In Review: ‘Understanding and Healing Emotional Trauma’

Woman practicing yogaAs 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.

As a yoga teacher, I particularly appreciated the interview with Tina Stromstred, who discusses the process of integrating body movement into trauma healing. Tina explores how the body and its reactions, impulses, and desires give us information, and that in being witnessed in our body’s natural impulse to move (as opposed to imposing a structure of movement onto the body), we are able to explore patterns of 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.

© Copyright 2015 All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Lisa Danylchuk, EdM, LMFT, E-RYT, Topic Expert

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • nia

    April 29th, 2015 at 8:32 AM

    Sounds like this could be a very useful resource for anyone to go to when trauma has been a part of their lives and yet they are now trying to overcome that.

  • Lisa

    April 29th, 2015 at 11:32 AM

    Yes, Nia. It is a rich and wonderful resource!

  • Tiffany

    April 29th, 2015 at 1:28 PM

    Reading material like this that is made informative and enjoyable but is actually very deep, those are the things that I like to really delve into. I am always looking for new ways to add more meaning to my own life and to be prepared for anyone who needs me, and I think that having an understanding of complex trauma and what it does to the body could be a really big help.

  • Mae

    April 30th, 2015 at 12:44 PM

    When something is written in this type of format I think that the author stands a far better chance of reaching those who may otherwise not wish to peruse a textbook on the issue.
    I think that when things are written in a way that so many more people can understand and enjoy, then you are really onto something.
    This is going to give meaning to this for so many more people and may help those in need actually get some help because now they have a better understanding of what it is that they are experiencing and feeling.

  • Mike

    April 30th, 2015 at 6:06 PM

    As a long practicing psychologist, I continue to marvel at the good work Lisa does and the ways she teaches therapists and clientele how to live in their bodies.

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