Not Oprah’s Book Club: Trauma Stewardship

I know a lot of our readers are folks in the helping professions, and even beyond that, a lot of us are exposed to trauma in our everyday lives. That’s why I wish I could buy and send a copy of Trauma Stewardship to every last one of you.
In short, it’s a brilliant description of what happens to our bodies, minds, and hearts when we are exposed to trauma on a fairly regular basis. Laura van Dernoot Lipsky, the lead author, does a masterful job of analyzing the sources of trauma–both personal, organizational, and societal. Unlike so many books about self-care or burn-out, this one doesn’t shy away from a systemic analysis because, as Lipsky writes, “Rooting our concept of trauma stewardship in a larger framework of systemic oppression and liberation theory is extremely important.” She goes on to talk about structural violence, which Paul Farmer says “is visited upon all those who social status denies them access to the fruits of scientific and social progress.” Indeed.
Lipsky then goes on to detail the 16 warning signs of “trauma exposure response,” and boy do a lot of these sound familiar (either personally or via friends): feeling helpless or hopeless, a sense that one can never do enough, diminished creativity, inability to embrace complexity etc. I found the latter especially interesting, as its description was coupled with a profile on the domestic violence movement and the way in which its pioneers didn’t anticipate how complicated criminalizing domestic violence would be in certain communities. She writes:

The movement to support women’s self-determination and end family violence started down the path to criminalization with the intention of seeking justice and creating a societal stake in women’s safety. By paying too little attention to the complexities of the issue, it found itself floundering in an ever-urgent, perpetual-crisis maelstrom of criminal legal response…As a result, the movement inadequately addressed the concerns most expressed by survivors–breaking isolation, building community support, meeting children’s needs, and fostering economic stability.

This the level of analysis you can expect from Trauma Stewardship from start to finish. With lived experience, cogent analysis, lots of profiles and examples, and so many practical suggestions, Lipsky has given the gift of healers, activists, and friends (which is all of us, right?) a huge gift.

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