Trauma is really strange

Author: Steve Haines (with art by Sophie Standing)
Published by Singing Dragon
ISBN: 978-1-84819-293-5

Book reviewer: Nikki Luke, Rees Centre Research Fellow

This comic explores the topic of trauma: what it is, what effects it can have, and how those who have experienced trauma can work with their own bodies to promote recovery. At 32 pages and a handy A5 size, the book is a manageable and fascinating read. Steve Haines does a great job of translating theoretical perspectives and neuroscientific research into concrete, easy-to-grasp metaphors. This is particularly effective where the physiological responses to trauma are being described. There is a focus on resilience, providing a positive message for trauma survivors, and the potential for ‘post-traumatic growth’ is stressed throughout. Suggested exercises aim to develop self-regulation as a way of addressing physiological responses to trauma.

The comic book format uses illustrations in an original way, to represent experiences that many readers will recognise. Sophie Standing’s artwork is clear and effective at getting across the key messages. Although the target audience appears to be adult survivors of trauma, I can also see potential for the comic to be used by professionals (such as foster carers, teachers and social workers) who are working with young people recovering from trauma. Many will recognise the descriptions of fight-or-flight and dissociation responses in the young people they work with, and the explanation of the long-term effects of trauma would be especially useful for these groups. Because the book also includes suggestions for working with trauma, it provides practical steps that can be taken to promote recovery – though it should be acknowledged that some young people (and, indeed, adults) will require therapeutic work that goes beyond the exercises recommended here.

There are lessons in this book for researchers, too: the illustrated panels are accompanied by footnotes that cite the research on which much of the content is based, and the list of references are tucked away behind a flap at the back of the book. This makes the author’s message more accessible than the usual ‘academic’ format of journal articles or text-heavy reports.

The book is not without limitations. The list of references on trauma does not represent a comprehensive review: the author’s preferred approaches to understanding and working with trauma are represented as facts, and there is some danger that the inclusion of references might be misconstrued as evidence that this represents ‘the truth’ about how to overcome trauma. The order in which information is presented also feels a little jumbled – ‘trauma’ is not defined until several pages in, and there is no clear statement of who the book is aimed at. A clearer structure might have been to use Berceli’s three statements about trauma, which the author explores in some detail, as a framework for the whole comic.

These minor criticisms aside, I’d recommend this comic to anyone who has experienced trauma or who is working with someone who has. It provides clear and relatable ways of understanding and talking about the effects of trauma, and some sensible suggestions for taking the first steps towards recovery.