Books
Violence and trauma

The long and complex resolution of trauma

Orla Muldoon, Marguerite O’Neill and Carmen Kuhling review ‘Intercessions’ by Kathleen Eull.

19 January 2024

It isn’t every week that you know someone that writes an actual book – not an academic tome, a real-life work of fiction. So it was with considerable enthusiasm that we tucked into a book by a colleague and friend published in late November 2023.

Intercessions is a gripping psychological thriller. Though it is a tale with a serious topic, it is a page turner. And it is beautifully written, so much so that it is hard to believe it is Kathleens’s first book.

The opening pages of the Eull’s novel outline a defining moment in the narrator’s childhood.  Cori Dempsey experiences a shocking and tragic event that becomes defining for her as life proceeds. It isn’t just Cori’s own view of herself that is changed by her experience: even her nearest and dearest see her differently. Intercessions, then, is essentially a story about how psychological trauma can change people’s path in life profoundly. Cori’s early experience of trauma is the hinge upon which the novel turns. 

Many mundane things are central to Cori’s exploration of her past. The novel is set in the mid-West US, and there are evocative descriptions of forests, farms, and fields. It is as if the landscape is a character in the book. At times, the landscape contributes to the subtle sense of danger in the nuanced descriptions of the everyday. At other times common sights, smells and routines seem to ground and stabilise Cori when she is haunted by intrusive memories. Eull’s account of these everyday symptoms that plague those affected by psychological symptoms of trauma are insightful – for anyone interested in understanding how it is to live with trauma, the novel is worth reading for that alone. 

Intercessions is a book replete with interesting characters making good and bad decisions in the wake of trauma. Whilst these decisions are made with the best of intentions, they do not always have the best effects. These are ordinary people, as imperfect as the rest of us, and so the novel reflects a reality where those dealing with trauma don’t always make ideal choices.  It’s such a blessed relief to have believability in a novel on this topic. Indeed, the premise that adverse experiences can negatively affects life choices is now the bedrock of an approach that mandates greater compassion and understanding for those negotiating trauma namely trauma informed care (Reeves, 2015) 

There are many moments when Eull’s psychological insights and understanding of trauma are readily apparent having worked as a meditation teacher and therapist for many years. Her understanding of the vulnerability and fear that can shape young women’s lives and victims of assault is readily apparent. How trauma can change life not just because of the experience, but because of others’ responses to it. Intercessions shows how people struggle with the unspeakable and the unsayable, and the impact that this has on care and support. So many traumatic events are marked by social stigma for victims (Muldoon et al., 2021). Eull illustrates how traumatic life change is not just down to an assault or attack. She illustrates the socially mediated nature of trauma. Eull highlights too the crucial role of long-standing allies and supporters to recovery (Haslam et al., 2018). It is gratifying that a psychologist is included in our narrator’s journey. 

Eull’s Intercessions highlight how the resolution of trauma can be a long and complex process – particularly so for experience of trauma during childhood. Because trauma is social mediated, the response of caregivers can be crucial to children’s interpretation of their experiences (Allwood, et al., 2017). Without offering too many spoilers, some traumas, particularly where experienced by children, are so awful they are almost unspeakable.

Sadly, as adults and those around affected children struggle with the unspeakable, times passes. And so, child victims try to patch together their understanding as adults. Thus, Eull also tackles the challenges of memory following trauma and illustrates clearly that, while ‘the body keeps score’ (van der Kolk, 1994; McMahon et al., 2022), our memories are affected by trauma. Trauma can shift our attention, what we notice and remember is affected. Events that are too difficult to process in the moment can be impossibly difficult to recall and memories become patchy. This is how it is for Corinne, as she struggles to make sense of her past in the present.

This is a surprising easy read for a book that is essentially about a difficult and sometimes terrifying topic. It highlights that resolution can come even following many years and the most difficult of life experiences. It is a story of hope. We recommend it to you.

  • Intercessions by Kathleen Eull is published by Black Rose Publishing. ISBN-10 : ‎ 1685133223
  • Orla Muldoon, BSSc (Hons), PhD, CPsychol is Professor of Psychology at University Of Limerick, where she directs a European Research Council funded project developing a Social Identity Model of Traumatic Identity Change.
  • Marguerite O’Neill BA (Hons), M.Pscyh.Sc (Clinical Specialisation), Dip.Child Protection and Welfare was a Senior Clinical Psychologist with the Health Service Executive Limerick Ireland
  • Carmen Kuhling  BA (hons), MA, MSc (Psychotherapy), PhD, is an Associate Prof of Sociology at UL and a practicing psychotherapist.

References

Allwood, M. A., Gaffey, A. E., Vergara-Lopez, C., & Stroud, L. R. (2017). Stress through the mind of the beholder: Preliminary differences in child and maternal perceptions of child stress in relation to child cortisol and cardiovascular activity. Stress20(4), 341-349.

Haslam, C., Jetten, J., Cruwys, T., Dingle, G., & Haslam, S. A. (2018). The new psychology of health: Unlocking the social cure. Routledge.

McMahon, G., Griffin, S. M., Borinca, I., Bradshaw, D., Ryan, M., & Muldoon, O. T. (2022). Social integration: Implications for the association between childhood trauma and stress responsivity. Psychological trauma: theory, research, practice, and policy.

Muldoon, O. T., Lowe, R. D., Jetten, J., Cruwys, T., & Haslam, S. A. (2021). Personal and political: Post‐traumatic stress through the lens of social identity, power, and politics. Political Psychology42(3), 501-533.

Reeves, E. (2015). A synthesis of the literature on trauma-informed care. Issues in mental health nursing36(9), 698-709.

Van der Kolk, B. A. (1994). The body keeps the score: Memory and the evolving psychobiology of posttraumatic stress. Harvard review of psychiatry1(5), 253-265.