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Exploring ‘Encanto’ and intergenerational trauma

Sydney Conroy (PEDAL PhD Student)

A new research paper published by PEDAL PhD student Sydney Conroy, entitled ‘Narrative Matters: Encanto and intergenerational trauma’, suggests that engaging with popular children’s films might be the key to unlocking conversations around intergenerational trauma with young people and their families.

In her analysis of the 2021 Disney hit, Conroy highlights that the relationship between protagonist Mirabel and her ostracised uncle Bruno is especially useful for demonstrating a key consequence of trauma experienced over multiple generations: the production of ‘family scripts’. A psychological concept, family scripts are the often-distorted stories which families who have experienced trauma create to project a certain image of themselves to others. In Encanto, Conroy explains, the Madrigals are focused on displaying their strength and maintaining their status of the perfect leaders of their community – even as physical and figurative cracks begin to show in this façade. Being able to see a family dynamic which is similar to their own represented on screen, this research suggests, could have significant therapeutic benefits for children who have experienced intergenerational trauma themselves.

In conversation with Nicola Woolcock at The Times, Conroy adds: “Mental health care needs to meet children and families where they are at.” Encanto and its peers, such as Inside Out (2015) and Coco (2018), she explains, can act as meaningful starting points for developing children’s emotional literacy – by providing them with the language to communicate how they are feeling. Moreover, having families watch clips or songs from the film together can be a useful tool for raising awareness of concepts like intergenerational trauma and family scripts among affected families.

This paper forms part of the author’s wider doctoral research into play therapists’ experiences and perceptions of children’s wellbeing during the COVID-19 pandemic, and pinpoints ‘cinematherapy’ as one possible approach to providing effective mental health care in an increasingly digital landscape.


To find out more about this paper visit the links below.

Research paper

Read our open-access research paper published in Child and Adolescent Mental Health.

Kids should talk about Bruno | Faculty of Education

Read more about the impact of this research paper on the Faculty of Education website.