The Haunted Self

Onno van der Hart, Ellert R.S. Nijenhuis, Kathy Steele
Publisher: Norton Professional Books. | 2006 Order

Received the 2006 Media Award:
Written of the International Society for the Study of Dissociation
Review Excerpts of The Haunted Self

Reviews excerpts of The Haunted Self

See also:
What readers wrote on the internet
Reviews from colleagues

“This book is required reading for everybody working in the trauma field. It contains a wealth of’ new information, ideas, and propositions. It is a pioneering work, a milestone in the trauma field.”
–Tijdschrift voor Psychiatrie (Dutch Flemish Journal of Psychiatry), July 2008

“I wish the information in this book had been available 30 years ago when I became aware of the variety of survival responses a chronically abused or neglected child could develop to confound their adult therapy. The book’s in-depth discussion of abuse issues addresses both clinical and theoretical questions around trauma-related disorders. A clear, non-traumatizing psychotherapy for the patient (and the therapist) is this book’s purpose, which it achieves brilliantly. The authors propose theory, research and treatment that are not only understandable, but applicable to effective and efficient assessment and treatment.”

“An unusual epilogue gives a moving tribute to patients and to the person of the therapist who undertakes this difficult work. I was deeply impressed by this glimpse into the experience and dedication of the three authors. They have given the field of trauma treatment a monumental work. I recommend this book to anyone likely to treat adults abused as children, children just out of an abusive situation, and to any adult experiencing post-traumatic stress.”
Voices: The Art and Science of Psychotherapy, Winter 2007

“The title of this book, which lays out a groundbreaking approach to the theory and therapy of psychological trauma, is, like much that lies inside, both evocative and precise. (…) The field of psychological trauma and dissociative disorders, closely lined with childhood abuse, is often criticised (at times caustically) by the mainstream psychiatric press for fuzzy thinking and soft-hearted values. However, this carefully reasoned, cogently argued and well-written book—the fruit of decades of clinical experience and research (…)—should go a long way toward dispelling that view.”

The Haunted Self is, without a doubt, one of the most important books to come out of the trauma field in many decades and should serve to revitalise and transform the field. It should be read not only by clinicians working in the trauma field and interested researchers, but also by trauma sceptics as the theory (the authors are at pains to point out) is eminently testable and can be empirically judged by those who doubt its implications. Last, but certainly not least, The Haunted Self provides a welcome opportunity to reconsider the relevance of Pierre Janet’s theories, which continue to provide rich clinical and theoretical insights.”
British Journal of Psychiatry, December 2007

“No other modern texts gives such a complete synthesis of Janet’s psychology of action and none go as far in defining psychological trauma syndromes in forms of the sorts of dissociative splitting of personality that can be persuasively conceptualized as being influenced by developmental age, duration, type and extent of trauma, relationship to perpetrators etc. Given the manner in which a theoretical construct is developed to illuminate close similarities between conditions not always conceptualized that way, I am reminded of Janet’s book, “Major Symptoms of Hysteria,” (1907) based on fifteen lectures given in the Harvard Medical School in 1906, exactly 100 years before the publication of Van der Hart, Nijenhuis and Steele’s equally illuminating and thought-provoking synthesis.”

“This is a well-written, well-structured and thought-provoking book that challenges us to think very seriously about the multiple trauma derived states that we encounter so frequently in our patients.”
Traumatic StressPoints, December 2007

“Onno van der Hart, Ellert R. S. Nijenhuis and Kathy Steele have come as close as I can imagine to writing the definitive book on trauma, dissociation, and the complicated treatment of [trauma-related] disorders. Their book, The Haunted Self, is an elegant integration of theory, research, and clinical practice about the struggles endured by survivors of complex and repeated trauma. (…) The ideas of structural dissociation—complicated for beginning clinicians—made immediate sense to women with lived experience of trauma, confirming my belief that the authors could not be more right in what they have to teach us.”
Psychiatric Services, September 2007

