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Narrative Matters: ‘Encanto’ and intergenerational trauma

Sydney Conroy

Why did we do this research?

As the world contends with a global pandemic that has brought psychotherapy – among other activities – online, Sydney has experienced the mental health care system responding as best as possible to public safety measures. Instead of face-to-face play therapy sessions like she was accustomed to, she learned to navigate phone calls with children and eventually transitioned to virtual play sessions during lockdowns. The logging on and logging off conversations with her play therapy clients during this time frequently turned to TV shows, TikToks, and other forms of media that children were consuming and wanting to share with her.

This planted a seed of thought about how to incorporate the media that children and youth already consume, and find valuable, into the therapeutic healing space. That would eventually cumulate into the following research paper upon watching Encanto.


How did we do it?

First, Sydney watched and rewatched Encanto (with some tears and some dancing, but always captivated). Secondly, an analysis was conducted. This included exploring the characters in depth and connecting them and the film’s narrative to a couple of established concepts in psychology.

Characters were connected to patterns of behaviour and archetypes that have been studied and seen in families who have experienced intergenerational trauma. The narrative of the film was explored through a concept called family scripts. Sydney also examined foundational studies on intergenerational trauma and historical trauma to ground the paper in the work that was done before her, and that allowed for this analysis to come about.


What did we find?

There are identifiable themes and concepts within Encanto that can be used by therapists (play therapists and others!) with families who are experiencing intergenerational effects of trauma. Sydney explores other films which can be used similarly by therapists, such as Inside Out and Coco, for teaching emotions and processing grief respectively.

Suggestions from the paper range from in-person to virtual strategies in hopes of encompassing the different way mental health providers are now providing care. These include having representations of characters inside therapy play rooms (e.g. a plushy or action figure), incorporating songs or clips in a session if a child identifies with a meaningful film, or encouraging family viewings of relevant films like Encanto. 


To find out more about Sydney’s study, browse our resources below.


Research paper

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