Trauma and Recovery - Judith Herman
I'm sure most mental health practitioners have books that fundamentally altered how they worked with the individuals. Trauma and Recovery, the aftermath of violence - from domestic to political terror, by Judith Herman, is definitely one of those books for me.
Herman writes eloquently about the impact that long term, sustained, interpersonal trauma can have not only on a person's mental health, but also on their physical. She writes how people who have experienced prolonged traumatic events no longer have any baseline sense of calmness or safety. Indeed, their bodies become a place of fear and/or agitation, with many individuals developing somatic symptoms such as insomnia, gastro-intestinal difficulties, somatic-pain.
This book really highlighted for me, the importance of seeing symptoms as a form of communication. For instance, the individual whom dissociates when we speak about their early life. This isn't an individual trying to be difficult or evade. This is an individual whom learnt from an early age that to survive their painful and traumatic experiences, that it was better to dissociate from what was happening around them, than remain in their body as this was simply too painful.
Another reason I love Herman's writing, as it resonates with my own love of anti-psychiatry. Her section on Diagnostic Mislabeling (p116), shows how clinicians have to monitor our own biases and assumptions when working with individuals, otherwise we risk blaming our clients for our own therapeutic failings.
This is a book that I know I will keep returning to time and again.