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Healing Invisible Wounds

Healing Invisible Wounds: Paths to Hope and Recovery in a Violent World
by Richard F. Mollica, MD
Paperback released by Vanderbilt University Publishers, December 2008

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Everywhere and constantly human beings are subject to terrible violence—be it natural or manmade. It has happened in New Orleans, New York, India, Iraq, Rwanda, Bosnia, Cambodia, Ivory Coast. But long after the levees have been reconstructed, after the war criminals have been brought to justice, the question remains—can people heal, and if so, how?

Richard Mollica has spent more than thirty years helping victims of trauma. Now he draws from hundreds of interviews, years of research, and his counseling experience to show us a new way of helping people overcome their pain. The key to this? People have an inherent ability to heal themselves. And the lessons we can learn from the survivors of such trials and extreme situations can even teach us how to cope better with everyday life.

Here is a passionate, humanitarian voice of hope in a cruel and violent world, telling us all we can do more than survive—we can find strength and healing no matter what we have experienced.

Table of Contents

RICHARD F. MOLLICA, MD, is a Harvard Medical School professor of psychiatry and director of the Harvard Program in Refugee Trauma at Massachusetts General Hospital. He holds an MAR from Yale Divinity School and is a Fulbright New Century Scholar. The recipient of many honors and awards, including the APA Human Rights Award, he lives in Lincoln, Massachusetts.

Reviews of Healing Invisible Wounds“Few clinicians have more experience than Richard Mollica in treating those who have undergone trauma and torture. This book miraculously extracts a message not of despair but of hope from the stories they have entrusted to his sensitive care.”
— Anne Fadiman

“The stories recounted here bear eloquent and often moving testimony to the resilience of human beings in the face of awful traumatic experiences and their remarkable capacity to heal themselves.”
— The Most Reverend Desmond M. Tutu

“Many people experience traumatic life events. In this book, through the stories of survivors, Dr. Mollica shows us that we all have the capacity to heal and lead rich, meaningful lives.”
— Rosalynn Carter, Chair, The Carter Center Mental Health Task Force

“Dr. Mollica has a profound respect for the survivors of horrific violent trauma. Healing Invisible Wounds emphasizes the power of self-healing, assisted by those who hear not just the trauma but the context of the survivors’ lives. In these violent times, this book offers a valuable vision for all of us in coping with tragedy.”
–- Alvin Poussaint, MD, Professor of Psychiatry, Harvard Medical School and Director of the Judge Baker Children’s Center

“Dr. Mollica brings a wealth of intense personal experience to a badly wounded world, ultimately offering a message of encouragement and hope: People can heal themselves and one another from the deepest personal injuries. Mollica retells many of these stories, framing them in ways that will challenge and richly instruct those who would help heal such trauma.”
— Harold Attridge, Dean of Yale University Divinity School & Lillian Claus Professor of New Testament

“I was transfixed and deeply moved by HEALING INVISIBLE WOUNDS. Mental health professionals too often listen with predetermined mindsets. But here, Dr. Mollica reminds us how important it is to be open in listening to trauma stories, to recognize the wisdom of traumatized individuals, and to understand their drive for self healing. I could not help but be reminded of teenagers with whom we have been working, in a parish devastated by Hurricane Katrina. Their first concern demonstrates underlying resilience, altruism, and hope: ‘How can I help rebuild the parish?’ We must thank Richard Mollica for this important work– its wisdom and guidance.”
— Howard Osofsky, Chairman of Psychiatry, Louisiana State University

“Is it possible to recover from severe trauma, to lead productive and healthy lives in spite of brutal adversity and harrowing experiences?

All patients, Richard Mollica argues, have within them ‘a power for self-healing.’ After a long career treating those whose lives are marred by genocide, war, rape, or torture, his conclusions are shot through with a humble optimism that will comfort and instruct those who seek to provide care to, or simply to accompany, the victims who are always more than just victims. Mollica’s book is a welcome salve in a world of want and pain.”
— Paul Farmer, MD, PhD

“As director and co-founder of the Harvard Program in Refugee Trauma, Mollica has born witness to the devastating consequences of the most unspeakable acts of violence humans have conceived. Furthermore, he has seen firsthand how victims of inhumanity have found the inner strength to overcome life-altering trauma with renewed faith and have even regained humor and optimism. After a slow start, Mollica’s book reaches a passionate peak as he relates his clients’ experiences in the prison camps of the Khmer Rouge, as Bosnian genocide survivors, and victims of domestic violence. When he describes self-healing techniques, including verbalizing one’s own story and the importance of faith, he speaks from the wisdom of his practice not as a healer as much as a guide for those on the road to wellness. His empowering message is that the invisible wounds left by violence are not intractable, that people can and will persevere, and he offers a handful of the necessary skills.”
–– Donna Chavez, Booklist

“According to a 2004 World Refugee Survey publication, seven million refugees worldwide have been warehoused in camps for more than a decade. Mollica (psychiatry, Harvard Medical Sch.) proposes a new paradigm for treating such traumatized people, drawing on research and more than 30 years of caring for victims of extreme violence in Southeast Asia, Bosnia, and elsewhere. He believes that self-healing is the key to recovery, a concept that sounds simple but involves a more complex program of reempowerment than traditional self-help. Chapters cover such topics as the dynamics of humiliation, the trauma story, the art of recovery and effective storytelling, and dreams as a component of the recovery process. Specific techniques for self-healing as demonstrated in a class for Cambodian refugees are also provided. Overall, Mollica criticizes medical arrogance, ineffective relief agencies, and activists who overemphasize the legal aspects of human rights violations. This passionately written book contains many moving stories of recovery from traumatic stress, and the therapeutic model seems humane and promising. Recommended for academic and specialized collections in mental health and counseling.”
— Antoinette Brinkman, MLS, Evansville, IN for Library Journal

“Mollica breaks with what he says is the conventional wisdom that torture victims are untreatable. In limpid prose, Mollica, director of the Harvard Program in Refugee Trauma, celebrates instead ‘the capacity of persons to recover from violent events and to engage in self-healing.’ He explains how his clinic offers traumatized refugees to America housing, emotional support, counseling in their own language and participation in therapeutic self-healing programs. Demonstrating the importance of cultural sensitivity, especially to language, and the significant healing power of attuned listening to the ‘trauma story,’ Mollica writes: ‘Survivors must be allowed to tell their stories their own way. We must not burden them with theories, interpretations, or opinions, especially if we have little knowledge of their cultural and political background.’ Relating harrowing survivor stories from Cambodia, Bosnia, Rwanda and the World Trade Center, among others, Mollica describes the psychological effects of humiliation, cultural annihilation and sexual violence, showing how victims ‘suffer a divide in their conscious minds’ between hope and despair. Mollica advocates moral and emotional discipline in both healer and patient. Passionately endorsing a humanitarian, holistic and culturally sensitive approach to healing, Mollica persuades with pertinent reference to contemporary neuroscience and to ancient and non-Western healing practices.”
— Publishers Weekly (Dec. 2006)