“In a recent government survey, 60% of US adults said that as children they had experienced significant abuse and/or neglect.”
That’s how James S Gordon kicks off his new book, The Transformation: Discovering Wholeness and Healing After Trauma. So, of course I was skeptical.
Gordon then goes on to include in his definition of trauma serious illness, discrimination and loss of a loved one, things well beyond physical abuse and/or neglect. Suddenly, the 60% figure seemed low. I expected another book for the “worried well.”
I was pleasantly surprised to find a lot of useful information in each chapter.
Gordon is the founder and executive director of the Center for Mind-Body Medicine, and he and his staff have worked with thousands of trauma survivors from across the economic spectrum and around the world. The book outlines his program for overcoming the effects of trauma and living a life removed from trauma’s negative influences.
The Transformation is a survey of alternative medicine, and Gordon definitely prefers these therapies over medication-based psychiatry. He presents his book as a complete program; a self-help guide that anyone can follow to better deal with the impact of trauma.
I worry about claims like that. Gordon’s methods are researched and effective, but it would be difficult for a reader to follow and implement, on their own, a rigorous program previously guided and monitored by professionals.
I chose instead to scour the book for useful ideas that I could add to the regimen of therapy, medicine and meditation developed with my doctor that helps me deal with bipolar disorder.
The section on diet, the longest in the book, was full of helpful information. While Gordon presents a modified version of the paleo diet that heavily relies on supplements, his presentation about which fruits and vegetables you should buy organic and which you can save money on, as well as his information on the influence of gluten and dairy on mood and behavior, is superb.
He’s re-branded standard meditation techniques as “soft-belly breathing,” but the method presented will certainly bring relaxation and a place of calm for many anxiety-ridden readers looking for a break from the barrage of trauma-influenced thoughts that aggravate people plagued by difficult experiences.
In his chapter on soft-belly breathing, Gordon includes interesting information on meditation’s influence on the vagus nerve. He also admits that this meditation method will positively impact about 70% of the people who practice it, not everyone everywhere, as too many mindfulness instructors insist. Some people will need to look to other therapies described in the book. This type of honesty I truly respect.
While some of the results attributed to the therapies presented seem dubious (I’m thinking especially of the recommendations for supplements), Gordon provides detailed notes that reference the studies behind those claims.
The strength of a book like this is the opportunity for a reader to be exposed to, and even given the capacity to try out, techniques that may be very efficacious in their treatment but would never be recommended by a traditional psychiatrist.
The danger is that the same reader may discontinue medicine-based treatment to embrace these more recently and less vigorously researched alternative treatments.
Gordon insists that the many therapies in the book are based on centuries-old treatments from indigenous cultures. After the excellent description of the fight-or-flight response included in the book, Gordon should realize that while the physiology across humanity remains the same, the world that creates the stress that results from trauma for a modern westerner is far different from the one inhabited by Siberian shamans. Still, he makes a compelling case for his work.
I think the best thing you can say about a book is that its ideas challenge you and your preconceptions. This book does just that.
To his credit, Gordon lays out an ambitious agenda in The Transformation. Instead of only treating the symptoms of conditions caused by trauma, as medicine-based therapies tend to do, he aims at the underlying causes of conditions instigated by past abuse and/or neglect that trouble the soul and impact the personality and identity of people who have suffered.
It’s a convincing argument for a more wholistic approach to mental health and psychological pain.
The result of Gordon’s years implementing this program is success. The Transformation is a helpful guidebook that, if carefully entered into and combined with the best of modern medical interventions, can lend help to anyone who’s life has been disrupted by trauma.