I’ve recently been reading Judith Herman’s classic book Trauma and Recovery: The Aftermath of Violence – From Domestic Abuse to Political Terror. It has completely changed how I view the world of trauma as well as the therapist’s role in healing the trauma. As a clinician, I hear of the struggle people have to move past the violence that has impacted their lives. I carry awful stories, but I didn’t have to live those stories. My clients did.
One of the most important and disturbing parts of Dr. Herman’s book was how limited the research had been (and to some degree continues to be). The first half of this book explores the theory behind abuse and reviews the research that had been done up to 1992 when this book was first published. Like Herman, I was shocked to see how much of the literature focused on the characteristics of the victim of abuse, rather than on the perpetrator. Hotaling and Sugarman (1986) said it best: “The search for characteristics of women that contribute to their own victimization is futile . . . It is sometimes forgotten that men’s violence is men’s behavior. As such, it is not surprising that the more fruitful efforts to explain this behavior have focused on male characteristics. What is surprising is the enormous effort to explain male behavior by examining characteristics of women.” This was among the many quotes, stories and insights this book provided that not only helped me but I believe would be so helpful to clients. Unfortunately, this book is inappropriate for clients in so many other ways. The stories it includes from survivors of trauma, which are so helpful for clinicians, could be truly damaging for someone in the midst of trying to find their own way through trauma. Also, the second half of the book, focused on the recovery process, while useful for clients is probably of most use to a clinician who would understand how to apply the concepts to each individual.
So, I highly recommend this book for any clinician, whether you specialize in trauma or not. But I would urge extreme caution in recommending this book to a client. The insights a therapist could gain from this book are invaluable. You will learn something that will make you a better helper for your clients who have experienced trauma.