Book Review: Sanity, Madness and the Family – R. D. Laing & A. Esterson

Title:Sanity, Madness and the Family
Author:R. D. Laing and A. Esterson
Year:1964
Importance:5/5
Accessibility:4/5
Recommended:5/5

This book is one of the most eyeopening things I have ever read. It was written in 1976 and is just as relevant today. In fact, I can’t believed it’s been so overlooked.

It is based around 11 vivid case studies and transcripts from interviews with people who have been diagnosed with severe schizophrenia, and their families.

When viewed objectively like this, and through a trauma-informed lens, the power dynamics in these families is obviously unhealthy. It soon becomes clear that much of the behaviour labelled as symptoms of clinical schizophrenia can otherwise be explained in light of the family dynamics, and complex trauma, at play.

This book made me question the validity of all mental health labels, and even the construct of mental health itself. It’s clear to me that many behaviours which are otherwise labelled as mentally ill by our society can otherwise be explained by the emotional and familial systems individuals have grown up in, and the complex trauma they have experienced within these.

As more and more evidence begins to emerge about the effects of trauma on brain development, attachment, etc. especially within our formative early childhood years, we cannot keep ignoring the fact that maybe there is an answer to “mental health”, but it doesn’t lie within problem individuals. Labelling people with disorders whilst their trauma goes invalidated and unprocessed is not the way forward.

This book was written in 1976. It’s now 2021, we’ve created the fastest vaccine ever to cure a global pandemic, but we’re still treating people who’ve experienced trauma like there is something wrong with them. Come on science, sort it out.

Have you read this book too? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

Book Review: The Brain That Changes Itself – Norman Doidge

Title:The Brain That Changes Itself: Stories of Personal Triumph from the Frontiers of Brain Science
Author:Norman Doidge
Year:2007
Importance:5/5
Accessibility:5/5
Recommended:5/5

This is another of my very favourite books I read when I began learning about the brain and trauma.

Doidge uses inspiring evidence and examples of people overcoming debililtating conditions such as dyslexia, dementia and physical injury – all through the power of neuroscience, and creating new neural pathways.

An easily accessible introduction to neuroplasticity – the way our brains can continuously change and adapt – it gives lots of inspiring examples of how people have already used this knowledge to improve their lives.

It’s immediately obvious this is also empowering for those of us on our trauma healing journeys, as it compassionately shows us how we can heal. Combine it with epigenetics, and you suddenly have scientifically proven answers, and evidence to move forward. Reading this book really helped me see an evidence-based light at the end of the tunnel!

I recommend this book for anyone with an interest in mental or physical health, especially when in the context of overcoming debilitating challenges – both emotional and physical.

Have you read this book too? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

Book Review: Sextant – David Barrie

Title:Sextant: A Voyage Guided by the Stars and the Men Who Mapped the World’s Oceans
Author:David Barrie
Year:2014
Importance:5/5
Accessibility:4/5
Recommended:5/5

Now, I bet you weren’t expecting to find this book here amongst the rest. I read it during a tough point in my life, right when my complex childhood trauma was unravelling and I was reading a lot of trauma books. This was a much appreciated change in subject from the heavy trauma books I was reading at the time.

And it meant just as much to me as the other books I read on my healing journey.

‘Sextant’ talks all about the ocean explorers and adventurers of days gone by, and really opened my eyes to what we take for granted these days. I’m a keen sailor who has worked on traditional ships in the past, but I learned a lot of things I had no idea about in this book.

Did you realise that most ocean explorers didn’t even have an accurate clock or watch onboard their ship until relatively recently? And without knowing the time, it’s impossible to determine your accurate location. It’s nice to be reminded of how far we’ve come in society – and how far we still have to go.

Reading about the massive risks people took back then to advance human knowledge was incredibly inspiring. The risks might be different now, but they can feel just as scary. It gives me hope that we can do the same with changing our mental health system towards the trauma-informed approach we so desperately need.

This book also made me realise we are still living in bodies with nervous systems designed for these dangerous, survival-based kinds of situations, rather than the current ones many of us now face.

Our bodies weren’t built for Zoom calls and spending our lives alone inside central-heated houses. Technology has revolutionised developments in society over even just the last decade, but our brains developed over thousands of years to a completely different environment which was based around community, connection to the earth, survival mode, and living in the present moment.

Realising this can be empowering, allowing you to be more compassionate with your struggles. It’s not us that’s ‘broken’ – it’s the world around us, so out of tune with our innate connections to each other and nature around us, which we used to have in the times of the Sextant. Now it’s up to us to rediscover that and break the cycle of trauma so many of us face, and whose families have faced for generations.

Have you read this book too? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

Book Review: Field Guide to Lies and Statistics – Daniel Levitin

Title:A Field Guide to Lies and Statistics
Author:Daniel Levitin
Year:2014
Importance:4/5
Accessibility:4/5
Recommended:4/5

This book is a ‘popular science’ type read that you find in the non-fiction bestseller charts at airpots. That means it’s a pretty easy, entertaining read, and you’ll might learn a few things which make an impact.

