The Healing Sexual Trauma Workbook by Erika Shershun draws on somatic psychotherapy to help survivors of sexual assault/abuse work through their trauma and find healing. The author herself is a sexual assault survivor. The book isn’t specifically oriented towards either isolated traumatic incidents or complex trauma, but seems like it could speak to both. It’s set up as a workbook with questions and exercises for the reader, and illustrations are incorporated to demonstrate some of the exercises.
The author explains that trauma isn’t cognitive, it’s biological. Polyvagal theory is heavily drawn upon as the main basis for describing how trauma affects the mind and body. Interestingly (or at least, interesting to me) was that the amygdala didn’t get a single mention. Aspects of the trauma response, such as tonic immobility as part of the freeze response, are described to help survivors understand why they responded the way they did. The brain’s way of handling trauma memories is also discussed.
The book also covers topics like safety, self-compassion, boundaries, and dealing with difficult emotions like anger, guilt, and shame. Mindfulness was presented as a way of creating new neural pathways, and embodiment was described as the antidote to dissociation.
There were some New Age-y bits that were described as though they were literal rather than metaphorical. The author writes that after a serious trauma, “your energy is pulled upwards.” She adds that loss of grounding occurs on a broader scale because “Our culture reveres the brain, so generally our energy is focused higher in the body.” She then tied these metaphorical/spiritual ideas that aren’t literally true into creating an imbalance in the autonomic nervous system. When you mix metaphorical/spiritual with the literal/physiological, you can end up being left with nonsense.
The nonsense continues: “Although not usually the case when healing from sexual trauma, it’s possible to be overgrounded, where your energy is not flowing upward from Earth’s magnetic field.” If that works spiritually, that’s fantastic, but in a book that’s also emphasizing physiology, there needs to be some distinction made.
The author describes ideas about the heart’s electromagnetic fields, rhythms, coherence, and entrainment, all of which seems to come from the company HeartMath, which sounds a bit dubious. She recommends readers get their heart rate variability sensor, which retails on their website for USD 159.
Parts of the book are drawn verbatim from posts on the author’s blog. There’s no mention of this in the book, but I happened to stumble across it while looking to see if the author had any connection to HeartMath.
I reached the end of this book thinking huh, this wasn’t really what I expected. Will some survivors find it helpful? Sure. Will you know from reading the book description whether it will be your thing? Quite possibly not. I think that if people have some familiarity with polyvagal theory and it speaks to them or interests them, this book will probably be appealing. If it doesn’t do much for you, this book probably won’t either.
The Healing Sexual Trauma Workbook is available on Amazon (affiliate link).
I received a reviewer copy from the publisher through Netgalley.