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Trauma-Sensitive Mindfulness: Practices for Safe and Transformative Healing

4.43  ·  Rating details ·  412 ratings  ·  62 reviews
From elementary schools to psychotherapy offices, mindfulness meditation is an increasingly mainstream practice. At the same time, trauma remains a fact of life: the majority of us will experience a traumatic event in our lifetime, and up to 20% of us will develop posttraumatic stress. This means that anywhere mindfulness is being practiced, someone in the room is likely t ...more
Hardcover, 264 pages
Published February 13th 2018 by W. W. Norton Company
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Jul 14, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: read-in-2018
Really a 4.5 and a must read for anyone who is engaged in either trauma informed service or in mindfulness.

My household recently decided to start our own (3 person) mindfulness book club and the first book we read was Pema Chodron's 'Start Where You Are'. As a trauma survivor and someone who works to end sexual violence and support survivors every day, I had a strong reaction to some parts of the book -- feeling that there was never enough context about how it could look/feel different for folk
May 28, 2018 rated it really liked it
For folks with trauma histories, this book will be a relief because it will affirm you aren’t doing things wrong but instead how meditation needs to be modified for you. I appreciate how transparent this white author is about how systems of oppression contribute to trauma, which is a rarity among the field with the exception of Gabor Mate. Book does a decent job of explaining the science around trauma and the brain but for a more in depth book I would recommend Trauma and Memory by Peter Levine. ...more
Jul 25, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: trauma, progressive
This is probably the only mindfulness book I've read that genuinely explains how social context can make trauma worse for those who have to live in a discriminatory society. A good resource for those trying to work through traumatic experiences with mindfulness. ...more
Jun 26, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: kindle-purchase
Not enough focus on Complex PTSD and emotional flashbacks.

A lot of good information, but not enough that is specific to those who suffer from emotional flashbacks and C-PTSD only. I’m left with a lot of assumptions about how the concepts apply to less obvious symptoms, including disassociation and trauma that is formed over a long period of time through repeated events. In other words, I’d like to have heard more about meditation and its impact on trauma that isn’t necessarily tied to one or man
Jun 19, 2019 rated it really liked it
This book is important for teachers of meditation or mindfulness who are not trained to work with people who have a history of trauma. The book cautions such teachers to be prepared for clients who have trauma histories and be ready to adjust teachings for them.

It is definitely important for anyone who helps people go into an altered state of consciousness to understand there are risks of triggering traumatized responses in people who have some history of trauma.

People with a history of trauma
May 22, 2019 rated it it was amazing
It is difficult for me to review this book as it precipitated a spiritual awakening for me in ways that I can’t articulate because I haven’t fully processed so I may add to this review later. Treleaven is not only a talented writer, but the assessments and tips provided in this book are revolutionary and life-changing.

As someone who experienced extreme trauma in childhood and continuing into adulthood, I hadn’t fully been able to recognize and wrap my head around the treatment, tenderness, and
K. Vita
Mar 25, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This book is a must-read for mindfulness teachers and/or anyone who is teaching mindfulness to others. Mindfulness practice and instruction is not a one-size fits-all situation. David gives clear explanations why many people have a hard time 'just sitting,' and points out ways to modify and tailor the instruction to make it more accessible and doable for all. The information here is especially essential and helpful for those working with marginalized or underserved populations. Highly recommend! ...more
Jan 13, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This was an excellent book for me (person with trauma history getting extremely distressed every time I tried to be formally mindful), and I really appreciated the contextualisation of more general oppression and trauma. If you are a reader with a trauma background do be aware that a lot of the content may be triggering (client examples particularly), but if you take it gently you will likely get a huge amount from the book anyway. This book is a great one to couple with more trauma-specific stu ...more
Andrea McDowell
In my mid-thirties, shortly after my divorce, I became an avid reader of pop psychology and neuroscience books; I was just beginning to grapple with a childhood I'd been taught to think of as "normal" and the effects it had had, and just beginning to talk about them in therapy.

(I'd had one session with a child psychologist in my teens after a suicide attempt. He asked how I was and I told him I was "fine," because I knew from a lifetime of coaching that "fine" was always the right answer, becaus
Jul 15, 2021 rated it it was amazing
Essential reading for ANY mental health specialist, or even anyone who swears by mindfulness and meditation and wants to get their friends and family and followers on board. It's not healthy for everyone and can trigger trauma and PTSD and this must be a qualifier before recommendation.

