Author: Bessel van der Kolk.
Bessel van der Kolk is a neuroscientist with over 35 years of experience both in research and working with survivors of trauma. His belief is that the effects of trauma are felt not only in the brain but also in the body.
The book starts off by describing PTSD patients and if you’re not suffering from PTSD nor a trauma therapist you may wonder what’s in it for you. Van de Kolk as other key authors in this field like James Gordon and Gabo Maté state that everyone suffers from the impact of trauma in one form or another. Trauma in the form of sickness, relationship breakdowns or job losses come to us all sooner or later so all need to deal with its effects.
Van der Kolk argues that trauma in its many forms is a major public health issue, the book considers a number of innovative treatments that make use of our natural ability to heal ourselves.
I have not read this book as a trauma professional nor as a survivor of trauma. But in listening to both groups they have found a wealth of knowledge and compassion within these pages. It does have academic material in it but does not have too much jargon.
Reading the history of the author’s medical career shows humility and care for the patients he’s met. One story is when he gives a PTSD patient medication to help with nightmares only to be told later on by the patient that he didn’t take the tablets. Why? Because to stop having flashbacks and nightmares felt like abandoning comrades.
Van der Kolk says he expected the patient to come back singing the praises of the medication and the doctor who prescribed it. In that story, we see the oft-repeated pattern of professionals who try to help but without getting what’s the patient perspective. This early in the career storey spurred him on to looking for new paradigms of treatment that honoured and respected the patient perspective.
At the end of the book, there are a number of chapters that include resources and avenues to look at as well. The practical exercises described are useful in getting to a state of calm to deal with deeper issues.
For people who are survivors of trauma, this book validates the experiences that they have been through.
For professionals, there is an inspiration to be gained from the author’s research and practice.
For those who would not say they have been traumatised, there is an insight into how acute and chronic stress affects us all.
The Body Keeps the Score is not a quick or easy read, it’s informative and understandable even without a healthcare background. At the end of the day, it offers the possibility of healing and a healthy dose of hope.
A few key points in the book:
For healing to happen it needs a community
Language does give us the power to change
We can regulate our own physiology [without drugs] through breathing, moving, touching.
We can change social conditions to help people feel safe and be able to thrive.
Labelling people as having a disease is not useful as the labels don’t address the roots of trauma.
There is no one perfect way of dealing with trauma – but it should include bodywork.
At the heart of trauma is a lot of unfinished business.
At the heart of a lot of anxiety is trauma.