Post-traumatic stress disorder affects a wide range of individuals, from combat veterans and law enforcement to the survivors of sexual assault and childhood abuse. The disorder expresses itself in a variety of ways, including anxiety, depression, avoidance and anger. Just as no two people are completely alike, so it is with those dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Reasonably, then, we should not expect a one-size-fits-all approach to work for dealing with the effects of PTSD. Talk-therapy is a popular approach, but in her book, Mindfulness Skills for Trauma and PTSD, Rachel Goldsmith Turow introduces another.
Although it looks something like a textbook, Mindfulness Skills for Trauma and PTSD specifically targets trauma survivors as its intended audience and should prove to be a rich resource for those survivors interested in mindfulness. Turow has written a comprehensive text for readers looking for understanding, exercises and a new approach to dealing with the symptoms of PTSD. This is not to say the book would replace any other work being done with the assistance of professionals, rather, it seems a worthy supplement to the recovery process for trauma survivors of all backgrounds. Likewise, there is plenty here to learn for those working or studying in the field, as well as the friends and family of individuals with PTSD.
Appropriately, Turow begins Mindfulness Skills for Trauma and PTSD with the basic concepts of mindfulness, trauma and PTSD. She defines mindfulness simply as “paying attention to our experiences in this moment in a caring and curious way,” and establishes the core tenets of practicing mindfulness, including: attention, present-moment awareness, the beginner’s mind, nonjudgment, nonstriving and patience. While contemporary discourse has become somewhat oversaturated with writings about and guides to mindfulness, Turow addresses it in a distinct way here by focusing on its unique benefits for trauma survivors.
At the heart of Mindfulness Skills for Trauma and PTSD, readers will find the common theme of self-compassion. Turow explores this somewhat nebulous concept in Chapter 4, subtitled, “The Kind Witness Within.” Trauma victims, she notes, often mistake self-compassion for self-indulgence, but of course it is nothing of the kind.
“Self-compassion also reflects truly listening to everything that is occurring within us, as well as the genuine wish that the suffering be reduced,” she writes.
Like others, Turow argues that self-compassion involves being a sort of friend to one’s self, someone who regrets our pain and genuinely wishes for our recovery. This central concept may be one of the most challenging in Mindfulness Skills for Trauma and PTSD, but is arguably also one of the most necessary.
Turow builds the text from there, establishing some foundational skills, such as anchoring in the present moment, focusing on breathing, acknowledging thoughts without fixating on them, mindful walking, emotional recognition and more. These serve as the basis for later practices.
In Chapters the later chapters, she focuses the scope of her discussion by exploring specific concerns of those dealing with PTSD, including intrusive thoughts and traumatic memories, anxiety, avoidance, self-criticism, depression, numbing, dissociation and how PTSD affects relationships. Consequently, after reading the first few introductory chapters, readers can easily skip ahead to learn about strategies for dealing with their particular symptoms.
Within each chapter, readers will find not only useful discussions of different expressions of PTSD, but also firsthand accounts, research highlights, and, perhaps most beneficial, a series of exercises that deal specifically with the chapter’s subject. For example, in Chapter 7, “Forge Ahead Gently: Mindfulness Practices for Avoidance,” Turow includes several practices including: noting avoidance behaviors, self-compassion for avoidance, mindfulness in graded exposure and others. These exercises include lists with bullet points and charts for easy reference and understanding. Indeed, Mindfulness Skills for Trauma and PTSD as a whole is incredibly accessible, and includes a comprehensive reference section and index for more academically-minded readers.
Moreover, Turow makes a compelling argument. PTSD manifests in a number of ways and addressing it successfully requires diverse approaches. In the final chapter, “Beyond Trauma and PTSD: Posttraumatic Growth and Resilience,” she discusses the ways in which recovery is often nonlinear and leads to significant changes within individuals. In particular, overcoming PTSD may impact our levels of awareness, of ourselves, of our surroundings and of our relationships. That this not need be a negative change is a vital message, for survivors and their loved ones alike.
With mindfulness, those dealing with PTSD can observe their own responses and how they might change over time. This in its own way is potentially empowering, a necessary aspect of the recovery process.
Mindfulness Skills for Trauma and PTSD: Practices for Recovery and Resilience
Rachel Goldsmith Turow
432 pages, softcover