Bessel van der Kolk’s “The Body Keeps The Score”


I just started reading Bessel van der Kolk’s new book, The Body Keeps The Score. I’m thrilled one of the pioneers in the treatment of psychological trauma is sharing his wisdom in a style that is accessible to practitioners as well as people seeking to heal their own wounds — two groups that share a lot of overlap. Dr. van der Kolk wrote the book “to serve as both a guide and an invitation — an invitation to dedicate ourselves to facing the reality of trauma, to explore how best to treat it, and to commit ourselves, as a society, to using every means we have to prevent it.” From what I have read so far, he seems to meet his worthy objectives. Here are a few pearls, which hopefully will tempt you to get your own copy:

“If we look beyond the list of specific symptoms that entail formal psychiatric diagnoses, we find that almost all mental suffering involves either trouble in creating workable and satisfying relationships or difficulties in regulating arousal (as in the case of habitually becoming enraged, shut down, overexcited, or disorganized). Usually it’s a combination of both. The standard medical focus on trying to discover the right drug to treat a particular ‘disorder’ tends to distract us from grappling with how our problems interfere with our functioning as members of our tribe.”

“Isolating oneself into a narrowly defined victim group promotes a view of others as irrelevant at best and dangerous at worst, which eventually only leads to further alienation. Gangs, extremist political parties, and religious cults may provide solace, but they rarely foster the mental flexibility needed to be fully open to what life has to offer and as such cannot liberate their members from their traumas. Well-functioning people are able to accept individual differences and acknowledge the humanity of others.”

“Mainstream trauma treatment has paid scant attention to helping terrified people to safely experience their sensations and emotions. Medications such as serotonin reuptake blockers, Respiridol and Seroquel increasingly have taken the place of helping people to deal with their sensory world. However, the most natural way that we humans calm down our distress is by being touched, hugged, and rocked. This helps with excessive arousal and makes us feel intact, safe, protected, and in charge. Touch, the most elementary tool that we have to calm down, is proscribed from most therapeutic practices. Yet you can’t fully recover if you don’t feel safe in your skin. Therefore, I encourage all my patients to engage in some sort of bodywork, bet it therapeutic massage, Feldendrais, or craniosacral therapy.”

“Some psychologists have hypothesized that EMDR actually desensitizes people to the traumatic material and thus is related to exposure therapy. A more accurate description would be that it integrates the traumatic material. As our research showed, after EMDR people thought of the trauma as a coherent event in the past, instead of experiencing sensations and images divorced from any context.”

“Every major school of psychology recognizes that people have subpersonalities and gives them different names. In 1890 William James wrote: ‘[I]t must be admitted that … the total possible consciousness may be split into parts which coexist, but mutually ignore each other, and share the objects of knowledge between them.’ Carl Jung wrote: ‘The psyche is a self-regulating system that maintains its equilibrium just as the body does’ …. Modern neuroscience has confirmed this notion of the mind as a kind of society. Michael Gazzaniga, who conducted pioneering split-brain research, concluded that the mind is composed of semiautonomous functioning modules, each of which has a special role.”

The Body Keeps The Score covers so much more than these few quotes suggests, and is one of the most comprehensive looks at the treatment of trauma by one of the leading researchers. Yet it’s Dr. van der Kolk’s commitment to his patients, and his empathy for their suffering, that makes his book both inspiring and a pleasure to read.

© Laura K Kerr, PhD. All Rights Reserved.


  1. Tom Beckman says:


    ! thought that this would be of interest.

    Bessel van der Kolk MD
    Webinar on Saturday, January 31, 2015

    Engaging the Natural Healing Systems of the Brain for Self-Regulation: Trauma, Heart Rate Variability and Beyond

    In this webinar, Dr. van der Kolk will explain how trauma affects the brain and the body, its underlying neurobiology and a variety of treatment approaches that allow children and adults to move beyond trauma and reclaim their lives and relationships.

  2. Alexa says:

    Laura, thank you for these excerpts. I am particularly struck with one phrase: “…the most natural way that we humans calm down our distress is by being touched, hugged, and rocked.” — This has proven true again and again in my life … This one phrase distils the essence of how we save and salve one another … I’m reading the book right now and it is a masterpiece. So is your blog. Thank you so much.

  3. Linda McDermott says:

    I have to say this, I am stunned as professionals, that there is no mention of the trauma being put on families targeted by social services, or child protection services in the US,or UK.
    I would want to know using FOI request why the data which is probably being given by social workers who work,or own property,an drip feed clinicians for court reports etc is not available .
    A lot of money is spent on trauma experts being employed by courts to write reports.
    Children are taken away from parents when there is no evidence of any emotional harm.The EW only has to say this,”that the child is likely to maybe suffer being at risk of EH “an that child is gone long term.
    The parents relationship is then destroy ,as that parent gets one hour in a CC post final hearing.
    I would like to hear talk about these children,how they are used further by the clinicians an Pyschs for studies. As it is our personal experiences,an opinions, that these cases,were created for such studies.
    Moving on. I took note about the comments on You Tube video by Bessel Van Der Kolkata MD when he says CBT does not work with trauma patients.Well everyone would agree ,parents are traumatised first ,by losing custody and contact of their children so this CBT threat therapy which is what they wanted to do to me for 2 years etc .
    Parents are ordinarily as part of the court proceedings they are threatened with CBT therapy ,for something ,in some, not all cases has never been an issue before . This is when a referral to SS which triggered a public law case.Which was what happened to me,when I complained about my sons care in hospital.The recently registered consultant triggered events,an appointments to have psych evaluations done for court.
    I have personal experience of going through the system,an been accused of having stomatoise disorder.I refused 2 years CBT therapy.The EW told the judge that only he would be able to find this therapy,as it was not available on the NHS.So would have to be paid for .I know this from fact.The Psychiatrist had a private business dealing with this CBT .He also had complaints made, an more important upheld about him by the GMC.I was accused of not having Ulcerative Colitis, an also Asthma ,and a Thyroid problem.I never diagnosed any of these medical problems.I don’t have stomatoise disorder, an prior to my son getting Leukeamia ,he would never had been made a referral to SS .I was educated by learning about how this system is so corrupt,an works in private.
    I am asking you to interview me, an also see the paperwork that supports what I am saying,actually happened ,with real events,names an places .
    It’s important to be honest an discuss these children being traumatised ,an being removed from loving ,caring parents ,an being placed at harm with the other parent,who is very manipulative .
    I bet that there is no toolkit for a looked after child,is there ?
    Other professionals are asking this question,”do you think this is a deliberate covert study in traumatising child?”
    I would say yes it is.

    • Laura K Kerr says:

      It sounds like you have gone through a very troubling and dissatisfying experience, compounded by your own health issues. I don’t conduct interviews, although I understand that you want to be heard. Lately, more attention has been given in the US to children in foster care, and how difficult it can be. It’s a very important topic.

      I hope you find the right people to hear your experiences and respond appropriately.

      • Linda McDermott says:

        Thanks for the reply.I have networked for the past 10 years or so, with many families ,an done interviews with the media with interested doctors , professionals.We have also been following the children,an what has happened to these children on social networks an websites were parents are connecting .
        What children say, could be the death of these so called experts,an what they recommend for children.
        The research for 1 in 10 children was quoted by a top emotional expert on the BBC news, really ? The journalist asked the expert it’s as high as that ?
        People need to police these experts are who they say they are,and more important of all that they are qualified,an not made up their CV as something stinks about how the courts cover up when these experts get it wrong.

  4. Linda McDermott says:

    It’s it also true that red blood cells found in a lumber puncture of trauma patients is an indication of future mental health problems?

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