I am very excited about this recently published book by Dr. Bessel Van der Kolk. Initially, I did not think that another book could be placed alongside Judith Herman’s Trauma and Recovery as a “go to” text on the intricacies trauma and its effects. However, I am now going to refer to The Body Keeps the Score as the new, much needed, reference book for anyone interested in the effects of trauma and the varied ways to address its impact on people’s lives.
Not only is this book full of information but it is also written in a format that makes for interesting and engaging reading. It is not written like a research paper, although the research is well documented. I was able to read it for hours at a time, not something I can usually do with research articles.
In The Body Keeps the Score, Dr. Van der Kolk relates the history behind today’s current focus on trauma in veterans and survivors of interpersonal trauma. He tells stories from his own years working for the Veteran’s Administration and finding that the psychotic episodes that veterans were being diagnosed as having (and for which they were heavily medicated) were actually flashbacks of experiences that had occurred in the jungles of Viet Nam. This eventually led to post traumatic stress disorder being included in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual when it first arrived in the 1980s. Dr. Van der Kolk, however, does not tread lightly around the issues surrounding the DSM and its later iterations. Instead, he is very critical of the process of creating the DSM and its subsequent use by insurance companies, something for which it was never designed.
Dr. Van der Kolk also describes how after extensive research came out about childhood trauma and its long term impacts he and his colleagues came to the conclusion that a new diagnosis of Development Trauma Disorder needed to included. This was a request that was denied by the American Psychiatric Association in 2011 even after the results of the Adverse Childhood Experience study were made an integral part of current trauma research. This has resulted in a loss of research and funding that would assist in addressing the needs of children who have suffered from chronic trauma and continue to be misdiagnosed and heavily medicated in lieu of much needed trauma treatment.
In addition to extensively covering the effects of trauma on children, Dr. Van der Kolk also addresses the controversy surrounding repressed memories and the misguided notions still prevalent in the psychiatric world that repressed memories are not factual. He provides anecdotal and research based evidence that validates the experiences of people who have regained memories of childhood abuse.
The most helpful part of this book, and it is really hard to narrow down the best part, is Dr. Van der Kolk’s review of the most helpful trauma therapies. His devotion to body based modalities is evident and he strong advises against talk therapy as it generates activation/arousal responses that are not helpful until the person is able to trust their body’s responses. He states that it is through body based modalities that a trauma survivor will eventually gain “self-ownership of their body.” I am sure that many survivors with whom we work would appreciate knowing that this is a possibility.
I highly encourage anyone who is interested in the field of trauma studies and/or works with survivors of trauma to add this book to their library