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The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma Paperback – September 8, 2015
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“The trauma caused by childhood neglect, sexual or domestic abuse and war wreaks havoc in our bodies, says Bessel van der Kolk in The Body Keeps the Score. . . . Van der Kolk draws on 30 years of experience to argue powerfully that trauma is one of the West's most urgent public health issues. . . . Packed with science and human stories, the book is an intense read. . . . [T]he struggle and resilience of his patients is very moving.”
—Shaoni Bhattacharya, New Scientist
“War zones may be nearer than you think, as the 25% of US citizens raised with alcoholic relatives might attest. Psychiatrist Bessel van der Kolk argues, moreover, that severe trauma is ‘encoded in the viscera’ and demands tailored approaches that enable people to experience deep relief from rage and helplessness. In a narrative packed with decades of findings and case studies, he traces the evolution of treatments from the ‘chemical coshes’ of the 1970s to neurofeedback, mindfulness and other nuanced techniques.”
“An astonishing amount of information on almost every aspect of trauma experience, research, interventions, and theories is brought together in this book, which . . . has a distinctly holistic feel to it. The title suggests that what will be explored is how the body retains the imprints of trauma. However, it delivers much more than this, delving into how the brain is impacted by overwhelming traumatic events, and is studded with sections on neuroscience which draw on the author’s own numerous studies as well as that of his peers. In addition, it investigates the effects of adverse childhood attachment patterns, child abuse, and chronic and long-term abuse. . . . [T]his book is a veritable goldmine of information.”
—European Journal of Psychotraumatology
“Dr. van der Kolk . . . has written a fascinating and empowering book about trauma and its effects. He uses modern neuroscience to demonstrate that trauma physically affects the brain and the body, causing anxiety, rage, and the inability to concentrate. Victims have problems remembering, trusting, and forming relationships. They have lost control. Although news reports and discussions tend to focus on war veterans, abused children, domestic violence victims, and victims of violent crime suffer as well. Using a combination of traditional therapy techniques and alternative treatments such as EMDR, yoga, neurofeedback, and theater, patients can regain control of their bodies and rewire their brains so that they can rebuild their lives. The author uses case histories to demonstrate the process. He includes a resource list, bibliography, and extensive notes. This accessible book offers hope and inspiration to those who suffer from trauma and those who care for them. It is an outstanding addition to all library collections.
—Medical Library Association, Consumer Connections
“[A] wonderful new book that everyone involved with trauma ought to read and have available. . . . [B]eautifully, compellingly and sweepingly written in its grand vision of integrating medical, psychological and mixed or alternative approaches, based on a careful reading of the client and a holistic mind-body view. . . . There are very few practitioners who could not learn from this book and become more effective, as well as inspired, by reading and studying it.”
—Henry Strick van Linschoten, European Society For Trauma And Dissociation Newsletter
“Psychological trauma can befall anyone, not just soldiers, refugees, or victims of rape. . . . This important and helpful book makes sense of suffering and offers opportunity for healing.”
“[C]omprehensive in scope. This valuable work . . . offers hope for the millions of sufferers and their families seeking meaningful treatment and relief from the ongoing pain of trauma.”
—Library Journal (Starred Review)
“Dr. van der Kolk's masterpiece combines the boundless curiosity of the scientist, the erudition of the scholar, and the passion of the truth teller.”
—Judith Herman, M.D., clinical professor of psychiatry, Harvard Medical School; author of Trauma and Recovery
“This is an absolutely fascinating and clearly written book by one of the nation’s most experienced physicians in the field of emotional trauma. The Body Keeps the Score helps us understand how life experiences play out in the function and the malfunction of our bodies, years later.”
—Vincent J. Felitti, M.D., chief of preventative medicine, emeritus, Kaiser Permanente San Diego; co-principal investigator, ACE study
“In this inspirational work which seamlessly weaves keen clinical observation, neuroscience, historical analysis, the arts, and personal narrative, Dr. van der Kolk has created an authoritative guide to the effects of trauma, and pathways to recovery. The book is full of wisdom, humanity, compassion and scientific insight, gleaned from a lifetime of clinical service, research and scholarship in the field of traumatic stress. A must read for mental health and other health care professionals, trauma survivors, their loved ones, and those who seek clinical, social, or political solutions to the cycle of trauma and violence in our society.”
