As our understanding of the function and treatment of psychological trauma develops, we as trauma therapists find ourselves pulling information from an increasingly wide scope of professional disciplines. In her book Understanding and Healing Emotional Trauma: Conversations with Pioneering Clinicians and Researchers, Daniela Sieff gives us an opportunity to get into the minds and hearts of leading practitioners and researchers in fields related to trauma. Her insightful questions illicit a depth of knowledge and reflection rare in traditional textbooks, offering the reader journeys into the evolving field of trauma treatment.
The conversational format of this book allows us to take a very personal feeling journey with Daniela and leaders in trauma treatment. These leaders include psychologists, anthropologists, biologists, scientists, writers, and scholars—across these disciplines and more. Whether she is inquiring about brain development, caregiving, attachment, or archetypes, she finds ways to orient this information in a way that is digestible, though the context is often, like trauma, overwhelmingly complex.emotion, thought, and being. These experiences, particularly when witnessed and reflected, become powerful avenues for healing. Tina’s voice was strong, and I would love to hear more body-based interviews and perspectives should there be future volumes or additions to this book.
Creating mental health involves building empathy, compassion, and neural integration, and Daniela’s questions offer the reader a clear understanding of how neural integration occurs and how it shapes our response to trauma.
Dan Siegel, who highlights the importance of mindfulness and explores the role of interpersonal neurobiology in his work, provides the reader with insights on the brain, its plasticity, and the importance of what he calls “mindsight,” or the capacity to empathize with what is going on in another’s mind. He points out that we as mental health practitioners need to understand function—that is, mental health and wellness—as well as problematic symptoms and treatment. He highlights that in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM) for mental health problems, all syndromes describe either excess rigidity or chaos, and that these two extremes also relate to the functions of the right and left brain. He holds that creating mental health involves building empathy, compassion, and neural integration, and Daniela’s questions offer the reader a clear understanding of how neural integration occurs and how it shapes our response to trauma.
Ellert Niejenhuis’s insights on dissociation offer a helpful perspective on one of the most complex and least integrated parts of trauma therapy: dissociative identity (DID). Having worked with many clinics and in group settings as a trauma therapist, I have found dissociation to be one of the least recognized aspects of diagnosis and treatment, and have experienced not only lack of education but resistance to using the diagnosis of DID. Hopefully, Ellert and Daniela’s conversation about emotional parts and integration of personality and experience helps therapists across settings become more familiar with this complicated aspect of our work.
Covering topics which are of increasing interest to the trauma treatment community (neuroscience, movement, shame, development, and dissociation), a book that could feel piecemeal given its structure ends up being surprisingly comprehensive. Like a lecture hall with guest speakers each week, this book offers a variety of perspectives that allow the reader to become more curious, to leave the experience with as many questions as answers, and to be initiated in, if one isn’t already there, an approach of lifelong learning of the subject of trauma.
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