A member in my cult therapy group was in a buddhist cult. Before joining therapy with a cult specialist, she was in generic therapy, where meditation was recommended to her. This girl ended up having a panic attac
Sylvie Barak
Solid book, bit repetitive

The TL;DR version of this book is: mindfulness is great, but if you have trauma, it can be problematic and you might want to consult a trauma specialist. If you are a mindfulness teacher, be aware that some of your students might have trauma come up during mindfulness and they won’t be able to mindfulness their way out of it. So have them see a trauma specialist. And also, be sensitive to race, gender, religion, sexuality and other things that might be causing a person
Kristen Lawrance
Jun 06, 2021 rated it it was amazing
Loved, loved, loved this book. Would highly recommend to anyone in the counselling field, as well as any person who is trying to have a more well-rounded understanding of the pros and (perhaps more importantly) the cons of mindfullness.

I very much appreciated how practical this book was. Additionally, I was very, very impressed with how Treleaven seamlessly wove in education about trauma from a social justice lens.
Feb 23, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Excellent, informative, really clearly written. An invaluable resource that I'm really glad to have read, and that I'll be returning to again and again. ...more
Feb 10, 2021 rated it it was amazing
Essential reading for teachers.
Jay Collins
Sep 21, 2020 rated it liked it
2.5 stars to maybe 3 at times. I found some aspect of the book good but others not so much. The author does not really add a lot to the healing part of things. I would recommend the body keeps the score as a better book on this topic.
John Sommers-flanagan
Jul 24, 2018 rated it it was ok
In a practical sense, this is a good book. It offers useful ideas for how to use mindfulness effectively with people who have had trauma experiences. From a theoretical and scientific perspective, the book is less strong. For my taste, there's far too much featuring of popular, but scientifically unsupported concepts like polyvagal theory, the triune brain, and a "failure of integration" model for explaining trauma. All that said, this book could help clinicians, although it will give them an in ...more
Ro Mo
Oct 19, 2018 rated it it was amazing
An intersectional examination of how trauma can thwart the effectiveness of meditation as a tool for presence, healing, and fulfillment. Treleaven does a wonderful job of examining different encounters with a meditation practice— looking at beginners and seasoned practitioners— who find themselves unable to escape the physical and emotional rollercoasters that trauma posits in-between the practitioner and their peace. Undeniably essential reading for anyone teaching meditation and mindfulness to ...more
Catherine Klatzker
Jan 17, 2021 rated it it was amazing
Thank you for writing this, David.

So few people speak of this—almost no one—how mindfulness meditation can go awry for some of us and what to do when a previously stable, nourishing practice requires regulation.

PTSD with dissociative aspects plunged me into a ten week kundalini wormhole during mindfulness meditation in 2002, and I can attest to the thoroughness and care of David Treleaven’s new book, Trauma-Sensitive Mindfulness.

“Mindfulness is a process of enhanced self-regulation.” Brilliant.

Aug 18, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: psychology
I've often noticed mindfulness as a trendy, go-to strategy therapists love to use, especially if you want to offer a client a practical skill. Treleaven presents a book where we ought to pause and question our intention of using mindfulness (he specifies mindfulness meditation vs. the more informal practices in the introduction) with those suffering from trauma. He argues mindfulness meditation, when unsupervised, can lead trauma survivors to experience greater distress when trying to confront a ...more
For those mental health professionals who plan to incoroporate mindfulness practices into a trauma-informed therapeutic approach, this is an essential text. Treleaven's book is well-researched and provides practical applications for the effective, ethical, and safe use of mindfulness techniques for trauma survivors. As Treleaven states "the basic argument of this book is not that mindfulness causes trauma, but that it can uncover it. At times, it can also amplify traumatic symptoms." Like any ot ...more
Sep 23, 2020 rated it it was amazing
I do a lot of mindfulness work with clients and groups, and it's common to hear the adage that mindfulness is good for everyone - but that's not always the case. Trauma causes an internal dysregulation, and dropping in to pay attention to your inner experience is a land mine sometimes. Often if a person is having trouble in meditation, meditation teachers will say something like "just stick with it" - which is ok advice if you are not in a traumatic state, but if you are it's doing some damage. ...more
Renee Goodwin
I first came across this book as I was working on a project to use an adapted form of mindfulness meditation in Christian churches, but did not read it. At my first elders meeting as a newly ordained minister, I was shocked to hear them all talking about how they had each been beaten when they were students at the local elementary school -- and they were all defensively joking about it! I realized that I needed to learn about spiritual practice with traumatized people, so I revisited this book.

