‘The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma’ by Bessel van der Kolk MD

UnknownI have been saddened over the years by how little attention the addiction treatment field pays to the role of trauma in the development and maintenance of addiction. Tremendous efforts are made to argue that addiction is a disease or the person’s fault, but where are the arguments about the role of trauma (Gabor Mate being a notable exception)?

It is quite possible that the majority of people who develop an addiction to drugs and alcohol suffer from the impact of trauma. They use drugs (illicit and prescription) and alcohol as a coping mechanism. Many of these people will have been traumatised as children, and many will have been retraumatised through their experiences in the treatment system. 

I am just finishing an extraordinary book which is essential reading for anyone interested in trauma. I amazed by the advances that have been made in our understanding of trauma – in terms of its effects on our brain, mind and body – and how we can help people heal from its impact.

Bessel van der Kolk has written a classic. And the work that he and his colleagues – and a whole network of centers around the US – are doing is remarkable. As a scientist, it really excites me. As a person who cares, it really gives me hope.

As Bessel says in his Epilogue: “We are on the verge of becoming a trauma-conscious society.” I wonder though – and I am saddened to say this – how much of our systems of care want to know all this? Drug treatment rules, doesn’t it?

Bessel describes a range of interesting and exciting approaches (eg. mindfulness, theatre, biofeedback) to help people deal with trauma and its impact that will challenge a system focused on pathology, deficits and symptom management. But this book and the research and stories it describes are a serious game-changer. Read it!

Here is a summary of the book and short views of a few experts.

‘Trauma is a fact of life. Veterans and their families deal with the painful aftermath of combat; one in five Americans has been molested; one in four grew up with alcoholics; one in three couples have engaged in physical violence. Such experiences inevitably leave traces on minds, emotions, and even on biology. Sadly, trauma sufferers frequently pass on their stress to their partners and children.

Renowned trauma expert Bessel van der Kolk has spent over three decades working with survivors. In The Body Keeps the Score, he transforms our understanding of traumatic stress, revealing how it literally rearranges the brain’s wiring – specifically areas dedicated to pleasure, engagement, control, and trust.

He shows how these areas can be reactivated through innovative treatments including neurofeedback, mindfulness techniques, play, yoga, and other therapies. Based on Dr. van der Kolk’s own research and that of other leading specialists, The Body Keeps the Score offers proven alternatives to drugs and talk therapy – and a way to reclaim lives.’

“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

“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

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