Book Review

Belleruth Naparstek - Invisible Heroes

From Amazon:

If you or someone you love has suffered a traumatic event, you know the devastating impact it can have on your life and your spirit. Life-threatening accidents, illnesses, assaults, abusive relationships-or a tragedy like 9/11-all can leave deep emotional wounds that persist long after physical scars have healed. Survivors become "invisible heroes," courageously struggling to lead normal lives in spite of symptoms so baffling and disturbing that they sometimes doubt their own sanity.

Now there is new hope for the millions affected by posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Drawing on more than thirty years' experience as a therapist and on the most recent cutting-edge research, Belleruth Naparstek presents a clinically proven program for recovery using the potent tool of guided imagery. She reveals how guided imagery goes straight to the right side of the brain, where it impacts the nonverbal wiring of the nervous system itself, the key to alleviating suffering.

Filled with the voices of real trauma survivors and therapists whose lives and work have been changed by this approach, Invisible Heroes offers:

  • New understanding of the physical, cognitive, emotional, and behavioral effects of PTSD, who is most susceptible, and why symptoms can get worse rather than better with time
  • Important insights into how the brain and body respond to trauma, why conventional talk therapy can actually impede recovery, and why the nonverbal, image-based right brain is crucial to healing
  • A step-by-step program with more than twenty scripts for guided-imagery exercises tailored to the three stages of recovery, from immediate relief of anxiety attacks, flashbacks, nightmares, and insomnia, to freedom from depression and isolation, to renewed engagement with life
  • A helpful guide to the best of the new imagery-based therapies, and how to incorporate them into an overall recovery plan

Belleruth Naparstek concludes with the inspiring words of survivors who have found their way back to peace, purpose, and a deep joy in living. Her compassionate, groundbreaking book can lead you and those in your care to the same renewal and healing.

Invisible Heroes: Survivors of Trauma and How They Heal
By: Belleruth Naparstek
Reviewed By: Jim Porter

This well-researched self-help book by Belleruth Naparstek is right up there with other self-help books on stress-related topics I recommend such as Why Zebras Don't Get Ulcers, by Robert Sapolsky and Emotional Intelligence by Dr. Daniel Goleman. Whether she's quoting a study of 9/11 survivors, the cortisol levels of tornado survivors in Guam (right after the storm and at 6 months) or a study of identical twins* who fought in Vietnam, Belleruth's writing is top notch and really helps you understand how trauma can be so devastating and why.

(*The less educated twin was more likely to suffer from PTSD than the more educated twin.)

She also understands that not all information is created equal: That certain studies are inherently more interesting than others. Like the study of people who survived a major nightclub fire and were less likely to develop PTSD because they were intoxicated at the time. Then there's the study of surgery patients whose incorrectly administered anesthesia leaves them fully aware of the pain but unable to speak. This group is more likely to suffer from PTSD.

While dispensing all this interesting information, Belleruth never fails to remember the basics either. Like her comprehensive list of PTSD symptoms which includes: flashbacks, nightmares, intrusive thoughts, agitation, numbness, insomnia, irritability, depression, concentration problems, anxiety, panic, shame, guilt, temper, estrangement, sudden startling and she concludes by saying: "that's the short list."

Belleruth dots every i and crosses every t!

She tells us who suffers from trauma: Rape victims, casualties of war, drowning victims, accident victims, child abuse victims. She tells us what happens after the trauma: That only a minority of trauma survivors (in most cases under 30%) go on to experience PTSD. And she tells us exactly what variables cause people to wind up in that minority: Children are more likely to develop PTSD than adults, women more likely than men, Hispanics more than blacks and blacks more than whites.

She explains how the severity of the trauma, the duration, whether the survivor felt trapped, betrayed or brutalized, all play a role in how long and how severely this event is going to affect someone. Whether that "dose" is repeated as it is for redeployed soldiers or occurs just one time as it does for the accident victim, all these factors play a role in who develops PTSD and who doesn't.

For those whose PTSD remains untreated, the prospects can be grim: "Many trauma survivors shuttle back and forth between poles of emotional numbness and agitated discomfort. In other words, they get the worst of both worlds and rarely experience the rich, nourishing feelings and pleasurable sensations of a life worth living."

But, as Belleruth makes exceedingly clear, there is a whole new world of options for those who do get treated including EMDR, (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) Exposure Therapy, Cognitive Therapy, Emotional Freedom Technique and of course, Belleruth's own specialty, guided imagery techniques. In the book there are dozens of these exercises specifically written out for people with problems associated with trauma and PTSD. (listen to a sample guided imagery exercise now)

As I was reading Invisible Heroes I was surprised, as a person who has never experienced much in the way of trauma, by how much of the material was of general interest to almost any reader wishing to know more about wellness. I learned about the stress response, the nervous system, emotions, the brain, and the body. And, it caused me to reflect on my own life and a few minor traumatic episodes that had left their mark. I especially remembered an incident from my childhood, where my older brother and I were basically just horsing around when he suddenly jumped on my bed and was holding me down with one hand and my mouth shut with the other. For a minute I was trapped under the covers, trying to catch a breath, and pretty much powerless to defend myself.

It was a scary moment which luckily didn't last long (my father stepped in) but, until reading Invisible Heroes I never understood why that brief moment in time left such a lasting impression. Well now I know. The brain is programmed to remember every last detail of a traumatic event so that it can be avoided in the future. Even though many traumatic events are beyond our power to control, the brain doesn't know that, so it wants to leave a permanent imprint so you're more likely to survive the event (or avoid the circumstances altogether) the next time it happens.

So I highly recommend this book, especially if you have experienced a traumatic event, or are suffering from any of the symptoms of PTSD. (Remember your traumatic event could have occurred in childhood as PTSD can lay dormant for years, sometimes even decades and be triggered years later by an unrelated event like major surgery or the death of a loved one.) And if you know someone who has experienced a traumatic event and might be suffering from the symptoms of PTSD like agitation, inability to concentrate and a hair trigger startle response, this book is an excellent resource. Or even if you just want to know more about the stress response and how the nervous system works, this book is a good read.

I recently interviewed Belleruth about Invisible Heroes, trauma and PTSD. You can listen to that interview here.

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Quick Stress Tips

What can I do to help me manage anger right now?
From the Article: Managing Anger

Assume the other person didn't intend to make you angry. What gets us all riled up is the thought that another person intended to make us angry. But this is rarely the case. (It's almost like assuming that when two people are laughing across a room they are laughing at you.) Most people who make you angry do it completely unintentionally. When you fully realize this it will defuse a lot of the anger you experience in life. If it's a friend, family member or coworker, don't even hint that your angry. Just ask them why they did what they did, and you'll invariably find out that if they knew you were bothered by it, they wouldn't have done it.

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