God has made us whole being people. We are physical, psychological, emotional, relation, volitional, and spiritual creatures. Approaches to helping people with their problems, then, must take into account these various elements of the human person and their interplay. Laurence Heller and Aline LaPierre seem to understand that, and yet in Healing Developmental Trauma they seem to reduce people and their problems to neurology. While there is much to appreciate about their approach to helping people, their emphasis on neurology creates an imbalance.
Healing Developmental Trauma is essentially one long endorsement of the Neuro Affective Relational Model (NARM) for restoring connection. The authors have developed an approach to treatment that they believe acknowledges the best of a number of other approaches while avoiding the weaknesses of those same approaches. So, they recognize the importance of understanding a person’s past, but note that focusing on the past doesn’t necessarily help the present. Furthermore, “when we focus on dysfunction, we risk reinforcing that dysfunction” (2). Instead, NARM focuses on “biologically based core needs,” listing five of them: connection, attunement, trust, autonomy, and love-sexuality. Problems arise when these core needs are not met early on in life, and as a result we do not know how to meet them later as adults. NARM helps individuals by focusing on the “interconnection of biological and psychological development” in order to help them learn self-regulation and connection. Authors Heller and LaPierre explain the model’s core principles, stating that NARM:
- Clarifies the role of connection difficulties as they affect a person on all levels of experience: physiological, psychological, and relational.
- Develops the use of somatic mindfulness and an orientation towards personal strengths to increase the capacity for self-regulation and the freedom from the limitations of the fixed identities of the adaptive survival styles. (5)
The emphasis on the relationship between physiology and psychology is insightful and important.
NARM has received a great deal of interest and praise from various scholars and practitioners, and there’s much about that is interesting. The emphasis on the nervous system is insightful and important. The authors, however, end up suggesting that all issues are essentially related to biology, and specifically to nervous system regulation. They outright say that most problems can be essentially boiled down to trauma. They write:
Although it may seem that humans suffer from an endless number of emotional problems and challenges, most of these can be traced to early developmental and shock trauma that compromise the development of one or more of the five core capacities. (3)
They have very little room (if any) for personal responsibility or for emotional problems arising from personal failure. They reduce hundreds of problems simply to neurobiology (111), and reduce the person essentially to a biological machine. The only mentions of non-biological issues take a turn towards Eastern mysticism and ideas of “life energy,” which will, rightly, raise concerns for Christian counselors.
There are some interesting things within the book. The discussion of the nervous system and the endocrine system were helpful, and the highlights on the dynamic interplay between body and mind were good reminders that counselors don’t treat detached cognition. Our minds are influenced by our bodies. Yet, the reverse is true too and the authors seem to miss that for all their emphasis on the somatic influence.
Healing Developmental Trauma is an interesting book, but it falls short of a comprehensive treatment plan for people precisely because it falls short of seeing people comprehensively. People are more than their biology and neurology. The worldview behind this book simply makes it deficient in helping people.