Judith Lewis Herman: Trauma Recovery Therapist

Trauma and Recovery: The Aftermath of Violence – From Domestic Abuse to Political Terror

Review of her book from Amazon:  “When Trauma and Recovery was first published in 1992, it was hailed as a groundbreaking work. In the intervening years, it has become the basic text for understanding trauma survivors. By placing individual experience in a broader political frame, Judith Herman argues that psychological trauma can be understood only in a social context. Drawing on her own research on incest, as well as on a vast literature on combat veterans and victims of political terror, she shows surprising parallels between private horrors like child abuse and public horrors like war. A new epilogue reviews what has changed–and what has not changed–over two decades. Trauma and Recovery is essential reading for anyone who seeks to understand how we heal and are healed.”

Quotes from her work:

1.“Many abused children cling to the hope that growing up will bring escape and freedom.

But the personality formed in the environment of coercive control is not well adapted to adult life. The survivor is left with fundamental problems in basic trust, autonomy, and initiative. She approaches the task of early adulthood――establishing independence and intimacy――burdened by major impairments in self-care, in cognition and in memory, in identity, and in the capacity to form stable relationships.

She is still a prisoner of her childhood; attempting to create a new life, she reencounters the trauma.”

2. “Traumatic events destroy the sustaining bonds between individual and community. Those who have survived learn that their sense of self, of worth, of humanity, depends upon a feeling of connection with others. The solidarity of a group provides the strongest protection against terror and despair, and the strongest antidote to traumatic experience. Trauma isolates; the group re-creates a sense of belonging. Trauma shames and stigmatizes; the group bears witness and affirms. Trauma degrades the victim; the group exalts her. Trauma dehumanizes the victim; the group restores her humanity.

Repeatedly in the testimony of survivors there comes a moment when a sense of connection is restored by another person’s unaffected display of generosity. Something in herself that the victim believes to be irretrievably destroyed—faith, decency, courage—is reawakened by an example of common altruism. Mirrored in the actions of others, the survivor recognizes and reclaims a lost part of herself. At that moment, the survivor begins to rejoin the human commonality…”

3. “…repeated trauma in childhood forms and deforms the personality. The child trapped in an abusive environment is faced with formidable tasks of adaptation. She must find a way to preserve a sense of trust in people who are untrustworthy, safety in a situation that is unsafe, control in a situation that is terrifyingly unpredictable, power in a situation of helplessness. Unable to care for or protect herself, she must compensate for the failures of adult care and protection with the only means at her disposal, an immature system of psychological defenses.”

4. “The legal system is designed to protect men from the superior power of the state but not to protect women or children from the superior power of men. It therefore provides strong guarantees for the rights of the accused but essentially no guarantees for the rights of the victim. If one set out by design to devise a system for provoking intrusive post-traumatic symptoms, one could not do better than a court of law.”

5. “Recovery unfolds in three stages. The central task of the first stage is the establishment of safety. The central task of the second stage is remembrance and mourning. The central focus of the third stage is reconnection with ordinary life.”

6. “Recovery can take place only within the context of relationships; it cannot occur in isolation.  In her renewed connection with other people, the survivor re-creates the psychological facilities that were damaged or deformed by the traumatic experience. These faculties include the basic operations of trust, autonomy, initiative, competence, identity, and intimacy.

Just as these capabilities are formed in relationships with other people, they must be reformed in such relationships.

The first principle of recovery is empowerment of the survivor. She must be the author and arbiter of her own recovery. Others may offer advice, support, assistance, affection, and care, but not cure.

Many benevolent and well-intentioned attempts to assist the survivor founder because this basic principle of empowerment is not observed. No intervention that takes power away from the survivor can possibly foster her recovery, no matter how much it appears to be in her immediate best interest.”

7. “The traumatized person is often relieved simply to learn the true name of her condition. By ascertaining her diagnosis, she begins the process of mastery. No longer imprisoned in the wordlessness of the trauma, she discovers that there is a language for her experience. She discovers that she is not alone; others have suffered in similar ways. She discovers further that she is not crazy; the traumatic syndromes are normal human responses to extreme circumstances. And she discovers, finally, that she is not doomed to suffer this condition indefinitely; she can expect to recover, as others have recovered…”

8. “As the survivor struggles with the tasks of adult life, the legacy of their childhood becomes increasingly burdensome. Eventually, often in the fourth or fifth decade of life, the defensive structure may begin to break down. Often the precipitant is a change in the equilibrium of close relationships: The failure of a marriage, the illness or death of a parent. The facade can hold no longer, and the underlying fragmentation becomes manifest. When and if a breakdown occurs, it can take symptomatic forms that mimic virtually every form of psychiatric disorder. Survivors fear that they are going insane or will have to die “    Judith Herman

Herman’s stages of recovery as summarized by Jim Hopper.

Herman’s Stages of Recovery

Trauma and Recovery Paperback

Trauma and Recovery: A Book Review

2 thoughts on “Judith Lewis Herman: Trauma Recovery Therapist

  1. Arthur Katz

    Hello:

    Perhaps you may be of assistance. I am writing on behalf of my dearest friend, Penny Beard, who is a survivor of sexual trauma at the hands of her biological father from the age of three until he passed away when she was fifteen. She has been diagnosed with C-PTSD and has attended the “Life Healing Center” in Santa Fe, NM. with excellent results.

    Presently, she’s undergoing EMDR therapy with a local psychoanalyst while working tirelessly with internet-based groups as she struggles toward a place of healing.

    Recently, a brief bout of self-destructive thinking landed her in a local hospital where for lack of better words, she left after a few days feeling, embittered, belittled, and in a state of wholesale frustration.

    If anything, this experience served to amplify her anger at the poor state of affairs in our county regarding the overall treatment of those mentally ill, and the almost complete lack of understanding of C-PTSD in particular.

    With that as a backdrop, she has made it her ultimate goal to see what could be done to both raise public awareness and to see C-PTSD listed as a distinct condition in the DSM. As I’m quite sure you’re aware, it’s this lack of distinction that at times makes it exceedingly difficult for survivors to receive any notable degree of cooperation form health insurers and proper treatment from the medical community at large.

    Ultimately, we are seeking a way in which we may be able to contact Dr. Judith Lewis Herman or anybody else that may be able to assist and/or advise in this quixotic goal.

    Thank you, and most sincerely:

    Arthur P. Katz

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