Staff Perspective: A Review of Beginning to Heal by Ellen Bass and Laura Davis

Staff Perspective: A Review of Beginning to Heal by Ellen Bass and Laura Davis

Beginning to Heal is a book that focuses on the ways one can recover from childhood sexual abuse. This book is based on the book called The Courage to Heal.

The book does not have a lot of “psychobabble” and can be used by therapists as a tool that they can give to their patients. This book provides information on recognizing symptoms of childhood sexual abuse, encourages acceptance that the abuse happened, offers cues on what one may expect when they are recovering, describes the stages of healing, and offers steps one can take to manage symptoms that have been created/ aggravated by the abuse.

Beginning to Heal is clearly more of a primer or 1st step, but it is nonetheless informative and can be helpful for many patients. For those therapists interested in more detailed and research based readings this book will not be as helpful. This book can be used for your patients as one of the first steps toward healing. The authors Ellen Bass and Laura Davis also have another book called The Courage to Heal that may be more helpful for clinicians.

Professors at my graduate school recommended Beginning to Heal as a primer to help graduate students better understand childhood sexual abuse. It has also been utilized by therapists at the Military Sexual Trauma group at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center to help patients come to terms with some of their childhood sexual abuse.

One of my favorite chapters in the book was related to management of the emergency stage and how one can manage symptoms of panic attacks and suicide ideation. It stressed the importance of having a good social support system and the importance of reaching out to that system for help. The chapter provides simple and common sense approaches to managing these symptoms. It also directs one to a later chapter addressing how loved ones can be more supportive when they find out that a friend or family member has been sexually abused.

Another chapter that was thought provoking was one that described how some survivors have difficulty assigning blame for the childhood sexual trauma. The picture is further clouded when survivors have been drugged or have a poor memory of the incident. Some survivors blame themselves for the trauma and even doubt the accuracy of their memories of the abuse. The authors point out that some abusers create a number of pleasant memories with their victims and may try to convince the abuse survivors that sexual trauma did not occur. One of the challenges for therapists is helping the patients reconcile positive memories with the abuse memories that occurred.

The authors utilize descriptive case examples to illustrate the different types of abuse that can occur and the challenges associated with reporting abuse.

My main critique of Beginning to Heal centers on the use of spiritual healing for trauma. My criticism focuses on the way spirituality is vaguely explained and my clinical experience that some survivors have been victimized by spiritual advisors. I personally believe that spirituality has an important healing role in trauma. However, I also believe that people have different spiritual beliefs and that some may be turned off by a section on spirituality. As a suggestion, I would include the chapter, but make sure it is included as an add-on or additional information for those seeking spiritual healing.

In summary, this book is a short easy read that can be used by therapists to help their patients ease into difficult trauma work. The book broaches sensitive topics related to childhood sexual abuse in a gentle manner. This is not a complex book and is not written for scholars. It is a first step towards preparing patients for the difficult work of therapy for childhood sexual abuse.

The opinions in CDP Staff Perspective blogs are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinion of the Uniformed Services University of the Health Science or the Department of Defense.

Augusto Ruiz, Psy.D., is a Senior Military Internship Behavioral Health Psychogist with the Center for Deployment Psychology (CDP) at the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences in Bethesda, Maryland. Dr. Ruiz is currently located at the National Naval Medical Center, in Bethesda, Maryland.