—Rachel Yehuda, Ph.D., professor of psychiatry and neuroscience; director of the Traumatic Stress Studies Division at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine, New York, NY
“Breathtaking in its scope and breadth, The Body Keeps the Score is a seminal work by one of the preeminent pioneers in trauma research and treatment. This essential book unites the evolving neuroscience of trauma research with an emergent wave of body-oriented therapies and traditional mind/body practices that go beyond symptom relief and connect us with our vital energy and here-and-now presence.”
—Peter A. Levine, Ph.D., author of In an Unspoken Voice: How the Body Releases Trauma and Restores Goodness
“In The Body Keeps the Score we share the author's courageous journey into the parallel dissociative worlds of trauma victims and the medical and psychological disciplines that are meant to provide relief. In this compelling book we learn that as our minds desperately try to leave trauma behind, our bodies keep us trapped in the past with wordless emotions and feelings. These inner disconnections cascade into ruptures in social relationships with disastrous effects on marriages, families, and friendships. Van der Kolk offers hope by describing treatments and strategies that have successfully helped his patients reconnect their thoughts with their bodies. We leave this shared journey understanding that only through fostering self-awareness and gaining an inner sense of safety will we, as a species, fully experience the richness of life.
—Stephen W. Porges, Ph.D., professor of psychiatry, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill; author of The Polyvagal Theory: Neurophysiological Foundations of Emotions, Attachment, Communication, and Self-Regulation
“This exceptional book will be a classic of modern psychiatric thought. The impact of overwhelming experience can only be truly understood when many disparate domains of knowledge, such as neuroscience, developmental psychopathology, and interpersonal neurobiology are integrated, as this work uniquely does. There is no other volume in the field of traumatic stress that has distilled these domains of science with such rich historical and clinical perspectives, and arrived at such innovative treatment approaches. The clarity of vision and breadth of wisdom of this unique but highly accessible work is remarkable. This book is essential reading for anyone interested in understanding and treating traumatic stress and the scope of its impact on society.”
—Alexander McFarlane AO, MB BS (Hons) MD FRANZCP, director of the Centre for Traumatic Stress Studies, The University of Adelaide, South Australia.
“This book is a tour de force. Its deeply empathic, insightful, and compassionate perspective promises to further humanize the treatment of trauma victims, dramatically expand their repertoire of self-regulatory healing practices and therapeutic options, and also stimulate greater creative thinking and research on trauma and its effective treatment. The body does keep the score, and van der Kolk’s ability to demonstrate this through compelling descriptions of the work of others, his own pioneering trajectory and experience as the field evolved and him along with it, and above all, his discovery of ways to work skillfully with people by bringing mindfulness to the body (as well as to their thoughts and emotions) through yoga, movement, and theater are a wonderful and welcome breath of fresh air and possibility in the therapy world.”
—Jon Kabat-Zinn, professor of medicine emeritus, UMass Medical School; author of Full Catastrophe Living.
“This is an amazing accomplishment from the neuroscientist most responsible for the contemporary revolution in mental health toward the recognition that so many mental problems are the product of trauma. With the compelling writing of a good novelist, van der Kolk revisits his fascinating journey of discovery that has challenged established wisdom in psychiatry. Interspersed with that narrative are clear and understandable: descriptions of the neurobiology of trauma; explanations of the ineffectiveness of traditional approaches to treating trauma; and introductions to the approaches that take patients beneath their cognitive minds to heal the parts of them that remained frozen in the past. All this is illustrated vividly with dramatic case histories and substantiated with convincing research. This is a watershed book that will be remembered as tipping the scales within psychiatry and the culture at large toward the recognition of the toll traumatic events and our attempts to deny their impact take on us all.”
