I keep many books on Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder in my office. Somehow, they provide me comfort, especially on days when a traumatic memory pops up out of the blue, or something triggers reminders of a violent event in my past.
When those moments come, I blindly open a book, and inevitably I’ll find a passage that is fitting to my state of mind.
Judith Herman’s book Trauma and Recovery: The Aftermath of Violence—from Domestic Abuse to Political Terror is one of my favorites, and is a classic work on trauma. I’m sharing here a review I wrote and posted on Amazon.com some time ago.
While Herman’s book is pretty academic reading, I believe there is some nugget of knowledge or wisdom there for any trauma survivor. I learned a tremendous amount upon the first reading, and I continue to learn more upon subsequent readings.
Trauma and Recovery: The Aftermath of Violence—from Domestic Abuse to Political Terror—by Judith Herman
The testimony of trauma survivors is at the heart of Herman’s book. A Professor of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, she spent two decades of research with victims of sexual, domestic, and various other types of trauma.
Her work also reflects a growing body of experience with traumatized combat veterans and victims of political terror. Herman asserts that traumatic syndromes have basic features in common, and the recovery process also follows a common pathway.
The fundamental stages of recovery are:
- Establishing safety.
- Reconstructing the trauma story.
- Restoring the connection between survivors and their community.
On p.244, Herman points out that the subordination of women and children has been so deeply embedded in our culture that the use of force against them, has only recently been recognized as a violation of basic human rights.
Plus battering, stalking, sexual harassment, and acquaintance rape were not even named, or understood to be crimes until they were defined by the feminist movement.
In this compelling work, Herman illustrates the worlds of war veterans, prisoners of war, battered women, rape and incest victims. On the aspect of recovery from traumatic events, Herman further states that recovery unfolds in three stages:
- First Stage—Establishment of Safety
- Second Stage—Remembrance and Mourning
- Third Stage—Reconnection with Ordinary Life
She also notes that these stages are an abstract concept, not to be taken literally, for they are an attempt to impose simplicity and order on a process that is turbulent and complex. For there is no magic bullet for recovery from the traumatic syndromes.
It is hard to sum up the stunning breadth of Herman’s work. Suffice it to say, that this book is a powerful tool for understanding the effect of trauma on human beings, and it can be immensely helpful for the healing process for all victims of trauma.
This should be required reading for our policymakers. It’s a must read for returning war veterans and their families, to help them in their readjustment process. The book also has an extensive, helpful index. Very highly recommended!
It’s available on many book sites, as well as Amazon.