Jan 30, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Really nice summary and discussion of trauma-informed modifications for mindfulness practice. Very practical, clearly based on extensive experience, really a must read for anyone delivering or creating mindfulness content. I also think the discussions of oppression, race, and white male privilege are particularly important for our work and helping others.

My few complaints was that at no time was there a discussion of whether mindfulness practice is even appropriate for someone dealing with traum
May 04, 2020 rated it it was amazing
This was an amazing read! It challenged me to look at trauma not only from an individualistic perspective, but a systemic perspective. The author beautifully illustrated why a systemic perspective is necessary for developing a safe setting for clients to practice mindfulness. Like many clinicians, I've read the stats that exhibits mindfulness as a panacea. This book helped me to take a step back and see why mindfulness doesn't work with all my clients. Safety is key, and mindfulness can contrain ...more
Jul 30, 2021 rated it really liked it
A very important read for anyone working with meditation. Helpful tips and tools with important reminders to do your own work and not minimize an experience and create more harm. “It’s irresponsible to invite people with trauma deeper into their pain”

I appreciated the author acknowledging his own elevated social context and for each of to examine where we are coming from. Other reviews were put off by his mixing in politics. They probably should read those sections again or engage in race work/e
Apr 21, 2019 rated it really liked it
This is a very approachable book that doesn't get weighted down by the depth of its topic. Treleavan both offers practical suggestions and also advocates for a social justice mindset through his lens of trauma-sensitive mindfulness. He clearly argues that personal trauma and systemic oppression are not exclusive of each other, reframing how modern society views trauma. Furthermore, he supports the use of mindfulness in the healing process, but with careful consideration of how to keep the indivi ...more
All trauma providers and mindfulness teachers need to read this book. Beautifully weaves a deep understanding of trauma, neurobiology, and social injustice into a strong case for thinking deeply about the usefulness or potential harmfulness of focused attention, the importance of social engagement in regulation, the traumatic nature of social injustice, and the cruciality of collaboration and opportunities for consent, options and client autonomy. I will come back to this one throughout my caree ...more
Dec 07, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
For anyone working with people in today’s society

I read this as part of a class on working with teens using mindfulness. I didn’t enjoy reading the book, it brought up stuff. But I am grateful for the straight forward practical information about how to deal with trauma. The tools and suggestions are absolutely great guidelines, guidelines we all need when trying to help others.
Feb 24, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Really excellent. I may be a little biased because the author trained in the same type of therapy I trained in, so his approach resonates deeply with me. But beyond that, I really appreciated the number of specific examples and stories he used throughout to illustrate important points about mindfulness and trauma. I liked his specific takeaways/ recommendations. And I appreciated his integration of issues of oppression, bias, safety, and justice into the conversation.
Sep 02, 2019 rated it it was amazing
not a topic i'd seen before. this was thorough and a great primer on mindfulness, trauma, and multicultural practice. I recommend very highly, especially if you have a trauma history and still want to do mindfulness meditation or if you do work involving mindfulness and/or the teaching if mindfulness. ...more
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David Treleaven, PhD, is a writer and educator working at the intersection of mindfulness and trauma. He is the author of the acclaimed new book Trauma-Sensitive Mindfulness (W. W. Norton), and founder of the Trauma-Sensitive Mindfulness (TSM) Community — a group committed to setting a standard of care within mindfulness-based practices, interventions, and programs.

