Dr Bruce Perry on How To Transform Pain Into Power

A clip from the film of Oprah Winfrey and Dr. Bruce Perry discussing their new book What Happened to You?: Conversations on Trauma, Resilience, and Healing. Here, Dr. Perry explains how to transform post-traumatic stress into wisdom on the path toward healing. Super Soul, Oprah Winfrey Network. [2’16”]

‘I think of the most transformative people I have ever known, every single one of them had personal pain and traumatic experience that was a core element of who they became. And it didn’t crush them… Those people tend to have tremendous empathy for others who are struggling and they tend to have wisdom.’ Bruce Perry M.D., Ph.D.

‘We Are Meant to Heal in a Community’ by Douglas Bloch

One of the key messages that I have been putting out over the years that I have worked in the recovery/healing field is  about the importance of community. Here is an excellent article from Douglas Bloch—author, mental health educator and a depression survivor—about the healing power of community which he published in 2013 on the Mad in America website. I first highlighted this blog on Recovery Stories in early 2014.

‘“Anything that promotes a sense of isolation often leads to illness and suffering, while that which promotes a sense of  love and intimacy, connection and community, is healing.” Dean Ornish

In my last blog, I talked about how I was attempting to cope with a “mini-relapse” without using psychiatric drugs. One Sunday morning in the midst of this episode I awoke in a particularly dismal state. I didn’t have a structure planned for the day. And without something to look forward to, both my anxiety and depression increased.

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Marion’s Film Story, Part 2

I continue the series of films made by Mike Liu and I when we spent a day with Professor Marion Kickett, Director of the Centre for Aboriginal Studies at Curtin University, in York in September 2103. Marion is a Noongar from the Balardong language group. On this day, I learnt a good deal about Aboriginal culture, the experiences of an Aboriginal person in a white dominated society, and about the healing of trauma.

Marion talked about her strong sense of belonging she feels for her country, the Western Australian town of York and its surroundings, and the strong connection she has for the Native Reserve where she was brought up. She describes the racism she experienced as she grew up, and how she overcame her various adversities and challenges. She talks about the shocking events experienced by Aboriginal people which have impacted on health and wellbeing. Over time, Marion came to realise that she had to forgive non-Aboriginal people for the terrible things they had done in the past. Forgiveness is a key element of healing. You can find the first six films of this series here.

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100 Blog Posts and an Upcoming Break

Yes, this is my 100th blog post since I restarted blogging again on Recovery Stories on the 8th of March 2021. I’ve also added various other forms of content on other parts of the website, and released my eBook Our Recovery Stories: Journeys from Drug and Alcohol Addiction on the 9th of April.

As some of you know, I first launched Recovery Stories in May 2013, with the aim of helping individuals and families recover from addiction and mental health problems. A core element of the website was a series of 14 Recovery Stories (one is in two parts) ‘told’ by people who had been affected by a serious substance use problem, either directly or indirectly.

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Oprah Winfrey & Dr. Bruce Perry in Conversation | SXSW EDU 2021

Oprah Winfrey and leading child psychiatrist and neuroscientist Bruce Perry, MD, PhD explore the impact of childhood trauma on who we become, the decisions we make, and how healing must start with one question ‘what happened to you?’ in anticipation of a new co-authored book of the same name. Winfrey and Dr. Perry focus on understanding how shifting the approach to trauma and allowing understanding of the past allows for an opening of the door to resilience and healing in a proven, powerful way.

Describing Healing: Professor Helen Milroy

3652715I came across a beautiful description of healing in the Forward of the fascinating book Traditional Healers of Central Australia: Ngangkari. I quote this description here, although I have altered the paragraphs

“Healing is part of life and continues through death and into life again. It occurs throughout a person’s life journey as well as across generations. It can be experienced in many forms such as mending a wound or recovery from illness.

Mostly, however, it is about renewal. Leaving behind those things that have wounded us and caused us pain. Moving forward in our journey with hope for the future, with renewed energy, strength and enthusiasm for life.

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What is Healing to Me?: Australian Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander Healing Foundation

9157171_origHere are quotes from six different people participating in a national consultation process:

‘Initially, I think healing is about recognition. Recognition, both internally and externally, of self, of others and as a collective that there are ‘issues’. That there is pain. That there is anger and hurt and sadness that stems from past events. And that this anger, hurt and sadness is handed down, like an unwanted legacy, though the generations of our people. Once there is that recognition, collective recognition, of both Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and of all Australians, then begins the process of healing. Healing is a change. A change of attitude, a change of behaviours that have become entrenched.’

