Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma
By Bessel van der Kolk
“The Body Keeps the Score” was written by Dr. Bessel van der Kolk. This book is a good resource for survivors of abuse and care providers. It reached the New York Times best seller list for science in 2019. Some describe this book as painfully hard to read. Its stories are sad, dark, and horrendous. But it is also enlightening on how trauma shapes our inner being.
Much of this book is devoted to the experiences of childhood sexual abuse and ways in which to access healing. But it also covers a broad range of traumatic experiences and offers healing solutions for them all.
The tremendous amount of information in this book is difficult to summarize. It discusses trauma ranging from childhood neglect to sexual abuse of all forms and how those traumas have lasting impact on the human body and mind.
Dr. van der Kolk discusses three main vehicles for healing:
1) “Top down” interaction, and reconnecting with others in order to make conscious sense of one’s experience;
2) The use of medication to manage alarm reactions that result from trauma, e.g., anxiety, PTSD; and
3) The “bottom up” approach of allowing the body to have “experiences that deeply and viscerally contradict the helplessness, rage, or collapse that results from trauma.”
Many trauma survivors benefit from a combination of all three approaches, but one of Dr. van der Kolk’s aims is to call attention to the lack of use of the third approach.
In the final section of the book, Dr. van Der Kolk builds for readers an expansive understanding of trauma. He presents the history of its study, its biological and neurological impact, its role in childhood development and attachment relationships, and its lasting impact on the mind.
Throughout the book, powerful anecdotes from decades of professional experience are interwoven with research findings and insights into the obstacles that arise in the scientific study of trauma. These anecdotes and the entire book can be a hard read, but such accounts are an important part of the whole and ultimately empowering as we grow in awareness of trauma.
The reader gets a window into the depths of post-traumatic despair, but also the boundless heights of human resilience. Encountering both aspects alongside each other becomes another chance for those without personal traumatic experiences to glimpse the difficulties many survivors live with and manage on a daily basis.
Pathways to recovery are also discussed in the last section of this book. It touches on the role of language in achieving clarity before delving into lesser utilized practices that have helped trauma survivors, such as theater ,dance, yoga, somatic experiencing therapy and the more well-known eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR),All of these can be ways to lessen the impact of memories of traumatic events. There is no one fix that works for all people and one of the overriding themes of abuse recovery is the growth of autonomy — including sifting through options for healing.
The Body Keeps the Score travels from its beginning to an advanced lesson in the experiences of trauma. When one recognizes the prevalence of childhood sexual abuse and other traumas, it becomes about understanding people in our own lives and our communities, which is part of making those communities better each day. As someone who was personally impacted by childhood abuse, I recommend this book. It can be found in paperback and other formats.