—Richard Schwartz, originator, Internal Family Systems Therapy
“The Body Keeps the Score is clear, fascinating, hard to put down, and filled with powerful case histories. Van der Kolk, the eminent impresario of trauma treatment, who has spent a career bringing together diverse trauma scientists and clinicians and their ideas, while making his own pivotal contributions, describes what is arguably the most important series of breakthroughs in mental health in the last thirty years. We’ve known that psychological trauma fragments the mind. Here we see not only how psychological trauma also breaks connections within the brain, but also between mind and body, and learn about the exciting new approaches that allow people with the severest forms of trauma to put all the parts back together again.”
—Norman Doidge, author of The Brain That Changes Itself
“Every once in a while, a book comes along that fundamentally changes the way we look at the world. Bessel van der Kolk has written such a book. The arc of van der Kolk’s story is vast and comprehensive, but he is such a skillful storyteller that he keeps us riveted to the page. I could not put this book down. It is, simply put, a great work.”
—Stephen Cope, founder and director, Kripalu Institute for Extraordinary Living; author of Yoga and the Quest for the True Self
“Bessel van der Kolk is unequaled in his ability to synthesize the stunning developments in the field of psychological trauma over the past few decades. Thanks in part to his work, psychological trauma—ranging from chronic child abuse and neglect, to war trauma and natural disasters—is now generally recognized as a major cause of individual, social and cultural breakdown. In this masterfully lucid and engaging tour de force, van der Kolk takes us —both specialists and the general public— on his personal journey and shows what he has learned from his research, from his colleagues and students, and, most importantly, from his patients. The Body Keeps the Score is, simply put, brilliant.”
—Onno van der Hart, Ph.D., Utrecht University, The Netherlands; senior author, The Haunted Self: Structural Dissociation and the Treatment of Chronic Traumatization
“The Body Keeps the Score articulates new and better therapies for toxic stress based on a deep understanding of the effects of trauma on brain development and attachment systems. This volume provides a moving summary of what is currently known about the effects of trauma on individuals and societies, and introduces the healing potential of both age old and novel approaches to help traumatized children and adults to fully engage in the present.”
—Jessica Stern, policy consultant on terrorism; author of Denial: A Memoir of Terror
“A book about understanding the impact of trauma by one of the true pioneers in the field. It is a rare book that integrates cutting edge neuroscience with wisdom and understanding about the experience and meaning of trauma, for people who have suffered from it. Like its author, this book is wise and compassionate, occasionally quite provocative, and always interesting.”
—Glenn N. Saxe, M.D., Arnold Simon Professor and chairman, Department of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry; director, NYU Child Study Center, New York University School of Medicine
“A fascinating exploration of a wide range of therapeutic treatments shows readers how to take charge of the healing process, gain a sense of safety, and find their way out of the morass of suffering.”
—Francine Shapiro, Ph.D., originator of EMDR therapy, senior research fellow, Emeritus Mental Research Institute, author of Getting Past Your Past
“As an attachment researcher I know that infants are psychobiological beings. They are as much the body as they are of the brain. Without language or symbols infants use every one of their biological systems to make meaning of their self in relation to the world of things and people. Van der Kolk shows that those very same systems continue to operate at every age, and that traumatic experiences, especially chronic toxic experience during early development, produce psychic devastation. With this understanding he provides insight and guidance for survivors, researchers and clinicians alike. Bessel van der Kolk may focus on the body and trauma, but what a mind he must have to have written this book.”
—Ed Tronick, distinguished professor, University of Massachusetts, Boston, author of Neurobehavior and Social Emotional Development of Infants and Young Children
“The Body Keeps the Score eloquently articulates how overwhelming experiences affect the development of brain, mind, and body awareness, all of which are closely intertwined. The resulting derailments have a profound impact on the capacity for love and work. This rich integration of clinical case examples with ground breaking scientific studies provides us with a new understanding of trauma, which inevitably leads to the exploration of novel therapeutic approaches that "rewire" the brain, and help traumatized people to (re)-engage in the present. This book will provide traumatized individuals with a guide to healing and permanently change how psychologists and psychiatrists think about trauma and recovery.”
