Book Review: Unshame- healing trauma-based shame through psychotherapy by Carolyn Spring



Everyone has it


No-one wants to talk about it


But the less we talk about it


The more we have of it
Brene Brown



The author, Carolyn Spring, writes about her 9 years experience of psychotherapy. She focuses on her insights into her shame. Carolyn experienced extreme traumatic abuse during her childhood and has used her recovery and the knowledge she has acquired during and since this to support others. She tours with her training seminars supporting therapists, like myself and has researched, created and designed  ‘psycho-educational tools’, books and on-line resources which help survivors of abuse.

In Unshame Carolyn neatly condenses years of therapy into discrete learning experiences, ranging from managing her dissociation to learning to trust present day experience.


Carolyn’s clarity of thought comes through in her writing. As a therapist I have often struggled to fully understand how to help overcome shame. Having read Unshame I see that the functions of shame; to avoid connecting with others, avoid feeling worthy of help and keeping emotionally isolated are all quite disabling for any survivor, making  recovery from shame very difficult to even contemplate let alone begin.

In her book Carolyn cleverly incorporates psychotherapeutic concepts, such as attachment, boundaries, pros and cons of physical contact, directive or non-directive work and what behavioural boundaries to apply. For the psychotherapist reader this can help consolidate or challenge their personal choice regarding working with clients suffering Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID). This may put some readers off, but I felt it really useful to hear how Carolyn experienced different counsellors and their approach to her dissociating. Carolyn writes of  her journey understanding her DID; it being an all consuming experience, of which she would have no recall, to one that she is aware of and can take control. For Carolyn it feels invaluable that she had a counsellor be her witness to explore dissociation with her.

I expect for the reader, if a survivor of trauma, Carolyn’s ability and courage to describe her emotions, confusion, and apparent contrary thinking will help them to recognise this in themselves, perhaps providing hope and faith in their desire and ability to recover. The ability to move from black and white thinking; accepting the greyness and uncertainty of life can be hard for anyone.

Throughout Unshame I can see the importance for Carolyn to have permission to feel, act and think the way she did, at no time was her way of being  ‘wrong’. The importance of recognising it as unhelpful ‘now’ but useful ‘then’ was a constant theme. It is also made clear that shame and symptoms of DID are not anything to do with her ‘not being right’ but a necessary and neurological consequence of trauma, fear and lack of attuned attachment.

Carolyn briefly refers to grounding techniques and the different zones of arousal, green (no arousal, able to be logical), amber (the nervous system getting aroused, emotional and less clarity of thought) to red (aroused, likely to dissociate, or freeze). These ideas are described in greater detail in her teaching videos and seminars.( Positive Outcomes for Dissociative Survivors/PODS )

Also in the book Carolyn covers forgiveness, self compassion and vulnerability. It is humbling being allowed to witness her thinking and movement towards these states.


This book is suitable for professionals and survivors of trauma; those with DID.

As a psychotherapist I benefited most from reading how Carolyn grappled with her thoughts, and the insights that arose. I did a lot of reflecting regarding the therapy I offer my clients, reaffirming that trusting process is both important for therapist and client. It is not a book which adds to knowledge that is already available, such as the work of Babette Rothschild in particular, but it does demonstrate it working in practice.

I cannot write from the clients or survivor’s perspective. I feel all peoples experiences will be different. One message to take home is as a survivor you have not done anything wrong. Nothing, absolutely nothing.


Unshame- healing trauma-based shame through psychotherapy  By Carolyn Spring.  Carolyn Spring Publishing (2019)

Positive Outcomes for Dissociative Survivors/PODS

Carolyn Spring

The Body Remembers- The psycho-physiology of trauma and trauma treatment By Babette Rothschild.  W.W Norton and Company LTD (2000)

The Body Remembers volume 2 -Revolutionising trauma treatment By Babette Rothschild.  W.W Norton and Company LTD (2017)

Book Review Mindful Emotional Eating; Mindfulness skills to control cravings, eat in moderation and optimize coping.

Book Review

 Pavel G. Somov- Mindful Emotional Eating; Mindfulness skills to control cravings, eat in moderation and optimize coping. (2015)

Mindful Emotional Eating


Written for both the client and the clinician this book is in 3 parts. In the first part the author describes his model of working to enable ‘Mindful Emotional Eating’ (MEE). The second is how to develop clients so they can manage situations of relapse without them becoming catastrophes, and the final part describes more specific approaches to four more common emotional eating situations.

Part 1

I was disconcerted by Somov’s style and selling technique apparent in part one. He is using this book to teach other clinicians tools to help their clients, and it initially felt like a product promotion. However, with perseverance I continued.

The tools described are based on the neuroscience as well as the philosophy of Mindfulness. Mindfulness per se is not touched on, and the readers are not expected or encouraged to seek mindfulness as a way of being.

Somov describes how each of the 4-5 sessions planned for clients should run. He outlines his rationale, starting with reframing emotional eating, as either something to do mindlessly or mindfully. Identifying that we all have, by our nature as animals, strategies to preserve our own life; and emotional eating is a harm reduction strategy.  Abstinence (aka dieting, and avoiding food) takes away emotional eating as a harm reduction strategy, leaving us exposed, and so diets are likely to fail.

Take a breath before an impulsive act

Take a breath before an impulsive act

Throughout the book he emphasises that the client’s understanding of the shift in how they approach their eating behaviours is key. Breaking down the feelings of guilt and failure which often arise when giving in to a desire to emotionally eat, and replacing then with acceptance and permission. The training is about doing emotional eating, mindfully and not mindlessly.

