Violence: Why People Do Bad Things, with Strategies to Reduce that Risk

Release Date: 
February 18, 2016
Publisher/Imprint: 
American Mental Health Foundation Books
Pages: 
192
Reviewed by: 

Anthologies by authors that reproduce previous writings do not always make the best reading and can appear unconnected, dated, and stale. Violence: Why People Do Bad Things, With Strategies to Reduce That Risk by Raymond B Flannery Jr is much better than average in this regard. This volume issued by the American Mental Health Foundation observes the quarter-century anniversary of significant research on psychological trauma and its impact on victims. It takes chapters and excerpts from the author’s writings over the past 25 years. 

Flannery states that his material has been updated, although the vast majority of text is from older writings and research prior to 2010. Nonetheless, the topic of the book remains timely and one that will appeal to a number of readers since all manner of violence continues to frequent our country.

The first two chapters are devoted to understanding the concepts of violence defined as the intentional use of physical force to injure or abuse another. Many sociological, biological, psychological, and cultural features make violence more common in the postindustrial state. These features include broken homes, disrupted family life, inadequate parenting, and inadequate schooling. Common motivational factors leading to violence are chronicled including but not limited to, catharsis of anger, dominance of others, excitement, jealousy, revenge, shame and acceptance by peers.

Chapter 3 on psychological trauma is clearly the heart of the book and well written by a practitioner who has made the human reaction to trauma a major focus of his professional work. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), other symptoms of psychological trauma, the stages of its development, and special issues such as self-medication with alcohol and drugs, dissociation, unresolved grief, and the repetition compulsion are well written. 

Likewise, biological changes that occur in specialized areas of the brain are discussed. These changes result in the survivor of PTSD living in what he or she perceives as a malevolent world. Such individuals exhibit suspicion, paranoia, and hyper vigilance that often lead the individual to social isolation, depression, and lifelong medical problems.

The second part of the book is devoted to strategies that will minimize or prevent violence. Major emphasis is placed on restoring the five social institutions of community: the workplace, government, strengthening families/empowering parents, education/schools, and religion.

Lastly, the text outlines help for victims of violence and trauma with treatment strategies to promote recovery from PTSD. The goals and techniques involve reducing psychological arousal, providing reasonable mastery to increase self-esteem, promoting caring attachment to others, and helping a victim make sense out of what happened in a way to have a meaningful purpose to life. Specific issues for the patient involve "Safety First;" no substance use or addictive behavior; avoidance of negative thinking and excessive self blame; toning down the body’s emergency mobilization system; and maintenance of caring attachments to family, friends, and therapists. All of these strategies form mainstream treatments for psychotherapists and trauma specialists, but can also be utilized by family members and friends.

This book would make a useful basis for a student or teacher seeking an academic understanding of violent behavior and its aftereffects. While most of the data is gathered from the 1990s and the early part of this century, it would have been helpful to have updated the information up to and including the volume’s publishing date of 2016. Perhaps unfortunately much of this data has not changed significantly and our management and prevention of violence has made only limited advances in the last 15 years.

A further critique is that while the author does an excellent job of discussing recovery from trauma, there is virtually no information on how an individual can minimize the likelihood of trauma occurring to him or her. Most causal issues relating to the five social institutions in the community are almost certainly correct, but often too large to be undertaken by any one individual.

Overall, Violence: Why People Do Bad Things, with Strategies to Reduce That Risk is a book worth reading. The book helps make sense of what we unfortunately must endure as violence permeates our communities, our businesses, and our social institutions.