—Ruth A. Lanius, M.D., Ph.D., Harris-Woodman chair in Psyche and Soma, professor of psychiatry, and director PTSD research at the University of Western Ontario; author of The Impact of Early Life Trauma on Health and Disease
“When it comes to understanding the impact of trauma and being able to continue to grow despite overwhelming life experiences, Bessel van der Kolk leads the way in his comprehensive knowledge, clinical courage, and creative strategies to help us heal. The Body Keeps the Score is a cutting-edge offering for the general reader to comprehend the complex effects of trauma, and a guide to a wide array of scientifically informed approaches to not only reduce suffering, but to move beyond mere survival—and to thrive.”
—Daniel J. Siegel, M.D., clinical professor, UCLA School of Medicine, author of Brainstorm: The Power and Purpose of the Teenage Brain; Mindsight: The New Science of Personal Transformation; and The Developing Mind: How Relationships and the Brain Interact to Shape Who We Are
“In this magnificent book, Bessel van der Kolk takes the reader on a captivating journey that is chock full of riveting stories of patients and their struggles interpreted through history, research, and neuroscience made accessible in the words of a gifted storyteller. We are privy to the author’s own courageous efforts to understand and treat trauma over the past 40 years, the results of which have broken new ground and challenged the status quo of psychiatry and psychotherapy. The Body Keeps the Score leaves us with both a profound appreciation for and a felt sense of, the debilitating effects of trauma, along with hope for the future through fascinating descriptions of novel approaches to treatment. This outstanding volume is absolutely essential reading not only for therapists but for all who seek to understand, prevent, or treat the immense suffering caused by trauma.”
—Pat Ogden Ph.D., Founder/Educational Director of the Sensorimotor Psychotherapy Institute; author of Sensorimotor Psychotherapy: Interventions for Trauma and Attachment
“This is masterpiece of powerful understanding and brave heartedness, one of the most intelligent and helpful works on trauma I have ever read. Dr. van der Kolk offers a brilliant synthesis of clinical cases, neuroscience, powerful tools and caring humanity, offering a whole new level of healing for the traumas carried by so many.”
—Jack Kornfied, author of A Path with Heart
“The Body Keeps the Score is masterful in bringing together science and humanism to clearly explain how trauma affects the whole person. Bessel van der Kolk brings deep understanding to the pain and chaos of the trauma experience. The treatment approaches he recommends heal the body and the mind, restoring hope and the possibility of joy. One reads this book with profound gratitude for its wisdom.”
—Alicia Lieberman, Ph.D., Professor of Medical Psychology UCSF, Director of the Child Trauma Research Project, San Francisco General Hospital; author of The Emotional Life of the Toddler
About the Author
Bessel van der Kolk, M.D., is the founder and medical director of the Trauma Center in Brookline, Massachusetts. He is also a professor of psychiatry at Boston University School of Medicine and director of the National Complex Trauma Treatment Network. When he is not teaching around the world, Dr. van der Kolk works and lives Boston.
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I suffered PTSD and severe anxiety for many years, and tried all the usual therapies (CBT, medication, analysis, diet, exercise, acupuncture, vitamins, group therapy etc.). Frankly, nothing really worked until I discovered - and applied - the somatic (body) techniques espoused by van der Kolk, and other luminaries such as Peter Levine, Pat Ogden, and Eugene Gendlin. It took me a long time to understand – and accept – their message that trauma impacts the more ancient (reptilian) part of the brain where talk-therapies just can't reach, let alone affect.
The only way to ‘communicate’ with this pre-verbal system is through the body, which can signal to the brain stem that it is OK to begin the process of unfreezing the emotional paralysis that has plagued us for decades. So much depends on our willingness and capacity to feel and experience what is going on inside us - not just think about it.