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What is Healing to Me?: Aboriginal Healing Foundation in Canada

Unknown-5Here is a summary of the findings from interviews of clients and staff of five healing programmes in Canada:

“… healing is an active, not passive, process: it is something you do, not something you think or that is done to you. In this sense, healing is work, it is ongoing and requires dedication. First and foremost, it requires commitment from the individual. No one can heal you or make you heal. Personal agency is stressed above all else.

The dominant metaphor in our research describes healing as a journey… The journey has a clear direction toward healing, yet it is a journey fraught with challenges. Falling off the path of healing is common, even expected by treatment staff. There is no shame to temporary setbacks, nor are these seen as failures; rather, the individual is welcomed back to continue on his or her journey when he or she feels ready…

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On the Nature of Healing: Judy Atkinson

As some of you know, I was inspired to work in the healing trauma field in large part by Judy Atkinson’s wonderful book Trauma Trails: Recreating Song Lines – The Transgenerational Effects of Trauma in Indigenous Australia. Here is a short bio of Judy, taken from the We Al-li website:

‘Emeritus Professor Judy Atkinson is a Jiman (central west Queensland) and Bundjalung (northern New South Wales) woman, with Anglo-Celtic and German heritage.

Her academic contributions to the understanding of trauma related issues stemming from the violence of colonisation and the healing/recovery of Indigenous peoples from such trauma has won her the Carrick Neville Bonner Award in 2006 for her curriculum development and innovative teaching practice. In 2011 she was awarded the Fritz Redlick Memorial Award for Human Rights and Mental Health from the Harvard University program for refugee trauma.

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How Trauma Flows Through the Generations

‘Our first generations were killed and imprisoned, and females sexually misused. Our second generations turned to alcohol or drugs as their cultural and spiritual identity was damaged; in our third generations we had spousal assault and societal trauma.

In our fourth generations the abuse moves from spousal abuse to child abuse or both. In the fifth generations, the cycle repeats as trauma begats violence, begats trauma. And in our sixth generations the grown children of the conquerors begin to live in fear of the grown children of the conquered.’ Judy Atkinson

The title of Judy Atkinson’s book is particularly well-chosen—trauma leaves trails across the generations. In the quote above, Judy briefly summarises the violence that has been experienced by Aboriginal people, violence that has produced trauma which has become cumulative and more complex across generations. This trauma has impacted upon individuals, families and communities.

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‘A Journey Toward Recovery: From the Inside Out’ by Dale Walsh

I’ve been away visiting family this weekend and haven’t had a chance to prepare a new set of blog posts for this week. I therefore thought I would re-post some of my old favourites from the past this week, which will give me time to prepare new ones for next week. 

One of my favourite articles about recovery was written by Dale Walsh back in 1996 which really summed up what recovery and recovery principles mean to a person who has been suffering from mental health problems. I thought I would highlight some of the main points here. 

The Problem
‘For many years I believed in a traditional medical model. I had a disease. I was sick. I was told I was mentally ill, that I should learn to cope with my anxiety, my depression, my pain, and my panic. I never told anyone about the voices, but they were there, too. I was told I should change my expectations of myself and realize I would always have to live a very restricted life.

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Judith Herman: Trauma and Recovery

511+Nl1uNdL._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-click,TopRight,35,-76_AA300_SH20_OU01_1. Principles of recovery (healing)
‘The core experiences of psychological trauma are disempowerment and disconnection from others. Recovery, therefore, is based upon the empowerment of the survivor and the creation of new connections.

Recovery can take place only within the context of relationships; it cannot occur in isolation. In her renewed connection with other people, the survivor re-creates the psychological facilities that were damaged or deformed by the traumatic experience. These faculties include the basic operations of trust, autonomy, initiative, competence, identity, and intimacy.

Just as these capabilities are formed in relationships with other people, they must be reformed in such relationships.

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12 Principles of Indigenous Healing

When I first became interested in Indigenous healing a number of years ago, I did a great deal of reading about the healing of trauma and intergenerational trauma. I summarised what I considered to be 12 principles of healing, which are relevant to Aboriginal people here in Australia and other Indigenous peoples around the world. I first posted about these principles on Sharing Culture in 2014 and then on The Carrolup Story in 2018.

1. The Human Rights of Indigenous Peoples must be recognised and respected
Recognition of, and respect for, the Human Rights of Indigenous peoples is fundamental to improving their health and wellbeing. Society must ensure that Indigenous peoples have full and effective participation in decisions that directly or indirectly affect their lives.

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Factors Facilitating Recovery: Mutual Support

I continue with my series of blog posts relating to the factors that facilitate recovery from addiction, which I have detailed in the second last chapter of my eBook Our Recovery Stories: Journeys from Drug and Alcohol AddictionThese factors are also relevant to recovery from mental health problems.

