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Book Review: “Trauma Stewardship: An Everyday Guide for Caring for Self While Caring for Others”

By Visiting Animal — August 02, 2011

Today, we welcome guest reviewer Lisa Rimmert who gives us her take on the book, Trauma Stewardship: An Everyday Guide for Caring for Self While Caring for Others by Laura van Dernoot Lipsky, and explains why animal activists in particular should seriously consider adding this to their library.


Book Review: Trauma Stewardship: An Everyday Guide for Caring for Self While Caring for Others

Review by Lisa Rimmert

“Trauma Stewardship: An Everyday Guide to Caring for Self While Caring for Others” by Laura van Dernoot Lipsky

As an animal rights activist, I have had the pleasure of witnessing many unforgettable and inspiring events. There’s nothing quite like the feeling of fulfillment that comes with finding a home for an abandoned animal, helping to pass a law that is beneficial to animals, or inspiring a friend to adopt a vegan lifestyle. I have had many such moments, and I treasure every one.

Along with the good though, we, as activists, also bear witness to the bad. Having chosen to open our eyes to the cruelty involved in factory farming and other industries that exploit animals, we now maintain — whether we like it or not — a constant awareness of the suffering these animals endure. For many of us, this awareness can cause us to sometimes feel overwhelmed or inadequate. It can be easy, even for the most well-adjusted activists, to internalize the suffering of others, allowing those negative feelings to overpower the positive ones.

In Trauma Stewardship: An Everyday Guide for Caring for Self While Caring for Others, Laura van Dernoot Lipsky addresses these issues that novice and seasoned activists alike know all too well, and provides readers with tips for avoiding the negative effects of exposure to trauma. While the book is intended for anyone who is regularly exposed to trauma, Lipsky makes an effort to include individuals who work with suffering animals, and notes in the introduction that while many experts in trauma tend to solely focus on those who work with people, it is important to also include others, like “veterinarians, animal rescue workers, biologists, and ecologists.”

Lipsky adds credibility by telling her personal story, from her extensive exposure to trauma as an emergency room social worker, to her realization that this grueling work had changed her in a way with which she wasn’t comfortable. She goes on to explain the definition of “trauma exposure response,” which is the change or changes that take place when a person is exposed to trauma or suffering.

After an introduction to the concepts – which is saved from its inherently dry nature by the injection of quotes, comics, real-world examples, and activist profiles – Lipsky describes the warning signs of trauma exposure response. One is fear. She gives as an example animal control officers whose fear led to prejudice against certain breeds of dogs, which subsequently evolved into stereotypes of certain races and socioeconomic classes. Lipsky asserts that it is not the fear itself that is bad, but rather, not having a handle on it — or not even being aware of it. Other warning signs of trauma exposure response include minimizing one’s own problems (“Who am I to complain about my trivial problems?”), guilt (“How can I spend time on myself when I should be devoting it all to the animals?”), and a sense that one can never do enough (“I only handed out 500 leaflets; I should have tried harder to reach more people.”).

The most engaging parts of the book were the final chapters, covering various ways to practice trauma stewardship. “Trauma stewardship” is the term Lipsky uses to describe the overall practice of caring for oneself in order to remain effective at — and avoid negative effects of — caring for others. Drawing from Eastern religions and other spiritual ideas, Lipsky emphasizes the importance of being centered in oneself and living in the moment. Throughout this section, readers will find applicable advice and helpful activities for approaching their work with a new perspective. Lipsky outlines five “directions” – north, east, south, west, and center. Each represents an important aspect of trauma stewardship: creating space for inquiry, choosing our focus, building compassion and community, finding balance, and centering ourselves. With a chapter for each direction, readers receive a detailed look at each one, along with profiles of people who are shining examples of trauma stewardship, and practical ideas for how to begin your own journey.

Trauma Stewardship: An Everyday Guide for Caring for Self While Caring for Others is without question a worthwhile read for any activist. As Lipsky states, “This book is written for anyone who is doing work with an intention to make the world more sustainable and hopeful — all in all, a better place — and who, through this work, is exposed to the hardship, pain, crisis, trauma, or suffering of other living beings or the planet itself.” For me, Trauma Stewardship served as a reminder that life — as well as activism — is what we make of it, and that the only way to effectively advocate and care for animals is to first care for ourselves.


Lisa Rimmert

Lisa Rimmert has been an animal lover since birth and an activist for about nine years. She has dabbled in many forms of activism, including lobbying, attending protests, and tabling at community events. She authored a column called “Animal Matters” for The Fayetteville Observer in North Carolina, and is currently the coordinator for Farm Sanctuary’s St. Louis Walk for Farm Animals. By day, Lisa works in marketing and communications. She is working to obtain a master’s degree in public relations, in hopes of becoming a more effective communicator and advocate, and to do her part to improve the world for people and animals alike.

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