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Trauma and Recovery by Judith Herman

Trauma and Recovery - Judith Lewis Herman

I read this for work purposes and found it a helpful and thought-provoking resource, a book I’ll likely want to refer to again in the future. First published in 1992, this was apparently a ground-breaking work, but while there’s been plenty of research into trauma since then (if you can recommend a good follow-up to this one, please let me know!), it has stood the test of time so far. Certainly it rings true to my experience.


As you would expect from the title, the primary focus of the book is on describing the effects and symptoms of psychological trauma, and the stages of a successful recovery. It can at times be tough reading emotionally, even though it’s not a book focused on case studies or anecdotes (indeed, my only quibble with the book is that I would’ve liked to see the specific cases, set off in short blockquotes, expanded and integrated more into the book). But the educated reader will find it accessible; this is an academic book, but of the best kind, written in clear and engaging language. It would make worthwhile reading not just for therapists and students, but also for trauma survivors, their loved ones, and other professionals. The author sees the big picture – only a small part of the book is geared specifically to therapists – and I found that very helpful in providing a framework for understanding things I have seen and heard from various people.


Another aspect of this book that bears mentioning, and which I appreciate, is Dr. Herman’s unabashedly feminist perspective. The book addresses and draws on research from many sources of trauma, from combat to concentration camps, but the author’s experience seems to be primarily with survivors of sexual abuse in childhood, and it is the unfortunately more everyday sorts of trauma that the book comes back to. She makes no bones about the fact that recognizing trauma brought on by rape, domestic violence, or child sex abuse is political; admitting that these things happen, primarily to women and girls and in large numbers, and that those experiences matter, that it is serious, is political. And that affects everyone involved.


At any rate, this is an excellent book, very informative and thorough. Reading it gave me a better understanding of people I work with and made me think about areas where I might do better. Now, off to apply this knowledge without overstepping and pretending to be a therapist (which I definitely am not!).