If your work is about helping other humans to heal, the relationship between trauma and the body will show up in your practice. It might be named as ‘trauma’ by your clients. It might not. The language matters less than recognising that we all store the effects of difficult experiences in our bodies. Especially if those experiences were overwhelming, or if there wasn’t the opportunity to process the experience safely afterwards.
These 7 books offer a great introduction to the ways our bodies register trauma and stress, and the possibilities of healing through compassion and connection.
1. When The Body Says No: The Cost of Hidden Stress
By Gabor Mate
If you’re intrigued by the many ways we hold our life experiences in our bodies, and how this might translate into physical illness, this book does an exceptional job of exploring the topic through a blend of case studies and stories, medical research and the author’s experience as a family doctor.
While looking at the role different personality types might have on the development of specific health issues, Gabor Mate takes care not to suggest that anyone is to blame for their own illnesses. It’s a fine line to walk when encouraging self-responsibility as a path to healing, but I found his approach to be overwhelmingly compassionate. There’s a clear message here about how our ability to express emotions and to accept ourselves can change the course of our lives and our health trajectories.
2. The Body Keeps The Score: Brain, Mind and Body in the Healing of Trauma
By Bessel van der Kolk
Bessel van der Kolk explores the effects of traumatic experiences on our minds, brains and bodies, with a focus on understanding the role of disconnection (and connection) in how we process trauma and recover from it.
Not a light read but a compelling one, and if you’re interested in the physiology and neuroscience of trauma and the body, as well as the reasons why certain therapeutic approaches are so effective in working with it, this should be on your list.
3. What Happened to You? Conversations on Trauma, Resilience, and Healing
By Dr Bruce D. Perry & Oprah Winfrey
Whether or not you work specifically with trauma, understanding its effects and the essential elements of healing and recovery will always contribute to the space you hold for your clients.
What Happened to You? is written by Dr Bruce Perry (neuroscientist and expert in childhood trauma) and Oprah Winfrey, with empathy, clear-sightedness and storytelling. Highly recommended for students and practitioners of manual therapies, talking therapies, or any work that helps humans to heal. It asks the question: how does the possibility of healing change when we shift away from questions like ‘What’s wrong with you?’ towards asking ‘What happened to you?’
4. My Grandmother’s Hands: Racialized Trauma and the Pathway to Mending our Hearts and Bodies
By Resmaa Menakem
Resmaa Menakem is a therapist with a background in social work, specialising in trauma, body-centred psychotherapy and violence prevention, and in this book he traces the effects of white supremacy on all of our bodies and psyches.
My Grandmother’s Hands takes you on a historical journey, and brings in decades of trauma psychology and research. Very readable and written with warmth and insight, it’s a much needed and hopeful book, particularly in its focus on collective trauma. As Menakem writes, “our approaches for mending must be collective and communal as well.”
5. The Myth of Normal: Trauma, Illness and Healing in a Toxic Culture
By Gabor Mate
A solid and groundbreaking critique of the ways our culture actually creates illness and trauma, and a dismantling of the myths we’ve been taught about what ‘normal’ means.
This is such a life-affirming, compassionate and ultimately hopeful approach, that’s relevant to everyone – particularly if your work is about helping people to heal, and to be more fully themselves.
6. The Body Never Lies: The Lingering Effects of Hurtful Parenting
By Alice Miller
One of the most important books written about the effects on adult health of powerlessness and abuse in childhood. Here, Alice Miller shows the link between certain approaches to childrearing, a diminishment of dignity and the resulting relationship between trauma and the body. And how, when denied and suppressed, this can lead to a lifetime of illness and struggle.
This is a truly compassionate book that shows how honouring the ‘truth’ of our feelings and lived experience is a path to healing and transformation, and the way to stop this cycle being passed onto future generations.
7. The Pocket Guide to The Polyvagal Theory: The Transformative Power of Feeling Safe
By Stephen Porges
Stephen Porges writes that “the safety is the treatment.” In other words, that “safety is defined by feeling safe and not simply by the removal of threat”.
Particularly relevant for therapists who want to understand how our nervous systems register ‘cues of safety’ in our surroundings, in facial expressions, in tones of voice, in bodily sensations. An essential read in support of creating a greater sense of safety, mutuality and belonging within your clinical practice.