“Acceptance is just one aspect of the fifth key factor underlying recovery, being supported by others. People in recovery stress the importance of having someone believe in them, particularly when they don’t believe in themselves. They also stress the importance of having a person in recovery as a mentor or role model as they travel their journey.

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Healing Section of Recovery Stories

HealingThe aim of the Healing section of Recovery Stories is to take you on a journey into the fascinating field relating to the healing of intergenerational trauma, sometimes called transgenerational or historical trauma. The section ‘operates’ differently to other parts of the website. If you are new to this field and are keen to learn, I suggest you start reading my first post, entitled Indigenous Trauma and Healing. You can then access the second post by clicking the link at the bottom of the page…. and so on.

At present, there are sixteen posts, mostly relating to intergenerational trauma (rather than healing) at this stage. I will gradually add more and more posts over time. Here is the current list:

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‘What Happened to You?: Conversations on Trauma, Resilience, and Healing’

Recently, I read one of the best books I have read relevant to my work. The book, What Happened to You?: Conversations on Trauma, Resilience, and Healing, is written by Bruce D. Perry M.D., Ph.D. and Oprah Winfrey. The book is essential reading for anyone interested in trauma and the healing of trauma. Many people who become addicted to drugs have experienced childhood trauma.

The book was informative, inspirational and deeply-moving. Bruce has put together so well what he has learnt throughout his career (including a great deal from the young people he has worked alongside), and has described his theories of how we function as human beings, and how trauma can have such a devastating impact on us. He describes the many ways we can facilitate the healing of trauma. The use of storytelling—Bruce’s clinical experiences and Oprah’s personal experiences—is very powerful.

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Society is Failing to Tackle Historical Trauma

images-2‘The bureaucratic interventions of the state – the processes of law, social welfare, and health care – have not addressed the core issue of human traumatisation. These issues, in many cases, compounded the trauma by creating and increasing dependency on the state, which, while intensifying the feelings of victimisation, also enforces the beliefs of being powerless to change destructive circumstances.’ Judy Atkinson

If we are to help Indigenous people improve their health and wellbeing, we have to tackle core underlying problems such as transgenerational trauma. However, our health care systems do not address transgenerational trauma—they just manage its symptoms, e.g. by prescribing medications to ‘treat’ emotional distress.

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Healing Section of Recovery Stories

In more recent years, my work has in large part been focused around the healing of trauma. I set up the educational initiative Sharing Culture in 2014, which focused on the healing of intergenerational trauma amongst Indigenous peoples. [The website is still live, but I have not updated my blog for some time.]

Late in 2018, I launched a storytelling, education and healing online resource, The Carrolup Story, with Social Anthropologist John Stanton and our webmaster Ash Whitney (he built the Recovery Stories website as well). I published the eBook Connection: Aboriginal Child Artists Captivate Europe in June 2020.

This book, along with the website, plunges us into a world where traumatised Aboriginal children of Western Australia show resilience in the face of great adversity. Their achievements challenge the very foundation of a government’s racist and dehumanising policies. Their beautiful landscape art inspires four generations of artists… and takes a 50-year journey, encircling the world before returning home.

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‘Our Recovery Stories’ eBook Available Tomorrow

‘Learn from the True Experts’

Recovery from addiction comes from the person with the problem. They do the work in overcoming their substance use and related problems, getting well, and getting their life (back) on track. Recovery is a process of self-healing. Practitioners, peer supporters and others may facilitate recovery, but they do so by catalysing and supporting natural processes of recovery in the individual. 

Our Recovery Stories: Journeys from Drug and Alcohol Addiction comes out tomorrow as a self-published eBook (170,000 words). It can be purchased from Apple, Amazon or Kobo. It is available via Apple, Amazon or Kobo (price: £4.99, A$8.99, US$6.99, €5.99). Please note, that you must purchase and download the book from the supplier’s store in your country or region. Just search for the book using the words of the main title. The Amazon and Kobo links above are for the UK stores. There is no link for Apple, as their system works differently through the Apple Books app. Further information about purchasing can be found at the bottom of this page.

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‘Ruby’s Story’: Marion Kickett

It’s hard to believe that it is over seven years ago since I launched Sharing Culture, an educational initiative to facilitate the healing of intergenerational trauma. It is also over seven years since Michael Liu and I went out with Professor Marion Kickett to her home country in York to film her describing her life, country, culture, spirituality, family, education and resilience. Marion is a Noongar leader from the Balardong language group, who is Director of the Centre for Aboriginal Studies at Curtin University in Perth.

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