Of course, it is also important to understand what is going on at a cognitive level in order to make sense of things. So there is certainly a role for traditional talk therapy, but it is not the main game. By combining a bottom-up (somatic) and a top-down (cognitive) approach, as van der Kolk suggests, it is possible to move towards genuine healing - not just a suppression of symptoms. This is not theoretical for me. I have experienced it.
The other truly great book on this subject is Peter Levine’s ‘In an Unspoken Voice’, which explains his ‘somatic experiencing’ (SE) therapy. Levine’s book is arguably narrower in scope than van der Kolk’s, but his writing has such a poetic quality that it communicates more than the words themselves. The first time I read Levine’s book I felt my body respond to his truths at a visceral level. It is a deeply healing and magical work.
UPDATE 2018: One of the treatments that Bessel van der Kolk mentions in his book - MDMA (Ecstasy) - was recently granted ‘Breakthrough Therapy’ status by the FDA for phase 3 trials. This is because the phase 1 and 2 trials were so successful, that nearly 70% of participants no longer had PTSD after just 3 MDMA sessions (most of these participants had suffered PTSD for decades). Do yourself a favour and Google MDMA therapy and MAPS (the organisation running the trials) – and watch people tell their stories on YouTube. They will make you weep with joy and hope.
However, I almost didn't buy this book: I was put off by the title. Familiar with major reviews of PTSD psychotherapy outcomes research, I know that research support for body-oriented approaches to treating psychological trauma psychopathology is thin at best, and such treatment models simply do not have the research validation of either EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) and PE (Prolonged Exposure), neither of which are especially body-focused.
J. Interlandi's excellent article anticipating publication of this book - "A Revolutionary Approach to Treating PTSD" (New York Times Magazine, 2014.05.22 - available online) - initially supported my fears that for some inexplicable reason van der Kolk was now promoting some treatment model for which we have little confirming research. "Psychomotor therapy is neither widely practiced nor supported by clinical studies," Interlandi informs us. Provocateur he may be, but I'm strongly biased in favor of paying attention to therapies for which we do have solid empirical validation. Our clients do not deserve to be experimental subjects - maybe not even if they agree to this, as I'm not sure they can ever know enough to make a truly informed consent. Knowledge that PTSD and related disorders are usually highly curable, when using the right treatment protocols, sadly remains the possession of a minority of people, even in the professional psychotherapy world.
Yet the account of van der Kolk's therapy work in Interlandi's article is gripping. Becoming completely absorbed in the account, I was convinced. (I've been here before, reading van der Kolk's own accounts of his work.) And so the disruption begins! Deeper into the article, he has me. Van der Kolk's critique of CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy - a general class of therapies) and PE (E. Foa's exposure therapy model) is withering and correct: neither really work. "Trauma has nothing whatsoever to do with cognition...It has to do with your body being reset to interpret the world as a dangerous place....It's not something you can talk yourself out of." Interlandi reports that "That view places him on the fringes of the psychiatric mainstream."
But he's right, and I can't stress this enough. Why? Because as a trauma treatment professional I'm well aware of what the trauma treatment outcomes research actually says. The best current summary of this research well may be chapter 2 of Ecker, et al.'s (2012) "Unlocking the emotional brain". (Buy this book, too!) Ecker et al. brilliantly presents a synthetic summary that encompasses 11 existing therapy models which actually DO cure trauma psychopathology, if done right. In this context, what van der Kolk is doing makes perfect sense. Finally, it appears, the trauma psychotherapy field is moving toward a consensus which has strong credibility.
Van der Kolk's new book has many virtues. Parts One and Two (102 pp) provide a substantial review of the neuropsychology of trauma's impact on a person. It's fun, interesting, informative reading, for professional and layperson alike. Part Three (64 pp) surveys childhood development, attachment experience, and "the hidden epidemic of developmental trauma". Van der Kolk has for years been a leading champion of the idea that there is a type of PTSD which substantially differs from all the rest. It develops in response to chronic child abuse and/or neglect. I completely share his belief that the diagnosis of Developmental Trauma Disorder (sometimes called C-PTSD, with "C" meaning "Complex") is overdue for formal recognition. I find his review of the struggle to legitimize DTD as gripping and distressing as anything else in the book. It is anguishing to know that a major problem exists, AND that the psychiatric establishment simply refuses to acknowledge it. DTD/C-PTSD is no fantasy. We see and treat these people, as children and adults. They exist, and they are nothing like "ordinary" PTSD treatment clients.
