I first fanboy squealed on page 11, when Judith Lewis Herman created a connection between mental illness and feminism, two of my favorite topics. In the first third of Trauma and Recovery, Herman discusses the history of trauma and how trauma relates to many other concepts, such as politics and warfare. In contemporary society people insulate and isolate the topic of mental illness with alarming speed, so delving into its pervasiveness in all areas of life brought its magnitude back into focus. Depression, for example, is not just an illness that affects people because they might feel sad out of the blue: depression and its symptoms have a rich history and an unfortunate stake in several domains.
Herman also writes in-depth about trauma itself, which made me love Trauma and Recovery, even as it tore me apart. With fluid and poignant prose, she sets forth a tripartite recovery model: establishing a safe environment for the victim, unearthing the trauma and working through its emotional wounds, and moving forward to maintain a new post-trauma life that expands upon the experiences of the victim. As someone who has dealt with trauma and wants to one day work as a therapist, this book resonated with me more than any textbook or piece of nonfiction I’ve ever read. Herman explains concepts with confidence and clarity, and her guiding tone shows that she empathizes with victims and wishes to support them throughout the recovery process.
So many little things added to my affection for Herman’s most well-known work. As an English and Psychology double major, I felt joy every time she used books written by authors like Woolf and O’Brien to provide examples for psychological ideas. She drives home the idea that mental health and politics remain connected because mental health intrinsically relates to oppressed people and the blows they suffer. Herman ends the book by commenting on the influential role of therapists: not only do they help victims regain control of their lives, but they also act as witnesses to victims’ stories. They testify to the truth, and they fight for the clients they work it, no matter what the cost.
Overall, an inspiring and enlightening read. Trauma and Recovery was published quite awhile ago, which shows through its use of gender pronouns (men are also abused, and women serve in the armed forces as well) but the book still raises a wealth of information and understanding. It has revitalized my passion for psychology and the field of mental illness, and I’m certain I will revisit it in the future.