“This wide-ranging, scholarly book represents the coming of age of a contemporary European perspective on Janet’s theory of dissociation and its wedding to the rich tradition of previous works emanating from North America. (…) [I]t contains a wealth of insights for those who seek to develop their skills in working with this particular client group. This book is rich in detail, a book to be read and a book to be kept at hand for reference. The scope of this review does not allow me do justice to the depth of understanding of the inner life of trauma patients that these authors demonstrate; the book would be worth reading for that alone. For its analysis of structural dissociation and its recommendations for phased but flexible treatment it must truly be described as a landmark book.”
Journal of Analytical Psychology, September 2007

What readers wrote on the internet (

This book is just wonderfull! I deeply enjoyed reading it – and much more J – applying its concepts and practical guidelines into the complex clinical work with traumatized individuals. Myself, psychotherapist, child and adolescent psychiatrist in Ukraine – I found this book most clinically useful book I have read in few last years about trauma-related disorders. It gives clarity into this very complex dimensions of inner and outer lives of chronically traumatized individuals and it helps to empathically understand their suffering. From this empathic understanding well-paced and well-structured therapy can take place. And from my clinical practice I saw how useful and effective are concepts and practical therapeutic guidelines from this book. So I highly recommend this book for everyone working in the field of trauma-related disorders, and I also highly recommend this book to publishers for translations and publication in other languages. This knowledge must become widely available so we can better assist traumatized individuals in their inner healing. Special thanks to authors for their great work!
–Oleh Romanchuk, MD

What an exceptional book! The step-wise didactic clarity and innovative content of The Haunted Self alone would suffice to justify making the book required reading material for all health professionals encountering trauma victims. However, it is also a remarkably thrilling reading experience, reminiscent of the “haunted-house” stories of my youth. One finds oneself led to familiar areas through “hidden stairways” and suddenly comes to perceive and comprehend things from unexpected angles. There is a refreshing undercurrent of humility to the book – the reader feels encouraged to examine and comment freely. Without seeking to replace or compete with other trauma theories or treatment modalities, the authors present an over-arching and unifying conceptual approach to comprehending the psycho-biological underpinnings of a highly variable and challenging population of patients, who quite commonly present with a complex and confusing array of atypical and changeable clinical and therapeutic issues, only partly addressed by current diagnostic criteria and treatment guidelines. The structural conception of dissociation enhances ones understanding not only of PTSD and Complex PTSD, Dissociative Identity Disorder and cases of severe protracted physical and sexual abuse, but clarifies the contribution of trauma to Borderline Personality Disorder, Somatoform Disorders and certain physical syndromes characteristically associated with emotional trauma and stress.
–Dr Mike Matar, MD (Psych)

“At last – a truly excellent text on the psychological aspects of trauma-related disorders! This book provides a clear and comprehensive account of the theory and management of complex PTSD and complex dissocative disorders.”
“Without doubt, the most helpful text yet for clinicians working in a psychological framework in this controversial field.”
–Sandra M. Hacker

“In THE HAUNTED SELF the authors, Onno van der Hart, Ellert Nijenhuis and Kathy Steele present a theory of structural dissociation that builds upon the work of Pierre Janet and ties together the recent developments in the areas of trauma and dissociation. They built their theory methodically and concisely, tackling the difficult subject of dissociation and its effects on survivors of trauma. Their writing is compassionate and understanding, illuminating their therapeutic skills while at the same time delving into one of the most misunderstood and confounding areas of psychology with clarity and thoughtfulness.”

“THE HAUNTED SELF should be required reading for all psychology and neurobiology students as well as for all private practitioners and those currently working with the mentally ill in institutions, programs and educational settings. It is also excellent material for those seeking to understand more about the functions of the brain.”
A. Hardy

“I must express extreme praise and admiration for the work and eventual understanding the authors of The Haunted Self have so relatively displayed in researching trauma related disorders and maladaptive behaviours. But the amazing thing is they were able to explain it in terms a sufferer can understand.”

