Written by Rae Johnson Reviewed by Nancy Eichhorn A story to start, to illustrate potent nuances that, without awareness, perpetuate inequality outside our conscious intentions. And to thank Dr. Johnson. Reading this book, I realized the subtle ways in which I have experienced being in a position of power and being overpowered. I understand what […]
I am a big fan of Rothschild. Her earlier book (2000) elevated awareness of the autonomic nervous system (ANS), the substrate of all health, in the psychotherapy world, and taught us to look for and precisely recognize ANS signals in order to appropriately support recovery from trauma. Her new book adds excellent additional detail, including a “six-categories-of-ANS” poster that can now be viewed on the wall of our classroom at CSES. The bulk of the book is about therapy insights, which I found to be excellent; my concerns were just in a few pages of her Chapter Two.
The problem for me starts with Rothschild’s description of Polyvagal Theory (PVT), which occupies two pages in the chapter. She summarizes PVT as being the discovery of the “ventral vagus” function as distinct from the previously-known “dorsal vagus” function, which is the foundation of the parasympathetic branch of the autonomic nervous system. Both down-regulate the heart, but in different ways. She states that calm states arise from the ventral branch, and that collapse states arise from the dorsal branch. This is not all wrong, but for a person of Rothschild’s immense professional stature, I was really hoping for more.
I am, admittedly and unabashedly, enthusiastic about Stephen Porges’ work. I’ve attended his workshops, learned his process for measuring heart rate variability as an indicator of vagal tone, interviewed him for several articles published in this magazine, and have read his books and articles. This review is clearly biased. And with that said, I will offer my honest opinions and not side step points that for some may or may not be considered 100 percent positive.
For those new to Porges’ work, he is noted as the originator of the Polyvagal Theory (PVT), which is his perspective of how our autonomic nervous system, dependent on phylogenetic transitions/shifts that occurred between reptiles and mammals, resulted in specific adaptations in vagal pathways regulating the heart, which in turn impact our lives.
Positive psychology is rooted in the idea that human beings want to thrive and engage in things that enrich their experiences and cultivate a meaningful life. In his 2014 book, Mindfulness and Character Strengths: A Practical Guide to Flourishing, author Ryan M. Niemiec discusses how practicing mindfulness can help individuals identify, understand, and apply their character strengths and create a pathway to a fulfilling life. He takes readers through Drs. Christopher Peterson and Martin Seligman’s program Mindfulness-Based Strengths Practice (MBSP), relays inspiring success stories about finding meaning via MBSP, provides useful handouts to guide readers through MBSP, and gives tips for practitioners such as how to apply MBSP to different settings and situations.
Mindfulness and Character Traits received praise for its revolutionary perspective. It reads like a self-help book, perfect for individuals who want to learn how to personally achieve mindfulness and discover their character strengths; however, it wasn’t written with the goal of teaching practitioners how to implement MBSP in their practice with their clients. With that in mind, Niemiec (2018) wrote his recently published book, Character Strength Interventions: A Field Guide for Practitioners for Practitioners. Additionally, he focuses more on the core of positive psychology, character strengths and less on how to achieve mindfulness. He educates the reader on the foundations of character strength interventions, relays evidence to support his claims about the usefulness of character strength interventions, and explains countless interventions step-by-step providing practitioners with a useful handbook.
Trauma is pervasive in our lives, from smaller situations that trigger feelings of inability and fear to larger catastrophes that render our entire being useless as we careen out of control. Be it a result of human inflicted acts of violence—war, terrorism, genocide— or the result of natural occurrences such as hurricanes, tsunamis, and wild fires that leave us feeling victimized, isolated, abandoned, people walk through their lives numb to their reality. Their senses are overwhelmed; scenes flash in as if happening now, not then. People exist in the past as if it is the present. And when these people become our clients, when in fact these people are in part, ourselves, we, as therapists, need to offer hope and possibility to move from then to now, to live a better quality of life than what we are experiencing in the current moment.
“This book proposes a new code for reading the body that allows us to discover the intelligent sense of difficulty and to understand why we are the person that we are. It is presented within narratives of life stories from group supervision sessions.
The body has sense because of the marks incised left from life’s experiences. It has sense in the highest and deepest meaning of the word because of its multi-sensorial intelligence that reads between the lines of communications and relationships, with the tastes and flavours, with visual and physical contact, with the tone of voice and the field atmospheres. “
Babies and children can often be our greatest teachers in life. They remind us of our deep human connection to each other and to the world. An Integrative Approach to Treating Babies and Children, edited by John Wilks, persuades us to listen to everyone’s own “baby history.”
In other words, Wilks has us look into the history of our birth in order to have a greater understanding of its effects on our adult life. Wilks suggests in the introduction that, “One of the major themes in this book is that it is much more important for us to create the right space in ourselves and in our clinic setting to work with babies rather than what we ‘do’ to a baby” (16).
For many it can be easy to harshly judge the person sitting on the street corner asking for change. Perhaps we might believe they are taking up too much sidewalk space or too much space in general. So, we step over them without stopping.
Psychoanalyst and poet, Merle Molofsky makes us stop before we judge. In this visceral piece of poetry, she asks important questions about psychoanalysis, life, death, sex, love and violence. Her exceptionally engrossing writing style takes us onto the streets and in the presence of her characters. As if we stand face-to-face with the burdens and torments of each person we encounter, we come to realize our own connections to it all. She delves into topics that are still relevant today including topics of greed, drug addiction, heartbreak, loneliness and feelings of hopelessness and depression.
Family life can be difficult; the interconnectedness of family can spark conflict that is hard to avoid. Family difficulties take many forms therefore there is no easy solution or magical fix for dysfunctional families. Family members can influence each other but can only control how they, as an individual, respond to the conflict. In his self-help book Overcoming Your Difficult Family: 8 Skills for Thriving in Any Family Situation, Eric Maisel presents eight skills anyone can acquire and utilize to help themselves through difficult familial circumstances, and in turn hopefully influence the whole family unit in a positive way.
“Writing has helped me heal. Writing has changed my life. Writing has saved my life.” These powerful first sentences of Louise DeSalvo’s Writing as a Way of Healing: How Telling Stories Transforms Our Lives immediately conveys the author’s strong belief in the curative power of writing. She posits that writing helps people recover from “thorny experiences” and can help heal those suffering from a variety of situations, from dislocation and violence to rape and racism (4). DeSalvo is a professor of English and Creative Writing at Hunter College and is the author of over a half dozen books, so her advice is rooted in her own personal experience using writing as an instrument of healing.