“The Trauma Spectrum” by Robert Scaer

Subtitle: Hidden Wounds and Human Resiliency

This book is a frustrating mix of interesting theories, solid information, and bigoted rants.

The author leads with some encouraging words about intersectionality and noticing how society’s defaults harm some people, but then devolves into “women returning to work after childbirth causes harm because babies need maternal care” and “fast-food advertising causes harm because traumatized morbidly obese people get triggered into eating even more.”

I am pro infants receiving attuned care and against subliminal advertising for any product, but his conclusions on these topics lack validity as well as compassion. Infants can receive attuned care from many people, not just the mother. Fat people don’t necessarily eat more than thin people.

There is also a lot of matter-of-fact reporting on cruel animal experiments. Perhaps some animal experiments are necessary, but we can at least regret the harm they do.

On the interesting side, keeping me from just discarding the book, he notices that his clients with whiplash show trauma symptoms and are helped by Somatic Experiencing and other trauma-resolution therapies. That sounds obvious when I type it out, but we think of whiplash as a soft-tissue injury (muscles and tendons) rather than a nervous system injury. He notes that severe whiplash in response to relatively minor motor vehicle crashes correlates with a past history of trauma.

He also talks about nervous system kindling, or neurosensitization, where the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems are out of balance and internal triggering keeps them out of balance. This explains, among other things, Multiple Chemical Sensitivity.

He speculates that fibromyalgia correlates with preverbal trauma, and disregulation of the nervous system.

He talks a lot about the structures in the brain that process trauma, and about the sense of being frozen in time that accompanies PTSD. Approach/avoidance dilemmas (double binds) are an obvious source of trauma. He talks about conditioning and trauma-based learning, and the need to extinguish the connections that get created during trauma to be able to come back into the present.

Robert Scaer has worked with many patients in his career and made careful observations along the way. Unfortunately he mixes them in with his personal biases in this book, so it reads more like someone’s personal blog than a trustworthy scholarly work.

Available at Powell’s Books.

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