0
Get Alert
Please Wait... Processing your request... Please Wait.
You must sign in to sign-up for alerts.

Please confirm that your email address is correct, so you can successfully receive this alert.

1
Book Review   |    
Unspeakable Truths and Happy Endings: Human Cruelty and the New Trauma Therapy
Maxine Harris, Ph.D.
Psychiatric Services 1999; doi:
View Author and Article Information

by Rebecca Coffey; Lutherville, Maryland, Sidran Press, 1998, 226 pages, $19.95 softcover

Much of what has been written about trauma and abuse has been written either by professionals or by survivors. Rebecca Coffey is neither. She is a professional writer and therein lie some of the strengths of her book, Unspeakable Truths and Happy Endings.

As a writer, Coffey recognizes the power of language and of well-chosen words to explain, to clarify, and to shine an illuminating light into dark spaces. As a writer, she also owes allegiance to no particular group and to no single interpretation of the data. She is free to use words like "cruelty," "inhumanity," and "evil." She can call the concern of some therapists "love," and she can name clinicians "pathologists" when they inadvertently revictimize those who seek their help.

Coffey's honest use of language is a model for what lies at the heart of trauma recovery work itself. Learning to call things by their right names and feeling strong enough and safe enough to see the truth are central to any process of healing and growth (1). The experiences and memories of survivors must by recognized and validated. Yet, as Coffey reminds us, it is difficult for us to hear the stories that survivors have to tell. We find ways to look away, to distract ourselves, so that we can avoid seeing the pain that many survivors carry inside them. Coffey's book is filled with stories whose authors ask us to bear witness to the horrible, nightmarish realities they have experienced. Quoting Henry David Thoreau, Coffey tells us that "it takes two to speak the truth—one to speak, and another to hear."

Coffey offers an interesting discussion of memory that may shed some light on the controversy surrounding the false-memory syndrome. Memory is never neatly packaged and perfectly organized, and the memories of horror are even more rambling and confused than most. Many Holocaust survivors, for example, recount memories in which time and place have become confused. The recollection has an air of unreality. Disjointed recall, however, certainly does not mean that a particular event, or the Holocaust itself, did not occur. It says more about the nature of memory than it does about historical fact.

And that is exactly Coffey's point. We make an error when we expect memory to reproduce history. We do not go through our lives with a video camera strapped to our backs. Our memories are constructed in our minds, and consequently it may be misguided to demand that they conform to legalistic rules about evidence.

If Unspeakable Truths and Happy Endings has a weakness, it is the author's discussion of therapy. Coffey is a nonprofessional writing for survivors, families, therapists, and interested readers, a large and diverse audience. Consequently, her discussion of treatment is general and somewhat bland. She says little more than that good, respectful therapy is necessary. Coffey does manage, however, to leave us with a compelling definition of recovery: "the integration of the reprieve of survival along with the horror of trauma." Her honest discussion of human cruelty helps all of us with that much-needed integration.

Dr. Harris is codirector of Community Connections in Washington, D.C.

Harris M: Trauma Recovery and Empowerment: A Clinician's Guide for Working With Women in Groups. New York, Free Press, 1998
 
+

References

Harris M: Trauma Recovery and Empowerment: A Clinician's Guide for Working With Women in Groups. New York, Free Press, 1998
 
+
+

CME Activity

There is currently no quiz available for this resource. Please click here to go to the CME page to find another.
Submit a Comments
Please read the other comments before you post yours. Contributors must reveal any conflict of interest.
Comments are moderated and will appear on the site at the discertion of APA editorial staff.

* = Required Field
(if multiple authors, separate names by comma)
Example: John Doe



Related Content
Books
The American Psychiatric Publishing Textbook of Psychopharmacology, 4th Edition > Chapter 47.  >
Textbook of Psychotherapeutic Treatments > Chapter 20.  >
Dulcan's Textbook of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry > Chapter 33.  >
The American Psychiatric Publishing Textbook of Psychopharmacology, 4th Edition > Chapter 47.  >
Textbook of Psychotherapeutic Treatments > Chapter 6.  >
Psychiatric News
APA Guidelines
PubMed Articles