“The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma” by Bessel van der Kolk, M.D., is a fascinating, brilliant, gut-wrenching, heart-rending, and ultimately hope-inspiring book about the long-term effects of childhood trauma and abuse, about PTSD in soldiers, and about effective healing methodologies that pay attention to brain, mind, and body simultaneously.
Dr. van der Kolk is the founder and Medical Director of The Trauma Center in Brookline, Massachusetts; a professor of psychiatry at Boston University School of Medicine, and the director of the Trauma Treatment Network.
In his 443-page book, he describes the scientific research that he and his colleagues have conducted over the past 30+ years, and explains how childhood trauma and abuse cause measurable long-term damage and changes in the brain, mind, body and behavior of survivors.
He writes about “the hidden toll of sexual and family violence” and why “traumatized people experience incomprehensible anxiety and numbing and intolerable rage, and how trauma affects their capacity to concentrate, to remember, to form trusting relationships, and even to feel at home in their own bodies.” Trigger alert: Many of the stories might make you cry.
But there’s hope! In the second half of the book, the author writes about his approach to healing, shares case studies about the results his clients have experienced, and recommends such body-based methods as yoga, Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR), Sensorimotor Psychotherapy, Internal Family Systems Therapy, and Psychomotor Therapy. He’s critical of methodologies such as Cognitive Behavior Therapy that deal only with the logical mind while ignoring the body, and especially criticizes the purely pharmacological approach to treatment, in which troubled children are diagnosed with ADHD and are prescribed Ritalin.
I especially liked that the book includes a whole chapter about the therapeutic value of participating in the performing arts (e.g., acting, singing in a choir, dancing or doing improv, not just watching performances). In particular, the author mentions the excellent work being done by The Possibility Project in New York, Urban Improv in Boston, and Shakespeare & Company in Lenox, Massachusetts. I know that for me, being a member of a youth theater group in my teens saved my sanity.
I loved the book because it covers many topics that fascinate me: psychology, neuroscience, bodywork, healing, transforming the stories we tell ourselves, improv, and applied improvisation (although the author doesn’t actually use that term). And I have a very personal interest in healing from childhood trauma and abuse, so I found the book helpful and inspiring.
If you’re interested to know more about Dr. van der Kolk and his work, you’ll find lots of content online. I like this interview by Krista Tippett: “Bessel van der Kolk — Restoring the Body: Yoga, EMDR, and Treating Trauma” (audio, 51m 27s), and this video featuring him: “Learn the Signs and Symptoms of PTSD, with Dr. Bessel van der Kolk” (7m 15s).
Kay Ross wears many related hats: she is a marketing consultant, editor and copywriter; an improv performer and Applied Improvisation trainer; a bodyworker/healer (she trained in a methodology called Body Harmony), and the Head Tour Guide in The Playground of Possibilities. The common thread is storytelling – the stories we tell about ourselves and the world. Kay is Australian and has lived in Hong Kong for 22 years. See www.kayross.com and www.playgroundofpossibilities.com, and tweet Kay nice at http://twitter.com/kayross.