"Trauma is a life-changing experience." Thus opens Beckner and Arden's Conquering Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. The symptoms of PTSD are abundant--painful memories that crop up unannounced and interject themselves into everyday life, nightmares that frustrate the sleep so crucial to healing, hypervigilance, avoidance, physical ailments, depression, emotional numbing; the list goes on and on. Trauma alters one's fundamental sense of self, one's trust in the world, and one's mode of relating to others.
For these very reasons, the most notable symptom of PTSD is avoidance of the social world and encounters with other people, because the world is experienced as a chaotic reality and being "out there" in it, where dangers constantly lurk and trauma can reoccur at any moment, leaves the sufferer of PTSD feeling unprotected, exposed, vulnerable--naked to a threatening world. The very symptoms of the disease weigh against the possibility of the sufferer seeking professional help or the support of her broader social environment.
This explains why Beckner and Arden's book is such an important contribution to the sufferer's library. The book targets the PTSD sufferer herself, rather than the professional community that would be happy to treat her if they could get her into their offices. Conquering PTSD comprises an organic program of practical self-help techniques that the individual can practice on her own to build her confidence, extend her social world, free herself from the past, and start living life again.
The book opens with a comprehensive explanation of the disease, so that the sufferer may understand the physiological reasons that her panic continues to be triggered, long after the trauma has subsided. Detailed descriptions of the chains of causality that landed the sufferer in her present state can also help her to appreciate the reasonableness of her condition and foresee the possibility of her using her reason to escape from its lingering effects. Finally, the detailed, methodical, step-by-step program for overcoming PTSD offers a broad spectrum of practical strategies for overcoming PTSD's debilitating symptoms. The exercises draw from numerous traditions, the most obvious of which is the Buddhist traditions of mindfulness training and meditation.
Conquering PTSD is a valuable self-help book for sufferers of the disease, designed to get them out of their houses to the family picnic, and ultimately to the therapist's office. However, looked at more broadly, who among us has never experienced trauma? This book can serve every reader in helping her to put her past into a healthy perspective, to broaden her social horizons, and to learn to embrace the various aspects of her life, agreeable and disagreeable, within the broader framework of loving kindness for self and compassion for others.
© 2009 Wendy C. Hamblet
Wendy C. Hamblet, Ph.D., SAC (Dip.), North Carolina A&T State University