Plot: Brenda Ungerland's Post-Tramuatic Growth stands out from the pack as a sober, thorough guide to the process of rebuilding a life after the experience of trauma. The author lays out seven stages of what she calls a "blueprint for transformational change"; inspired by Elisabeth Kubler Ross's stages of grieving, Ungerland's guide to recovering after trauma is frank about the onerousness of breaking down, breaking through, and breaking debilitative habits, but also hopeful, making persuasive promises like "Unraveling actually is very good news." Ungerland offers challenges and exercises crafted to help readers currently at any stage of her process take stock, face truths, and ask themselves tough questions. She draws on neuroscience, psychology, and various mindfulness techniques and illustrates her stages with narratives from real-life case studies and many well-selected excerpts from the work of poets like Theodore Roethke, Mary Oliver, Juan Ramon Jimenez, Marge Piercy, and more.
Prose/Style: Ungerland's interest in poetry will not surprise readers, as her prose is rich, emotive, tender, and somewhat complex. The sentences here often run long, but the author is a strong enough writer to keep meaning and emphasis clear even over multiple clauses and lines. That said, Ungerland is more clear when laying out the broad sweep of her transformative stages than when breaking down actual steps people can take, which at times she renders vaguely. She quotes writing worth quoting, and she's clear when summarizing principles of science and philosophy. Her tone is encouraging and highly rational; when discussing, say, the plasticity of our neural connections, she avoids the common tendency of many authors of self-help books to over-promise readers about the level of control they can exercises over their own brains. The case studies she has assembled to illustrate her transformative stages are independently interesting, but at times they take over the book.
Originality: While Ungerland draws deeply from earlier works, as the helpful index indicates, she has assembled her research in the unique and helpful form of her seven stages, and she guides readers through it with fresh insights and persuasive power.
Character Development/Execution: Ungerland's original stages are a welcome contribution to the literature of trauma recovery, and she explains the process to readers with compassion and honesty. The case studies at times go on for more pages than readers are likely to prefer, though.
Date Submitted: October 16, 2020
Ungerland clearly explains her framework in sophisticated yet clear and accessible prose. Each chapter describes the experiences of patients who have been in this stage, explains relevant concepts and views on psychology and spirituality, includes exercises for readers to try to build resilience, and ends with a brief shorthand summary to remind readers of the contents at a glance. Bonus material presented at the end, including tips on cognitive restructuring and basic principles for change, could stand alone as opposed to being subsumed into other sections.
She has clearly read widely in psychology, philosophy, spirituality, literature, and poetry; the text synthesizes existing work in positive psychology and Buddhism, and it is studded with quotations from a wide range of sources, including Martha Graham, Alice Walker, Albert Einstein, and Rumi. The case studies illuminating each stage are a strength, as is the text’s capacity to inspire hope for surviving chaos and growing resilience. This empathic, instructive, well-written guide will find a home on the bookshelves of both clinicians and readers pursuing healing after trauma.
Takeaway: Mental health professionals and readers seeking well-defined, easy-to-implement principles for transformational growth after trauma will find this guide both insightful and practical.
Great for fans of: Pema Chodron’s When Things Fall Apart, Susan Anderson’s The Journey from Abandonment to Healing.
Design and typography: A
Marketing copy: A-