Through workshops, keynotes, pod

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“ESTABLISH STABLE ANCHORS OF ATTENTION Mindfulness meditation typically involves something known as an anchor of attention—a neutral reference point that helps support mental stability. An anchor might be the sensation of our breath coming in and out of the nostrils, or the rising and falling of our abdomen. When we become lost in thought during practice, we can return to our anchor, fixing our attention on the stimuli we’ve chosen. But anchors can also intensify trauma. The breath, for instance, is far from neutral for many survivors. It’s an area of the body that can hold tension related to a trauma and connect to overwhelming, life-threatening events. When Dylan paid attention to the rising and falling of his abdomen, he would be swamped with memories of mocking faces while walking down the hallway. Other times, feeling a constriction of his breath in the chest echoed a feeling of immobility, which was a traumatic reminder. For Dylan, the breath simply wasn’t a neutral anchor. As a remedy, we can encourage survivors to establish stabilizing anchors of attention. This means finding a focus of attention that supports one’s window of tolerance—creating stability in the nervous system as opposed to dysregulation. Each person’s anchor will vary: for some, it could be the sensations of their hands resting on their thighs, or their buttocks on the cushion. Other stabilizing anchors might include another sense altogether, such as hearing or sight. When Dylan and I worked together, it took a while until he could find a part of his body that didn’t make him more agitated. He eventually found that the sense of hearing was a neutral anchor of attention. At my office, he’d listen for the sound of the birds or the traffic outside, which he found to be stabilizing. “It’s subtle,” he said to me, opening his eyes and rubbing the back of his neck with his hand. “But it is a lot less charged. I’m not getting riled up the same way, which is a huge relief.” In sessions together, Dylan’s anchor was a spot he’d rest his attention on at the beginning of a session or a place to return to if he felt overwhelmed. If he practiced meditation at home—I’d recommended short periods if he could stay in his window of tolerance—he used hearing as an anchor, or “home base” as he called it. “I finally feel like I can access a kind of refuge,” he said quietly, placing his hand on his belly. “My body hasn’t felt safe in so long. It’s a relief to finally feel like I’m learning how to be in here.” Anchors of attention you can offer students and clients practicing mindfulness—besides the sensation of the breath in the abdomen or nostrils—include different physical sensations (feet, buttocks, back, hands) and other senses (seeing, smelling, hearing). One client of mine had a soft blanket that she would touch slowly as an anchor. Another used a candle. For some, walking meditation is a great way to develop more stable anchors of attention, such as the feeling of one’s feet on the ground—whatever supports stability and one’s window of tolerance. Experimentation is key. Using subtler anchors does come with benefits and drawbacks. One advantage to working with the breath is that it is dynamic and tends to hold our attention more easily. When we work with a sense that’s less tactile—hearing, for instance—we may be more prone to drifting off into distraction. The more tangible the anchor, the easier it is to return to it when attention wanders.” 0 likes
“Nobody chooses to experience trauma. Whether it’s a natural disaster, a devastating accident, or an act of interpersonal violence, trauma often leaves people feeling violated and absent a sense of control. Because of this, it’s vital that survivors feel a sense of choice and autonomy in their mindfulness practice. We want them to know that in every moment of practice, they are in control. Nothing will be forced upon them. They can move at a pace that works for them, and they can always opt out of any practice. By emphasizing self-responsiveness, we help put power back in the hands of survivors. The body is central to this process. Survivors need to know they won’t be asked to override signals from their body, but to listen to them—one way they’ll learn to stay in their window of tolerance. We can accomplish this, in part, through our selection of language. Rather than give instructions as declarations, we can offer invitations that increase agency. Here are a few examples: • “In the next few breaths, whenever you’re ready, I invite you to close your eyes or have them open and downcast” (as opposed to “Close your eyes”). • “You appeared to be hyperventilating at the end of that last meditation. Would you like to talk to me for a minute about it?” (versus “You looked terrified. I need to talk to you”). In all of our interactions, we can tailor our instructions to be invitations instead of commands. Another way to emphasize choice is to provide different options in practice. We can offer students and clients the choice to have their eyes open or closed, or to adopt a posture that works best for them (e.g., standing, sitting, or lying down). Any time we are offering different ways people can practice, we can also work to normalize any choice they make—one way is not superior to the other.17 While we can encourage people to stay through the duration of a meditation period, we also want them to know that leaving the room—especially if they are surpassing their window of tolerance—is an option that is always available to them.” 0 likes
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