I will admit, I was interested but skeptical when I began reading this book. PTSD is serious business, and those of us who deal with its effects know that a few pages of affirmations aren’t going to do much good. I’ve struggled with the long-term effects of PTSD from growing up in an abusive household, so I understand the tangled depths of the condition. Fortunately, so does the author, since she developed these methods while dealing with her own PTSD.

Ms. Rosenthal is honest with the reader: There is no magic bullet that will ‘cure’ PTSD. Healing is a process that requires continual effort and lots of baby steps. Her book is broken up into small segments (described on the back cover as ‘dozens of brief think pieces’) and individual sections with lots of bullet-point lists that are easy to digest. The author is also frank about the fact that there is no one-size-fits-all solution. Instead, she offers step-by-step directions for customizing your own unique healing strategy.

Her methods offer specific activities, mostly simple ones that will help you become more functional in daily life. But they also offer instructions for how to change your thinking about yourself and your life, since the mental component of PTSD is such an important facet of the condition and a key to healing from it. She also includes methods for assessing whether what you’re doing is working well enough and when to change it up.

I knew Ms. Rosenthal really understood PTSD when I read this: “Healing can only come when you let out the breath you’re holding.” Holding your breath, figuratively speaking, is often what PTSD feels like. This book guides the reader through activities that can help you learn to trust your intuition again and figure out how to distinguish between the real you and the persona you’ve had to put on to survive the trauma. Each little section has questions to ask yourself so you can figure something out or take one small step forward. The individual ‘bites’ feel very do-able, not at all daunting or overwhelming.

Ms. Rosenthal includes the science behind PTSD so you can understand what’s happening in your brain, body, and psyche. She also links each set of facts with questions or journal activities that help to make it all very real. And she is brutally honest at times: “Healing from PTSD can actually feel worse than living with it.” Her suggestions help the reader to take their missteps in stride and learn from them in order to become adaptable.

The overall theme of the book focuses on finding the good and positive parts of yourself that have been overwhelmed and buried by the trauma. You can learn to bring those good bits to the surface and bring them back to life, so to speak. I think this is a very helpful method not just for people with PTSD but for those of us who simply feel we’ve been knocked around a lot by life in general. These are some good tools for anyone to have in their emotional and spiritual toolbox.

Though the individual sections are short, they are organized into five chapters to help give the book some direction. Chapter One, You Can Heal, is a bit of a pep talk about the healing process, assuring the reader that they can do it. What the author says is believable because she has traveled this road herself. Chapter Two, Facts You Need Today, describes the science behind PTSD. I found the information fascinating, and it reassured me that this is not some nebulous complaint made by whiners, but a very real condition that causes measurable brain changes and other physical manifestations as well as the well-known psychological issues. Chapter Three, Strengthen Your Recovery Process, helps the reader reconnect with their intuition and find their sense of wholeness, their ability to adapt and make choices. These are great activities, provided in small bites so they’re easier to deal with. Chapter Four, Create Your New Identity, helps the reader figure out who they really are and who they want to be. I found this section to be especially helpful, since it’s easy to identify as a PTSD survivor or a victim of trauma. The author helps the reader find ways to think of themselves that aren’t related to PTSD, and this is very freeing. The final chapter, Bust through Blocks, is a sort of ‘troubleshooting your healing process’ chapter. Everyone will have missteps or get stuck, and the author offers ways to move past those blocks.

Much of the book is deeply insightful, obviously coming from the author’s personal journey of healing from PTSD. But a lot is also common sense that we forget when we’re stressed or traumatized, and it’s good to be reminded of what makes sense. Ms. Rosenthal offers multiple ways to deal with each issue so readers with different thinking styles and attitudes will be able to find what they need for healing and moving forward.

I did find the book to be fairly repetitive, both within chapters and from one chapter to the next. This feeling was reinforced by the fact that the book is set up as a bunch of separate small sections with no narrative to hold them together. By the middle of Chapter Three, I was feeling overwhelmed (and no, I didn’t read the book all in one sitting). If you’re already weighed down by PTSD, it might be best to read this book in very small chunks, just a few pages at a time. Do the activities the author suggests, and when you feel comfortable, however long that takes, come back and read some more. Several times throughout the book, Ms. Rosenthal suggests getting professional help and using the book as an aid, not as your main source of support. Especially for severe cases, I think that’s good advice.

The activities the author provides are helpful – I tried a lot of them – but the organization of the book feels as aimless and lost as many people with PTSD feel, so it may not be the best choice for a primary support in your healing process. That said, if you’re willing to take it one small bit at a time and focus only on the part you’re working on at the moment, this book can definitely provide some great tools for finding your way out of the PTSD fog and back to an authentic, empowered self.

~review by Laura Perry

Author: Michele Rosenthal
Conari Press, 2015
pp. 226, $18.95