Judith Herman is best known for her contributions to the understanding of trauma and its victims, as set out in her second book, Trauma and Recovery. There she distinguishes between single-incident traumas – one-off events – which she termed Type I traumas, and complex or repeated traumas (Type II). Type I trauma, according to the United States Veterans Administration’s Center for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, “accurately describes the symptoms that result when a person experiences a short-lived psychological trauma”. Type II – the concept of complex post-traumatic stress disorder (CPTSD) – includes “the syndrome that follows upon prolonged, repeated trauma”. Although not yet accepted by DSM-IV as a separate diagnostic category, the notion of complex traumas has been found useful in clinical practice.
Herman equally influentially set out a three-stage sequence of trauma treatment and recovery. The first involved regaining a sense of safety, whether through a therapeutic relationship, medication, relaxation exercises or a combination of all three. The second phase involved active work upon the trauma, fostered by that secure base, and employing any of a range of psychological techniques. The final stage was represented by an advance to a new post-traumatic life, possibly broadened by the experience of surviving the trauma and all it involved.
Herman was interviewed by Harry Kreisler, Executive Director of the Institute of International Studies at the University of California at Berkeley, for his ongoing series Conversations with History at the Institute of International Studies, UC Berkeley. She is currently working on a study into the effects of the justice system on victims of sexual violence, with a view to discovering a better way for victims of crimes to be allowed to interact with what she perceives as an ‘adversarial’ system of crime and punishment in the U.S.
- Herman, Judith Lewis (1997) . Trauma and recovery: the aftermath of violence – from domestic abuse to political terror. New York: BasicBooks. ISBN 9780465087303.
- Herman, Judith Lewis (2000) . Father-daughter incest. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press. ISBN 9780674076518.