Part Four (29 pp) focuses on memory. I've long thought that much writing on treating psychological trauma seems to miss the point: trauma memory is what causes the problem. Deal with that and the symptoms vanish. Why is this so hard to understand? Yet, it is not a common understanding at all. Explaining how trauma memory works is invariably enlightening to my clients. And experiencing what happens when we change the nature of trauma memory is revelatory to someone who's lived with it for years, if not decades. As he does throughout the book, van der Kolk offers fine stories about clients who have experienced exactly what I've seen happen in my clients, making excellent use of what cognitive research tells us: people understand things best through narratives. Offer a good narrative and you convince.
Psychological trauma therapy is complex, but we are now well prepared to launch into the book's core content - Part Five (154 pp), "Paths to Recovery". He gets right to it: we cannot undo the trauma, but we CAN undo its effect on us, and so get our "self" back. Ch. 13 reviews existing therapies. His approach is to repair "Descartes' Error" (see Damásio's 1994 book of that title) by viewing mind and body as a single coherent functional unit. His topical coverage is complete and his critique of current therapies acute - not to be missed.
He then writes of the importance of language (Ch. 14). We construct our narrative mainly in words, and the words we choose are critical. But language is not enough (this anticipates his next two chapters). Our senses encompass a larger world, and it's center is our body, where all our sensory receptors are located. Then he introduces the treatment model he's long advocated: EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing). I'm trained in EMDR, and in fact van der Kolk and I had the same instructor for our advanced training: Gerald Puk PhD. Van der Kolk tells an amusing and self-deprecating story about his advanced training experience, in which Puk was able to provide a strong corrective to his approach to clients. This is typical van der Kolk - he's a truth-teller, even when it may put him in a poor light! And,after all, at this point he has nothing to prove to anyone.
Finding an EMDR therapist is not hard (see his "Resources" section). Nor is it hard to find a yoga instructor, and yoga is what he advises for helping a trauma victim get back into their body. Yoga is a wise choice, because it is available, already widely known, and adaptable to a wide range of individuals and capabilities.
There is much more in Part Five, and the focus is on self-empowerment. "Victim no more!" as they say. Most trauma therapists have a keen interest in seeing their clients leave therapy charged up and ready to fully embrace their life - that certainly is my own emphasis. Van der Kolk's thoughts on self-empowerment for those in recovery from psychological trauma will be invaluable to any trauma psychotherapy client.
For psychotherapy professionals, this book will be both delightful and confirming. For everyone else, it will be a readable, gripping, highly educational tour of topics all of which are critical to a successful transition back from the impact of psychological trauma. That he gives prominent though not dominating emphasis to developmental trauma disorders is entirely appropriate. Our society has yet to grasp that child abuse and neglect is a more often chronic than not, and that its impact is largely ignored and poorly treated, if at all. This does not have to be. Get educated (this book will do that), then commit to being an advocate for children as well as for adults impacted by trauma. They all deserve the chance to be healed, and we can now do that. Van der Kolk shows us how.
The physical book: Jacket design is pleasant and interesting. Binding is less so: color of spine wrapping is semi-florescent, and of paper, not cloth. The book feels substantial and pleasant to hold and look at.
* 6 pp: prefatory praise by peers and related luminaries (interesting comments from some important people in the field);
* 2 pp: Table of Contents;
* 356 pp: actual text;
* 4 pp: Appendix: Consensus proposed criteria for developmental trauma disorder
* 3 pp: Resources
* 4 pp: Further reading
* 51 pp: Notes
* 21 pp: Index