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.