually multiple psychosocial and intergenerational factors that influence self-perception, interpersonal relationships, help-seeking attitudes, and parenting practices. The research from this study contributed to the gap in the literature on parenting styles, parent-child attachment across generations, and stress-related disorders in the family dynamics of African American mothers. This study provided recommendations for future research on transgenerational trauma and the psychosocial factors related to the lived experiences of African American women in the parenting role. This study could benefit the field of family counseling to help expand access to culturally appropriate counseling interventions for African American women, their families, the church, and governmental agencies to create culturally responsive mentorship programs. Also, this study could prove particularly beneficial for trauma-informed mental health therapists who work with individuals in this population to improve help-seeking behaviors. Overall, the research findings lead to a more insightful understanding of the impact of unresolved trauma in the family systems of African American women to halt transgenerational trauma.