Here is a small selection of books from Mary's bookshelf that she enjoys to read, and that are relevant to Lazarus Heart
The Courage To Heal
Ellen Bass and Laura Davis
My Fathers House
Mary's top three books about complex PTSD
Post-traumatic stress disorder occurs on a continuum of severity. For instance, I was in a car accident in my late twenties; I was mildly injured, but the experience was terrifying. I didn’t drive a car for five years, and even as a passenger I would scream and clutch the door handle if startled. This was a case of PTSD, but it didn’t affect the rest of my life or alter my personality. Eventually, the anxiety faded on its own, and I can drive a car just fine today.
However, along that continuum a tipping point occurs. There are types and degrees of traumatic experiences which cause a different level of PTSD: the symptoms of hyperarousal, intrusion, and restriction are much more severe, and symptoms occur which only happen at this level and which can affect a person’s ability to perceive reality, control their body, and trust their senses and thoughts.
In the decade after the Vietnam war, PTSD became an important subject as soldiers returned with severe psychological damage related to their experiences. Then psychologists began to notice that other people had the same symptoms. What they all had in common was a history of prolonged, severe, and inescapable trauma. The symptoms they shared, and which differentiated them from “normal” PTSD victims became known as complex PTSD.
Trauma and Recovery
Dr. Judith Lewis Herman’s book Trauma and Recovery, published in 1992, became the Bible for complex post-traumatic stress disorder. In it, Dr. Lewis provides the background for PTSD as a concept, and describes its development and symptoms. Then she introduces complex PTSD, and its causes and symptomatology, as its own entity. She describes each symptom, how it happens and how it affects the person, and provides examples which really clarify her descriptions. She also describes the stages of complex PTSD - emergence, healing, and reentry – with information about how to recognize and deal with each stage.
Dr. Herman organizes her ideas clearly and with specificity. It is not an easy read – she is an academic – but it is a necessary and extremely rewarding book. And it is not a dry read, either; while it is objective in its style of writing, you sense a deep, fierce compassion underlying the text. After twenty-six years, Trauma and Recovery is still the gold standard for describing the process of complex PTSD.
The Body Keeps The Score
Bessel Van Der Kolk
Dr. Bessel Van Der Kolk is another pioneer in the study of complex PTSD, but until now he has published primarily in scientific journals. It surprised me that The Body Keeps the Score, published in 2014, was actually his first book for general consumption. It is an exploration of how complex PTSD is developed neurologically as well as psychologically, and how these insights can provide pathways to help the healing process.
If that description scares you off, think again. It is a very readable book. Dr Van Der Kolk uses his own experiences and curiosity regarding PTSD to engage the reader, and he explains his concepts with simplicity and some humour. (For instance, the Default State Network, the parts pf the brain which work when you aren’t thinking about anything, is called the “Mohawk of self-awareness” because it runs up the midline of the brain.) He has been involved in many studies on PTSD, and he has the explorer’s sense of excitement; he will pose a question, explain how a study was set up, step by step, and reveal the findings with the aplomb of Hercule Poirot at the end of an Agatha Christie novel.
I think I was able to enjoy this book because I had already read Trauma and Recovery, along with countless other books on complex PTSD, and could recognize the processes and symptoms he was describing; it was remarkable to see how the brain, mind, and body were creating these symptoms. The book is not a first step in learning about PTSD, but it provides a fascinating insight into the disorder.
Too Scared To Cry
When a busload of children in Chowchilla were kidnapped and buried alive for three days in 1976, Dr. Lenore Terr, a child psychiatrist, helped provide treatment to the victims. She saw an opportunity to study the process of childhood trauma by following this group of children for five years, interviewing them at regular periods and even including a “control group” of non-traumatized local children. The results of this unique study were remarkable, showing differences between children and adults, and between children of different ages, in dealing with traumatic events.
While this study is the backbone for Too Scared to Cry, Dr. Terr uses other examples from her years of practice to illustrate some ideas, and to compare the processing of single-event traumas with long-term abuse. She discusses her results pragmatically and with a focus on their use in therapy. I found some remarkable information in this book which I haven’t seen anywhere else.
Dr. Terr softens the material with a conversational style which I enjoyed. She also introduces several children and then reintroduces them throughout the book, showing the interaction between types of trauma symptoms in the same child. It was a very effective strategy which, again, I hadn’t seen before in quite this way.
This is another book which is best read after you have a basic understanding of PTSD. However, it is probably the most casually readable of my best books on complex PTSD.