by Peter A. Levine, PhD
Reviewed by Carolyn MacCallum
If you are a therapist, body worker or trauma victim, or if you’re just interested in the mind–body connection, you’re likely to find In an Unspoken Voice one of the most fascinating books you’ve ever read. Dr. Peter A. Levine makes a strong argument for the idea that trauma is not a disorder (as in posttraumatic stress disorder), but is instead an injury to the body-mind. Rather than being a life-long burden, trauma can be healed.
Levine is a psychotherapeutic comparative brain researcher with an interest in animal behaviour, especially as it relates to trauma. His research—spanning more than forty years—into the nature and cure of trauma in the human organism has culminated in this informative and illuminating book. Levine’s clear, entertaining manner, using case studies and plenty of examples from behavioural research, leaves you wishing you’d had him for Grade 10 Bio. It would have been a lot more fun.
Levine devotes part of his book to tracing both the development of the nervous system as animals become more complex and the evolution of strategies used by organisms to cope with the dangers of their environment. From an early expression of development represented by jawless fish to its apex in mammals, each level has a characteristic strategy for responding to threats. However, as evolution has continued, higher organisms, including humans, have retained the earlier strategies. By comparing how different creatures cope with traumatic experiences, Levine shows how their adaptations have culminated in our human system for dealing with our environment. It is in these coping mechanisms that the roots of trauma lie.
His theories take on here-and-now relevance when he describes applying them in real time to prevent his own trauma injury. Using his automobile accident as a framework, he walks the reader through the states of shock, disorientation and reorientation, showing where this natural process can go off the rails. When the body’s systems for rebalancing after a traumatic experience are interfered with, the experiencer can become stuck in one part of the process.
Levine then takes us through six case studies, showing how re-engagement of the body’s survival mechanisms can bring about complete recovery, even from deep, decades-old traumatic wounds. In each account his warmth, wisdom and sheer humanity shine through. The book is worth reading just for the case studies alone, but its potential to help you heal your own trauma makes it a true gem.
In An Unspoken Voice by Peter A. Levine, PhD can be found at the Rabbit Hole Bookstore in downtown Grande Prairie.
Carolyn MacCallum is a former professional ballet dancer, a dance teacher, a certified massage therapist and a Rieki practitioner. She has had a lifelong interest in the interrelationship of physical, mental and emotional health. She is a certified instructor for the the Éiriú Eolas Stress Control, Healing and Rejuvenation Program (eebreathe.com), which deals with anxiety and other health issues.