Book Review: Waking the Tiger

by Peter Levine Published by North Atlantic Books 
(ISBN 1-55643-233-X)


This is a long awaited and much needed book about healing trauma. Peter
 Levine has a doctorate in both medical physics and psychology, and his 
life’s work has been in the understanding and healing of trauma in all its 
forms. This book holds out both great hope and practical assistance. It 
maintains that not only can trauma be healed but that it can be
 transformative. Traditionally, trauma is regarded as a psychological and 
medical disorder of the mind. I wholeheartedly agree with Levine when he 
says that “the practice of modern medicine and psychology, while giving
 lip service to a connection between mind and body, greatly underestimates 
the deep relationship that they have in the healing of trauma.” We need to
 understand how the body is affected by trauma and its central position in
 healing its aftermath. In order really to understand and heal trauma, we 
need to access the body and mind together as a unit. Peter Levine has 
developed such an approach which he calls Somatic Experiencing.

The book has four sections: The Body as Healer, Symptoms of Trauma,
 Transformation and Renegotiation, and First Aid for Trauma. Section One
 looks at the innate wisdom to heal that we all have, and weaves it into a 
coherent whole. Peter Levine learned a great deal from studying wild 
animals and the question is asked as to why they are rarely traumatised. You 
will emerge from this section with a fuller sense of how your organism
 operates.

There are useful exercises that will help you begin to know the felt sense 
through your own experience. Section Two presents a more in depth
 account of the core elements of a traumatic reaction and the reality a
 traumatised person lives with. Section Three describes the process by
 which we can transform our traumas, whether they be personal or social. 
Section Four provides practical information to help prevent trauma from
 developing after an accident.

This is a book about shock trauma which occurs when we experience 
potentially life-threatening events that overwhelm our capacities to
 respond effectively. Levine distinguishes between this and developmental 
trauma. He hopes that the information in this book will introduce new 
possibilities for healing trauma. His experience has been that many of the
 currently popular approaches to healing trauma provide only temporary 
relief at best. He believes that body sensation, rather than intense emotion,
 is the key to healing trauma.

We all need to understand the information in this book. It is important at 
both personal and societal levels. As the author says, “Trauma can be self-
perpetuating. Trauma begets trauma and will continue to do so eventually 
crossing generations in families, communities and countries until we take 
steps to contain its propagation. At the moment, the work of transforming
 trauma within groups of people is still in its infancy.”

Levine claims that traumatic symptoms stem from the frozen residue of
 energy that has not been discharged after the traumatic event. This residue
 remains trapped in the nervous system where it can wreak havoc on our 
bodies and spirits. This residual energy persists in the body often causing a 
wide variety of symptoms e.g. anxiety, depression and psychosomatic and
 behavioural problems. These symptoms are the organism’s way of 
containing the undischarged residual energy.We need to learn how to 
complete the process of moving in, through and out of the immobility or
 freezing state. This book gives us tools to do that.

The message and tone of the book is hopeful, believing that we humans 
have the innate capacity not only to heal ourselves, but our world, from the 
debilitating effects of trauma.

Anne Gill