How to Do the Work: Recognize Your Patterns, Heal from Your Past, and Create Your Self
Trauma doesn’t develop only from violent incidents. It can manifest through institutional racism, the stress of cultural bias, or the isolation of pandemic. In How to Do the Work: Recognize Your Patterns, Heal from Your Past + Create Your Self, Dr. Nicole LePera blazes a path for self-healing from the patterns that trauma creates.
LePera redefines trauma in broader terms than most other mental health professionals. More than arising from rape, incarceration, or war, she widens the scope of trauma to include “a range of emotional and spiritual traumas which are an outgrowth of consistently denying or repressing the needs of the authentic Self . . .” This looser definition of trauma allows room for healing for people who experience trauma symptoms, but do not meet the narrow guidelines for a trauma diagnosis.
At its core, the book is a deep dive into Self, finding who we really are and meant to be. As experience causes us to create unhealthy coping mechanisms, we lose connection to who it is we are at our core. Reconnecting to that authentic place within us, we are able to develop new patterns and become more resilient.
The work is just that, work. It takes effort and consistency. LePera writes, “Eventually . . . discipline becomes confidence, and confidence becomes change, and change becomes transformation.”
The book covers three main topics: awareness of ourselves, awareness of the mind, and application of the work. At the end of the chapters are skill-building exercises and journaling prompts to help readers improve their wellbeing in each of these subject areas.
LePera provides a clear description of the impacts of trauma on Self. While this review cannot outline all the salient concepts, a few are:
Trauma leaves its mark in the body in many ways, including ill health and psychospiritual disturbances. LePera goes into detail about the myriad influences trauma has on all aspects of the human experience.
Some of the best work in the book has to do with the author’s analysis of the “trauma body.” People who experience a trauma response may display many types of unhealthy patterns, including: difficulty delaying gratification, trouble forming meaningful relationships or interpersonal connections, inability to concentrate, lack of social engagement, and literal or figurative “freezing” in difficult situations.
Dissociation, or disconnection from Self, time, or others, is a common experience for those who have ingrained patterns born from trauma. Learning to be more present with one’s Self and others is a main focus of the book.
LePera recognizes the lack of access to quality, affordable mental healthcare across location, race, and class in the USA. Even for those who can afford and have access to care, the quality of support varies widely. For these and other reasons, LePera focuses her work on the ability we have to heal ourselves. She encourages the use of intuition in choosing which self-help activities to add to your life.
The descriptions of one’s “inner child” are particularly robust, specifically the section on childhood fantasies. Many who read the book will relate to the childhood desire for a “hero” to rescue them from difficult or abusive situations.
Another strength of the book is LePera’s use of archetypes to explain various types of traumatic experiences. The ways we experience trauma as children carry through and form the patterns we live as adults. A parent who doesn’t see/hear a child vs. a parent who doesn’t model boundaries will create children, and ultimately adults, with different types of emotional wounds. These wounds need to be addressed differently in order to be healed.
If there is a criticism to be made of the book, it is that there isn’t anything groundbreaking presented. Holistic approaches to psychology and wellness are abundant. Though relatively new in Western attitudes to health, holistic healthcare practices are foundational in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), Ayurveda, and other systems. More discussion of the physical manifestations of trauma and healthy responses may be beyond the scope of this book, but the book would have benefited from a bit more discussion of broader health concerns that were mentioned in the introduction.
Overall, How to Do the Work: Recognize Your Patterns, Heal from Your Past + Create Your Self is a comprehensive look at a holistic approach to mental health, particularly what an individual can do to improve their relationship with past trauma and repattern their life. The book is an excellent gift for someone who is new in recovery from addiction or wants to change patterns that have them feeling disconnected from their sense of Self.