A slightly unusual twist for the blog today. I thought I would review two books that I have read recently and found really insightful. One tackles the subject of trauma in humans and the other looks at how we can”rewire” our brain to change unhelpful patterns. The books are available in paperback from the usual sources. I’ve also popped a link in both cases to the authors’ websites.
Trauma is really strange – Steve Haines
With art by Sophie Standing
Published by Singing Dragon
I’m really interested in the subject of trauma and how this manifests in humans. I’m starting to realise how common it is. I suspect it often lies at the root of many of the emotional difficulties and chronic illnesses that I see amongst my patients in general practice. Traumatic experiences are really common in human life and they affect all of us differently. Some people will go on to experience ongoing problems (such as chronic stress, dissociation and flashbacks) as a result of their experiences. We know that people can recover from this and I’m always interested in tools and methods that enable people to get better.
This book is fantastic tool for change. It’s pretty short (32 pages) and is written in an illustrated comic book style with the pictures illustrated by text. First of all Steve explains what trauma is and the ways it manifests. He talks about the neuroscience, what actually happens in our brains when we experience trauma and draws parallels with the animal kingdom. This is important as the parts of our brains involved in trauma are parts we share with other mammals. Noticing how such animals react to trauma allows us to understand why we react the way we do and helps us to feel less confused and more empowered. The text is referenced throughout to the work of other trauma pioneers such as Dr. Bessel van der Kolk and Dr. David Berceli.
The remainder of the book is dedicated to healing trauma. It provides exercises and simple techniques to help people reconnect with their bodies and ultimately master and heal from their experience. There is a really succinct and clever acronym to do this, which I can’t tell you (you’ll have to buy the book!) but it’s really effective and I’m sure will benefit scores of people. The incorporation of pictures with text – “a picture paints a thousand words” is also a really useful feature of this book.
The book has a pretty broad appeal and I’d recommend it to those suffering the effects of trauma who want to recover. It’s also useful for families who want to help their loved ones and therapists looking for a fresh way to explain these concepts to clients.
Rewire – Change Your Brain to:
Break Bad Habits
Conquer Self Destructive Behaviour
Richard O’Connor PhD
Published by Penguin Books
This is a longer book (259 pages) and is a really comprehensive work on the subject of retraining the human brain. I found it particularly exciting as I can remember finishing medical school and having very little concept of how malleable and changeable our brain really is. With the advent of Functional MRI, we are able to see what is happening in our brains when we have difficult experiences and we are learning that we can retrain the brain (at any age) so that it works more effectively.
Dr O’Connor is a practicing psychotherapist in Connecticut and New York. He explains that we tend to get in our own way as humans. We ditch the diet, return to unhelpful relationships and indulge in all sorts of addictive behaviour. In this book we learn that we have two aspects to our brain. One that is thoughtful and conscious and makes deliberate decisions and the other that is automatic and operates below our awareness. Rewire offers a “roadmap” to help us to retrain the automatic brain.
Over thirteen chapters, we visit (as a small taster) the experiences of anxiety, depression, self-destructive behaviour and that mysterious force, which the author names the “undertow” that can sabotage our efforts to change just as we start to make progress. We start to see that the struggles that we face are a universal human experience and not the result of “brokenness” or unchangable character flaws. Each chapter has a number of practical exercises which performed regularly and dilligently will help to rewire the brain for change. The exercises can either be performed individually or worked through in the context of a professional therapeutic relationship.
Again I’d recommed this book to anyone who wants to understand their brain better and make changes. It’s also a a helpful reference for therapists