Dr Ahona Guha is a clinical and forensic psychologist, and a survivor with lived experience of complex trauma. Scribe published her first book, Reclaim: understanding complex trauma and those who abuse, in July 2023.
In her work as a psychologist, Dr Guha has had extensive experience in working with those who perpetrate harm, and she has a deep understanding of the psychological and social factors that cause people to abuse others. Through this lens, Reclaim emphasises compassion above all for us to become better informed about perpetrators and the needs of victims, so we might reclaim a safer, healthier society for everyone.
Congratulations on publishing your debut book, Reclaim! How does it feel to be a published author?
Honestly, probably the best feeling in the world (closely chased by the time I got to walk across a stage wearing a floppy hat, AND the day I adopted my greyhound)! I’ve wanted to write a book since I was a very young child, and never really assumed it would become reality — we all know the stats about people who want to write a book versus books that actually get published — so to see it in the flesh was a moment of true joy and pride.
Being an author comes secondary to my identity as a psychologist, but is nevertheless a very important arm of my identity, and one which has given me the capacity to express myself with more confidence and forthrightness in the world.
What did your writing process look like? Is there anything that helps you get motivated?
Reclaim burst out of me, a little like an alien birth scene without the blood. I blame the pandemic (I had so much time), and also recognise that this was the result of having spent years immersed in the field of trauma, with some very well-formed ideas about what needed to be said by the time I started. I started drafting the manuscript as more of a self-help tome, but it took its current shape as guided by my publisher, Marika. I had a chapter outline by the time I signed the contract, and also had a fair chunk written. The process of completing the first draft took about six months (I’m certainly finding that my current work-in-progress is a little more painful!)
I approach writing as I do most other things, i.e., I show up every day, and I focus on the process, not the outcome. I find intrinsic motivation (i.e., writing because I enjoy it) is really important, versus extrinsic motivation (e.g., writing for sales or accolades). I find it helpful to forget about sales/the outcome completely (that’s a Scribe problem, not an Ahona problem!) and to focus on what I do best — thinking and writing.
The key motivator for me is saying things which need to be said, which will create positive impact in the world and contribute to a healthier, and safer world. All my writing is aligned with this core theme, and I find it easy to commit to, as it is quite values-aligned for me. I also enjoy the creative process of writing and find I enter a flow state easily — this is often motivation and reward enough!
I use my psychology skills and set up a range of cues which I’ve learnt to associate with writing, and which allow me to quickly access that flow state. I write first thing in the morning before work (hello, 5am!), burn a candle, drink black coffee, and play the same music (‘Peaceful piano’ playlist on Spotify — my Spotify wrapped is always a mess as a result).
You're very vocal about how infographics on social media do not equal therapy. Can you elaborate about this a bit more?
Alas, yes, I get some flack for this (but I also believe that you can’t say and do things of value unless without inevitably pissing someone off, so I see this as a good sign that my messaging is getting through). There are some helpful channels of information on social media and it can be a useful awareness raising mechanism, so I’m not completely against it, and use it myself!
However, I see SO MUCH reductive and simplistic information in the trauma and forensic world with really poorly formulated understanding of the complexity of the constructs being discussed (e.g., ‘only psychopaths can connect these dots’, ‘if you scroll on your phone after work, you might have trauma’). This is misinformation — nothing more — and sends people down rabbit holes. This is the kind of information I rail against, not the good evidence-based information provided by professionals who use social media, and some lived experience advocates.
Even when information provided is accurate, this is very different to the therapeutic process, which is focused on understanding a person’s individual circumstances, needs, difficulties, and diagnoses — and then translating this formulation into a unique treatment plan. Therapy is intense, highly skilled, relational work. Accessing information is the first step, but social media will never be a substitute for the interpersonal experience of 1:1 therapy with a trained professional.
Has writing a book informed by the people that you work with (as you have expertly anonymised!) changed the way that you view your profession or clients? If so, how?
I think pulling the book together gave me a new-found respect for our profession, as I started to see how complex some of the work we do is! I often forget that I do hold very specialised knowledge and sometimes feel like I can’t offer people much (hello, imposter syndrome), so exploring and breaking down these complex concepts and things I know and do almost unknowingly was really helpful in terms of building my esteem for my profession.
Writing the book also helped me solidify my own thinking around complex trauma, and helped me become more confident in my own conceptualisation and formulation of treatment options. There’s not a lot of good, solid information about treatment of complex trauma yet, and there’s quite a bit of disagreement in the field (e.g., about the importance of staged treatment versus jumping straight into trauma processing) and it was helpful to spend some time immersed in the research and to think about how to best translate this into clinical practice.
If readers take one thing from Reclaim, what would you hope that it is?
This is the single most important motif which has supported me in my own trauma recovery journey, but also in life more broadly, and I wanted a sense that change and recovery are possible to shine through.
Reclaim is available now, both online and in bookshops.