Written by Courtney Armstrong
Reviewed by Akanksha Anand
Armstrong’s compassion and astuteness in Rethinking Trauma Treatment sets this scholastic work apart from the current literature on trauma treatment. Armstrong is a stellar writer, both in an academic and a narrative sense, educating the reader while simultaneously arousing feelings of empathy towards the individuals she describes. She presents essential facts in a comprehensive manner; because of her compendious writing style, readers can focus on the book’s content rather than thoughts wandering in their mind.
Armstrong effectively divided the book into three sections to parallel her three phases of trauma treatment. Phase I includes seven chapters covering what trauma is, how safety and hope can be instilled in the individual, and the therapist’s responsibilities in building the therapeutic alliance. The second section deals with Phase II (chapters 8-13): transforming traumatic memories. Armstrong discusses various types of trauma and how they can be effectively reframed. Resolving implicit memories, she writes, is key to reducing PTSD symptoms and triggers. The last section involves Phase III (chapters 14-16). The information illustrates how one can facilitate post traumatic growth. The chapters flow well into each other offering a smooth transition from the synthetization of one concept to the other. Armstrong also offers exercises for readers to try or for therapists to use with their clients. These exercises coach individuals into changing the state of their nervous system, whether it be in hypoarousal or hyperarousal, to one that feels more comfortable and fulfilling to the person. There are also anecdotes and case studies of individuals who flourished in new and exciting relationships throughout each section.
The book begins with an introduction into the evolutionary model of understanding of the brain by neuroscientist Paul D. MacLean. Armstrong describes the theory of the triune brain and further goes on to explain the divisions: the reptilian brain, the mammalian brain, and the thinking brain. The reptilian brain controls the body’s vital functions such as heart rate, body temperature, balance and breathing. The mammalian brain includes the limbic system, which is responsible for motivation, procedural learning and memory. The thinking brain “gives us the ability to use abstract thought, plan, make conscious decisions, regulate emotions, and use verbal reasoning” (pg. 8). Armstrong concludes this introduction by describing how our triune brain functions when it is traumatized.
Chapter one begins with a case study involving a client with extreme road rage. Armstrong’s use of clinical examples to illustrate her content is one of the many reasons why this book may potentially become an indispensable part of psychology literature. She introduces attachment styles and writes descriptively about Bowlby’s contribution to the understanding of the same. She effectively lays out why timing and secure attachment are two of the most important aspects to take into consideration while working through trauma. The bottom line is simple: one cannot work through trauma if they are still in the throes of it.
Armstrong shares one last story that validates and reinforces all the phases detailed in the book. The story is about Vanessa, an occupational therapist who was watching a movie in the theater next to the one where the 2012 massacre in Aurora, Colorado occurred. Armstrong shares how Vanessa experienced immense survivor’s guilt and how she felt incapable of helping another women who had been shot in her leg; she could only bring herself to hold her hand, offering comfort. Upon meeting the same woman a few months later at a hearing during the court trial, Vanessa laments to her, “I have post-traumatic stress, and I wasn’t even shot. I can’t imagine how you’re doing.” The woman with tears in her eyes responded, “The kindness of a stranger who held my hand through all that horror. That’s what stands out for me, Vanessa” (pg. 225). As Armstrong simply states, “People heal through feeling cared for by others” (pg. 223).
To read a sample of Armstong’s book, please click here
Courtney Armstrong, LPC, is a clinician who has specialized in trauma treatment for over 20 years in Chattanooga, Tennessee. Known for her relatable teaching style, she trains mental health professionals worldwide in user-friendly, brain-based strategies that promote resilience and enjoys creating helpful resources for therapists.
Akanksha Anand is an international student from India who received her Master’s in Forensic Mental Health Counseling from John Jay College of Criminal Justice. She is also a recipient of the Pinkerton Graduate Community Fellowship through which she had the opportunity to work closely in a therapeutic capacity with individuals struggling with severe mental illnesses, substance use and the unfairness of the criminal justice system.
Armstrong, C. (2019). Rethinking Trauma Treatment: Attachment, Memory Reconsolidation, and Resilience. New York, NY: W.W Norton & Company, Inc., ISBN: 9780393712551
Hardcover: Includes references and index