He provides tools to enable choice. Initially teaching relaxation, quick, bottom up relaxation, engaging physiologically with the parasympathetic nervous system, so humming or blowing out forcefully as an exhalation.

Second are skills, he describes as choice awareness training, to ‘stay awake’ for example using the wrong cutlery, different plate, wrong hand.

Thirdly, ‘craving control training’ similar to a 3-minute breath meditation although described as a river bank exercise, focusing more on the impermanence of feelings and thoughts, watching them go. During this course clients are encouraged to engage with their ‘fullness’ either physically or emotionally, and given permission to carry on if they are not ready to stop.

Part 2

This second part, in my eyes, parallels the outcomes of mindfulness, creating a space for choice, appreciating the impermanence of thoughts and promoting self-awareness/acceptance.

Self-acceptance =motivational innocence + effort acceptance’

Or the greater our awareness of what drives us to eat combined with the belief that we do our best in the moment will increase self-acceptance, and this is likely to decrease the need to emotionally eat mindlessly.

In part 2 ‘motivational innocence’ and ‘effort acceptance’ are described more fully. One interesting idea related to dieting, or being abstinent, is that our brain is using stores of glucose to provide this self-control. The more we try to control ourselves; deny impulses, the more our brain responds by sending messages that we need something sweet, an energy fix. Giving in to a sugar fix is therefore an appropriate physiological response to the work we are doing marinating resistance, we can give ourselves permission to respond in this way without guilt, making a conscious choice to have a piece of chocolate or similar. This is an empowering shift.

He describes binge eating and how it might manifest either a result of the inability to cope emotionally-striving to feel good, or as a desire to feel numb, without emotions.

Somov is realistic about the struggle people have with relapse. He describes working collaboratively, supporting clients as they are able to apply more frequently and consistently the mindfulness techniques described in Part 1 which bring clients into the moment, encourage space between the feeling and the impulse and allow for self-acceptance, if in that moment, their effort was not what they had hoped for.

He finishes part 2 with information about Eastern traditions and philosophies about eating, including the extremes of Jainism, achieving the state of Santhara, fasting to the point of death.

Part 3

Finally, Somov provides some useful interpretations to manage emotional eating for boredom and emptiness, sadness and grief, anger and fear, and stress. Helping clients understand at a fundamental level what these emotions represent and how food is providing a ‘harm reduction’ strategy, and learning to eat mindfully rather than mindlessly.

In summary

This book grew on me as I began to see how mindfulness was being used in a genuine way to help clients move from mindless eating to mindful eating. I would recommend it to health professionals wanting to engage with clients in a real, humanistic way. This book is not about losing weight. If you have an issue with emotional eating this book will help, however, agreeing with the author, I would strongly recommend having the support of a buddy.

Of Interest

Ruby Wax: A Mindfulness Guide for the Frazzled

Eating Disorders-Do you recognise physiological hunger

Book Review: A Mindfulness Guide for the Frazzled by Ruby Wax

A Mindfulness Guide for the Frazzled

Book Review

Ruby Wax- A Mindfulness Guide for the Frazzled

Ruby Wax is known to me firstly as a comedian and more recently a Master of Mindfulness based cognitive therapy. It is because of the latter and her potential to reach the masses that I wanted to review her book, to help others decide whether it is a worthwhile read and me whether to stock it in my client library.

She writes with an easy style and you are soon drawn into the ideas of mindfulness. She is keen to teach the physiology of the brain (neuroscience) to help us understand that our behaviours and emotions are natural animal responses to the need to stay alive. The evolution of the brain is described very simply. She switches from humour to personal experience to science and back again. This might be engaging for some and keeps those not interested in the science bits motivated to continue reading. I found the science stilted and her style more forced, she acknowledges help with these passages from the experts which I can see is reflected in the prose. The humour is nice, although I am not sure whether it is a distraction some times.

The second section of the book is about applying mindfulness and how to use mindfulness with your children. There are some simple ideas to encourage an open and non-critical relationship with our family members. She clearly speaks from experience as a mother and a daughter and highlights how things are often easier said than done. This may be interpreted as don’t bother if you think it will fail which possible undermines some of the messages she wants to put across. However the message is simpler, you cannot fail just try, but try regularly-daily.

Frazzled fron coverIn the middle of the book is a stand-alone 6-week Mindfulness programme. It introduces the reader to familiar practices of meditations, for example the Body scan and the 3-minute breath. I was introduced to a lovely one focusing on listening. The practices show how to access our body, thoughts, senses and emotions in the present, through simple exercises set out week by week. There are questions after each practice to help you notice what might have changed or been different from your usual experience.

Part way through the book Ruby puts  ‘mindfulness’ on hold and shares a  moving journey about her own sufferings that happened during the writing of ‘Frazzled’. This makes the book all the more personal, and perhaps shows in that the latter section of the book seems to me a bit less dynamic or humorous than the first.

Finally she describes a retreat she went on. Retreats I guess are a bit like having children, you really cannot know what it’s like until you have done it. Her experience is heart-warming, real, and genuine.

I would recommend this book to the curious,  to those who love Ruby, and to those with anxiety looking for help through mindfulness. It is for a secular audience not the expert, although she does list her references and resources for those interested.

It does not touch on the spiritual or loving aspects of mindfulness these are more associated with Buddhism, and neither to does it claim to. To conclude  this is an easy read for those looking for an introduction to Mindfulness.

A Mindfulness Guide for the Frazzled by Ruby Wax