W. John Roberts
West Sussex: Lockwood Press 2008, pp111
One thing that needs to be said upfront: this book is no literary masterpiece. In fact I read it with my editor’s virtual pencil in hand, marking and correcting as I went along. Nevertheless, I found the material to be presented with a passion – and compassion – that held my attention.
John Roberts joined the Royal Air Force as a boy entrant aged only 15. Six years later, while on active service in Aden, he was involved in an accident that had long-lasting and potentially life-threatening consequences. The experience changed his demeanour from ‘mouse’ to ‘an aggressive, demanding obsessive’ but it took nearly 30 years for the realisation that he was suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) to dawn. Shocking as this is – and John pulls no punches when laying out his own story – the book is not written primarily for the PTSD sufferer but for his or her family: partners, children, relatives and close friends.
“The effects of living with a trauma survivor has been a neglected area … [the family] has not been seen as the most important tool the sufferer has at all times … [and] it is too important not to be used as a tool in the survivor’s recovery” (p7)
A former social worker and now a certificated trauma counsellor accredited for work with the Emergency 999 Services, John has written his book with a lay audience very much in mind. He begins by defining ‘trauma’, making the point that, since every individual will have his or her own unique perception of events, ‘trauma is very much in the eyes of the beholder’ (p10), goes on to describe some of the ways in which the experience of a traumatic event can lead a person to develop PTSD, and describes the effects this disorder can have on individuals’ lives. It is recognised that PTSD sufferers are at their most vulnerable when they are away from the trauma specialist or therapist who may be helping them to deal with their problem. It follows that “… the success of any treatment for PTSD is jeopardised if there is no support or counselling in place for the family.” (p62). So far, so familiar but John’s book really comes into its own by throwing light on the traumas visited on the family members themselves – especially children – as a result of living with dysfunction in their midst. Chapters 5 – The Dysfunctional Family – and 6 – Children – identify, in non-technical terms, some of the possible causes of such trauma and their potential ramifications, including relational and behavioural problems, addictions and bullying. “It is false economy … to leave these issues until they surface. Correctly funded and treated, PTSD as a family package means that … it does not need to become the big collection of social and health issues that it so often does.” (p68).
The final chapter of the book is devoted to brief expositions of some of the current, practice-based, therapies for the treatment of PTSD. A list of short courses, offered by John under his company Business Trauma Training Ltd, and a questionnaire designed to assist client and counsellor to identify a possible treatment plan should one be required, are appended.
I am no trauma specialist and for those who are, there will no doubt be much in this book with which they are already familiar. However, given the everyday language in which it is written and the insights into living with PTSD it provides, I believe this slim volume represents a worthwhile resource, not just for practitioners but, perhaps most importantly, for their clients.
Tamar Posner is an integrative psychotherapist with a private practice in North West London. She also works in the NHS with people suffering severe and enduring mental health issues.