“After reading well over one-hundred and twenty thousand pages of research on my symptoms and problems and theorizing and journaling thoughts, I finally found not only an explanation but compassion and empathy within the pages of this book. I believe this is vital in any therapeutic relationship. Without a shadow of a doubt, the reader can make a therapeutic relationship with this book that can be externalized and extended into their patient therapist relationship.” “I challenge anyone who has been beleaguered with anxiety related disorders to look at themselves and their disorders from a different point of reference like the changing colors of light through a prism as presented in The Haunted Self. I also challenge all mental health professionals to at least look over this book and allow it to provoke your thoughts (it should be required reading for all doctoral students in psychology if only because of the post-modern interpretation of prior research. I believe this book is a holistic expression for a broad range of disorders that are now being treated separately and in this sufferer’s opinion sometimes ineffectively.”
Walter E. Willoughby

“As well as advocating a method of integration in the patient, the theory of structural dissociation presented in this book also seems integrative in itself, in showing how different, seemingly unrelated diagnoses can be seen to be derived from the same underlying trauma related processes. As a patient this is not just theoretically interesting but it can help take away a lot of the anxiety, confusion, and scepticism that comes from being sliced and diced in different ways by different mental health professionals. I think that the more patients and professionals that are exposed to these ideas, the better.”

“I thought this was a brilliant, original and beautifully written book, that expresses some very sophisticated ideas in a clear and systematic way. As well as the theoretical insights conveyed, this book also provides an integrative treatment plan, which brings together tools and ideas from across a broad spectrum of psychological paradigms. After only a few pages into the book, I got an “aha” moment and this deepened into a sense that finally someone seemed to be speaking a language that made sense to me.”

“While not all mental illness is caused by structural dissociation, those who have experienced problems with getting a diagnosis or effective therapy may gain value from the insights contained in this book. I strongly feel that this is the best book by far that I have found on trauma related dissociative disorders, and I recommend it highly to anyone suffering from DID, BPD, PTSD, conversion/somatisation disorders etc.”
B. Sugarman

Reviews from colleagues

Advanced Praise for The Haunted Self – “A brilliant book – the authors deserve our congratulations for grappling with some of the most complex and perplexing phenomena that psychotherapists are likely to encounter. In an intellectual tour de force, the authors provide a unifying theory that identifies a disturbance of the self as the core problem for the whole spectrum of trauma-related disorders. This theory is in turn closely linked to a highly sophisticated understanding of assessment and treatment. No trauma therapist will fail to benefit from the authors’ collective insights and wisdom.”
–Chris R. Brewin, University College London

The Haunted Self gives clinicians a new perspective on the work that Pierre Janet completed nearly 100 years ago. The theory and clinical application of structural dissociation and the Janetian psychology of action proposed in this book by Van der Hart, Nijenhuis and Steele, and their integration with contemporary findings from the affective neurosciences and attachment/developmental and relational literature offer clinicians a new way to understand and treat individuals who suffered chronic traumatization during childhood. It also brings dissociation to the fore as an expectable and common reaction in traumatized children. A thought-provoking work. I highly recommend it. “
–Christine A. Courtois, Ph.D., cofounder, The CENTER: Posttraumatic Disorders Program, The Psychiatric Institute of Washington, Washington, DC

“After 100 years of descriptions, we are now beginning to understand what dissociation says about our mind, and how to treat it. This book is a brilliant and highly accessible account of this most fundamental concept of modern day psychiatry and psychotherapy.”
–David Servan-Schreiber, MD, PHD – Clinical Professor of Psychiatry, University of Pittsburgh – Author of Healing Without Freud or Prozac and The Instinct to Heal

“Onno van der Hart, Ellert Nijenhuis, and Kathy Steele have produced a landmark contribution to the study of trauma, and an instant classic in the study of dissociation and dissociative disorders. Constructive, lucid, easy to read, and constantly thought-provoking, this remarkable book brings together the classic observations and ideas of Pierre Janet, modern trauma and dissociation theory, and the cutting-edge findings of contemporary neuroscience to explicate and explore the authors’ structural dissociation paradigm. Furthermore, it brings together most of Van der Hart’s monumental efforts to apply Janetian concepts to the contemporary treatment of trauma and dissociation, a significant achievement in itself. Readers need not embrace the structural dissociation model to enjoy and emerge enriched by the clinical insights and therapeutic wisdom of The Haunted Self.”
–Richard P. Kluft, M.D., Temple University School of Medicine