Abuse, prejudice, or the sudden death of a loved one can cause trauma that manifests in myriad ways. What these harmful experiences have in common is their ability to ravage one’s emotional, mental, and physical health if left unprocessed. The pandemic, meanwhile, has unleashed “an enormous collective grief we are not acknowledging,” says Hannah Robinson, editor at Balance, which will publish several titles on trauma this season. Those and other soon-to-be-released books offer support to readers facing daunting truths head-on.

A practical point of view

Processing trauma can be exceptionally anxiety inducing, and books that provide accessible, actionable strategies can ease the difficult journey.

For example, trauma-focused psychologist Sam Akbar’s Stressilient, coming from St. Martin’s in August, itemizes techniques readers can use to understand and manage their negative feelings. The strategies include labeling one’s emotions and repeating anxiety-inducing words to strip them of their connotations.

The book, says Elizabeth Beier, executive editor at St. Martin’s, appeals to those dealing with trauma as well as those wanting to prepare for possible setbacks. “You have no idea how stressful the next thing is going to be,” she explains. “Having some of those habits stashed away means that when you are in the clench, you’re going to be set up well for it.”

Further practical advice comes in Making Meaning of Difficult Experiences (Oxford Univ., Aug.), in which Emory University School of Medicine professors Sheila A.M. Rauch and Barbara Olasov Rothbaum lay out techniques for those dealing with trauma in four categories: memory exposure and processing, behavior activation, social connection, and self-care.

In a similar vein, Unfinished Business (She Writes, Aug.), by actor-turned-life-coach Melanie Smith, delivers an eight-step plan for identifying and dealing with unresolved traumas, while Loving You Is Hurting Me (Balance, Oct.) by counselor and trauma researcher Laura Copley instructs readers on how to work through harms arising from toxic relationships.

Trauma and grief are often intertwined, and Gina Moffa, a therapist who specializes in both areas, digs into their relationship in Moving On Doesn’t Mean Letting Go, due from Balance in August. The book describes how grief works, recommends meaningful alternatives to overused platitudes, and argues that “we don’t just get over our grief, we integrate it,” according to Balance’s Robinson.

“There’s something beautiful about permission to feel all forms of loss,” Robinson adds. “No book can take away someone’s grief. But it can help them normalize their experience so that it doesn’t become additionally overwhelming.”

It’s personal

In other forthcoming books, authors highlight their own struggles with trauma and detail how they found solace.

In A Flat Place (Melville House, June), Noreen Masud, a lecturer at the University of Bristol, describes how nature has helped her understand her traumatic childhood and resulting PTSD, while in Healing Honestly (Berrett-Koehler, June), Alissa Zipursky draws on her experience as a childhood sexual abuse survivor to help others work their trauma, imbuing with her narrative with candor and humor.

Actor Courtney B. Vance lost both his father and his godson to suicide. In The Invisible Ache, coauthored with psychologist Robin L. Smith and set to be published by Balance in November, he tells that story and describes how therapy helped him find clarity, while also offering guidance aimed in particular at Black men.

“There is more freedom about mental health these days, but less so in that community,” says Nana Twumasi, v-p and publisher of Balance. She adds that the book encourages “letting go of the incorrect idea that in order to be manly you have to swallow your emotions.”

Two other forthcoming titles see male authors contending with their personal traumas. In Bounce Back (Hachette Go, Nov.), Travis Mills, a retired U.S. Army staff sergeant, recounts the injury he sustained in Afghanistan that left him a quadruple amputee and shares insights into how others can grow from harrowing experiences. And in Hope Is the First Dose (WaterBrook, July), W. Lee Warren, an Iraq War veteran and neurosurgeon, excavates the tragedy of his son’s unsolved murder. (Warren’s 2020 book I’ve Seen the End of You received a starred PW review and won the Christian Book Award.)

Warren, says Susan Tjaden, executive editor at WaterBrook and Multnomah, “knew he needed to find a way through this trauma but not with the typical Christian platitude of having hope.” Of Warren’s message for readers, she adds, “He’s not just hoping you survive and manage what you’ve been through. He wants to help you find happiness on the other side.”

Moving forward

How to reach that other side is the question taken up by further tiles that focus on taking responsibility for one’s trauma and dealing with it frankly.

For social worker and mental health educator Minaa B., who has more than 270,000 followers on Instagram, working through pain involves eschewing the silos people tend to isolate themselves in when mired in trauma and embracing community connections instead, as she explains in Owning Our Struggles, coming in August from TarcherPerigee.

“It’s easy to fall into a victim mindset,” says Marian Lizzi, v-p and editor-in-chief of TarcherPerigee. The book, she adds, offers an “engaging invitation” to take on the work of healing because “the rewards are so great.”

Cultivating strength in the face of pain also means recognizing traumas early on, even when they don’t seem particularly large. In Aftershock, due from HCI in September, clinical psychologist Geri Lynn-Utter argues that small traumas can be hugely damaging when ignored.

“Those are the ones that fly under the radar,” says HCI editor Darcie Abbene. “Six months down the road, you might wonder why you don’t feel great when you already went through something. But you’re not through it. You moved forward because you had to and didn’t deal with it.”

Sara Kuburic, known as the “millennial therapist” to her 1.5 million Instagram followers, also puts the focus on personal accountability in It’s on Me, coming from Dial in September. Having been forced to flee her native Bosnia as a child during the 1990s genocide there, Kuburic understands trauma firsthand and considers it from a bold standpoint: it’s imperative, she argues, to take full responsibility for it.

Of the book’s argument, Annie Chagnot, senior editor at Dial, says, “That’s not to say you haven’t had trauma. But where you go next is up to you.”

The book, Chagnot adds—in a summation of this season’s titles on trauma—shows readers “how much power they do have to overcome their limitations and circumstances, and turn their lives into something that feels true and fulfilling.”

Alia Akkam is the author of Behind the Bar: Gin and Behind the Bar: 50 Cocktail Recipes from the World’s Most Iconic Hotels.

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Bouncing Back from Burnout: Health Books 2023
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