Reading this helped me begin to be more critical of the things I am conditioned to believe as facts by science. It helped me see the mental health system in a different light, when I began to read academic papers and uncover the truth for myself about the different labels I’d been given.

One part of the book stood out for me amongst all others. Levitin uses an example of when we bump into somebody we know, seemingly out of pure coincidence, somewhere totally out of context. It feels like the chances of that happening were so small, we are both absolutely amazed to see each other there – “Wow! What are you doing here? What are the chances?!” Yet, it’s happened to all of us.

From a statistical point of view, yes, the chances of meeting that person in that spot at that exact time, are very small. But when you look at the bigger picture, the chances of meeting anybody that you’ve ever met before, in any location and at some point in time, are very high.

Reframing this was a big lightbulb moment for me.

I have since used it as a way to remind myself there might be another side to the statistic, a bigger picture we’re not seeing. And that big-picture thinking allowed me to see beyond the current mental health system which is failing and harming so many of us, and instead recognise complex trauma for what it is, something so big that it emcompasses every aspect of our lives, and needs a trauma-informed approach across the whole of society.

The chances of that positive change happening? 100% if it has anything to do with me!

Have you read this book too? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

Book Review: Why We Sleep – Matthew Walker

Title:Why We Sleep: The New Science of Sleep and Dreams
Author:Matthew Walker
Year:2018
Importance:5/5
Accessibility:4.5/5
Recommended:5/5

This is undoubtedly another book that everyone should read. Walker puts across a strong, evidence-based case for every adult to get their 7-9 hours’ sleep, every single night.

Blowing myths out of the water, such as the notion of being able to repay ‘sleep debts’ and allowing ourselves weekend lay-ins, this book makes us totally rethink our relationship with that other halves of our lives: sleep.

And it makes it impossible to ignore the case for getting enough sleep. The problems associated with not getting enough are truly tragic. If scientists could package up the positive benefits of 8 hours’ natural sleep per night and sell it in a pill, it would be the most miraculous drug ever sold. But it’s right there for the taking, every night, and still we deprive ourselves of it.

Whilst a must-read for everyone, this is especially fascinating if you struggle with sleep issues related to complex trauma. It might give you some reasons into your struggles, insights you never knew, and facts to discuss with your family & friends to help them prioritise their sleep, too.

It also makes you think about wider mental health issues: with insomnia producing symptoms similar to those diagnosed as schizophrenia, could curing trauma-related sleep issues also be at the bottom of many other mental health ‘illnesses’ professionals say we have? A controversial thought for some – let’s see how my brain processes that further whilst I sleep tonight!

Have you read this book too? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

Book Review: Trauma and Recovery, J. Herman

Title:Trauma and Recovery: The Aftermath of Violence – From Domestic Abuse to Political Terror
Author:Judith Herman
Year:2015
Importance:5/5
Accessibility:2/5
Recommended:4/5

Herman’s seminal book on psychological trauma and recovery from its grip was a hard read. It uses more academic language than Pete Walker’s easily accessible book, but turning every page was pretty much a lightbulb moment as I came to learn the neurological underpinnings to the struggles I’ve always had with my head.

Trauma is never a standalone issue, and to conquer it we will have to work together as society. Herman gives a great overview of psychodrama throughout history which helps us understand why trauma is still badly supported within mental health services.

If you can make it through to the end, Herman instead offers hope for a trauma-informed society with this very compassionate take on this often painful subject.

I would highly recommend this as one of the key reads about trauma, which is often referenced elsewhere, but it won’t be for everybody.

Have you read this book too? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

Book Review: Complex PTSD – Pete Walker

A must-read book about Complex PTSD, very accessible, and with practical advice. 🧠✨

Title:Complex PTSD: From Surviving To Thriving
Author:Pete Walker
Year:2013
Importance:5/5
Accessibility:5/5
Recommended:5/5

This was the first book I ever read which talked about complex PTSD and emotional flashbacks in such accessible and easy-to-understand terms. It changed my life. Everyone who has any interest or relationship with complex trauma should read this book. And if you can only read one book to start with, this is also a good one to go for.

There is a lot of scientifically validated information and research here. Walker, also with lived-experience of CPTSD, has presented and explained everything in a way which will finally give you some answers after a lifetime of searching.

The Americanism and sometimes under-par formatting lets it down a little, it’s no literary masterpiece and ‘which trauma type are you?’ style quiz can take the tone down a little, but the accessible context and delivery is life-changing.

In fact, this book inspired me to create the emotional flashback cards you can now download for free here. I asked Pete for his approval and he is very happy to support my work here. Thanks Pete! 🙏🏼

Have you read this book too? Share your thoughts in the comments below.