Finding Your Best Self
This slightly edited review was initially published in April of 2018 in The Journal of Social Work Practice in the Addictions. It applies to both the first and second editions of the book.
Review by Richard Romaniuk
Case Western Reserve University
Lisa M. Najavits, the author of Seeking Safety, is a well-known educator, clinician, and researcher. Finding Your Best Self: Recovery From Addiction, Trauma, or Both is the result of more than 25 years of clinical experience reinforced by research on trauma and addiction. This book provides tremendous help both for professionals and their patients.
In the process of working on the book, Najavits gave pages of her work to patients in her clinical practice and asked them for feedback. Many patients shared responses in writing, which are now included as integral parts of the text. The author’s conversation with the reader, along with the narratives of people in recovery, creates a sense of community or group therapy that can be achieved just by opening the book.
Because reading about trauma and addiction can yield troublesome emotions and reactions, Najavits begins by discussing how to stay safe through the process of self-discovery. While learning the signs of trauma, the reader is advised to create a crisis plan and build a safety net. Discussing barriers to recovery, the author explains how certain beliefs concerning trauma and addiction treatment have changed in recent years. She describes these changes as “surprises.”For example, today we believe that we can treat trauma and addiction at the same time, and we do not support confrontation in addiction treatment.
After the introduction, Najavits explains the nature of trauma and addiction and how the two interact. Each of the 35 separate chapters addresses a specific issue, some informative and others interactive. Reading the book is like going through therapy sessions with a client, sometimes moving forward, other times returning to already processed material with a different approach to a topic. Every dimension of life is discussed – language, thinking, belief system, behavior, mind and body relationship, pain, motivation and its lack – in response to the experience of trauma and addiction and the changes that are possible during recovery. The underlying argument of the book is that clients, step by step, focusing on different aspects of their lives, can determine how they think, feel, and behave.
Najavits offers them information, exercises, and examples of recovery work given by people who share their stories. She helps readers to recognize their responses to trauma and how those responses are intertwined with addiction. After developing an awareness of the problem, she shows how to build new responses and behaviors with the application of healthy thinking, attitudes, new skills, and behavior.
Chapter 12 presents a list of 84 safe coping skills, drawn largely from Seeking Safety. One of the coping skills is a reminder, taken from the poet Rainer Maria Rilke, that no feeling is final. “The day-by-day recovery process, with its successes and setbacks, is structured around long-term goals that each client is guided to imagine, verbalize, and cherish.”
Those in recovery can use this book as a self-help textbook, as a guide through the therapy process that includes specific suggestions about how to find a good counselor and identify the most suitable treatment program. Professionals will recognize and appreciate the flexibility of the material and how it allows them to apply different therapeutic methods and approaches, including mindfulness, cognitive-behavioral therapy, and existential and past-focused trauma counseling.
There are four appendices in the book. The first is for those who want to help people in recovery from trauma and addiction. The second lists relevant resources, and the third presents the scale of excessive behaviors that help us identify behavioral problems. The last appendix is a quiz of the reader’s knowledge concerning trauma and addiction, along with answers and accompanying explanations. The quiz can be used before and after reading the book, as part of an effort to gauge what has been learned during the recovery process.
Najavits’s goal is that those who read this book will use it as a self-help tool to transform their pain and despair into a mission of compassion. The book is likely to prove most helpful to those in recovery and to professionals working with this population.
Lisa M. Najavits, PhD, is Adjunct Professor, University of Massachusetts Medical School. She was previously on the faculty of Harvard Medical School for 25 years and a research psychologist for the Veterans Affairs Healthcare System for 12 years. She is the Director of Treatment Innovations, which conducts research and training related to mental health and addiction.