Using the Biopsychosocial Framework to Address the Ongoing Impacts of the Indian Residential School System and Colonization in Canadian Health Care Systems


  • Rebecca St. James Dalhousie University
  • Jocelyn Marie Paul Dalhousie University



residential schools, trauma, generations, Indigenous, health, social, attachment


Traumatic experiences during childhood can have significant, detrimental impacts on physical and mental health and negatively impact social functioning in adulthood. Such an understanding is imperative to providing adequate and well-informed health care to Indigenous populations residing on the land now called Canada. The Indian Residential School (IRS) system, which was in operation for over one hundred years, was one of the most violent colonial tactics implemented by Canada's federal government. This system was conceptualized to forcibly alienate Indigenous children from their families, communities, and culture to eradicate Indigenous culture and identity. Combined with witnessing violent acts perpetrated by colonizers against members of their community, the shared experience of being abducted from their families, and suffering physical, mental, emotional, and sexual abuse, led to widespread trauma amongst Indigenous people for generations. It is expected that such trauma has resulted in disruptions in attachment, social functioning and emotional development in individuals who survived the Indian Residential School system, thus potentially triggering a cascade of maladaptive, trauma-related behaviours through subsequent generations (termed intergenerational trauma). These writers recommend that healthcare providers consult a biopsychological framework when engaging with Indigenous individuals, especially Indian Residential School survivors and their relatives, as it emphasizes the multidirectional relationship between psychological, biological, and experiential factors implicated in an individual's well-being. Furthermore, such a framework may aid in contextualizing an individual's unique challenges within the broader scope of colonization.

Author Biographies

Rebecca St. James, Dalhousie University

Rebecca St. James is a fifth-year honours student in the department of Neuroscience and Psychology at Dalhousie University. Rebecca is currently working in the Early Environment, and Adult Resiliency Lab and will graduate in April 2023 with a Combined Honours in Neuroscience and Contemporary studies.

Jocelyn Marie Paul, Dalhousie University

Jocelyn Marie Paul is a Mi'kmaw graduate student in the Clinical Psychology program at Dalhousie University. She completed her Bachelor of Science (Honours Thesis and Major in Psychology & Minor in Biology) at Mount Saint Vincent University. She also completed a Master of Science in Psychiatry Research at Dalhousie University under the supervision of Dr. Amy Bombay. Jocelyn's research primarily focuses on risk and protective factors for Indigenous populations (e.g., First Nations youth living on reserves and in northern communities). She continues to work with several organizations and is working on projects that vary in design and methodology (e.g., qualitative projects with Indigenous moms and babies and quantitative projects with Indigenous post-secondary students). Jocelyn is eager to finish her program and start working as a community-based Clinical Psychologist in her home community, Membertou First Nation.


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