Mini-Review: The Body Keeps the Score
The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind and Body in the Healing of Trauma by Bessel van der Kolk, MD, is a book I often refer to in working with clients on trauma for the extensive resources it provides for understanding trauma’s effects on both brain and body, as well as paths to healing.
This book covers a huge amount and may be best digested in manageable chunks, especially if you are processing your own trauma while reading it. Part 2, “This is Your Brain on Trauma” provides an important guide to understanding what happens in “survival mode,” connections between body and brain, and “losing your body, losing yourself.” Part 5, Paths to Recovery, contains eight chapters paving the way to healing, from regaining the self to reconnecting with community.
Another notable aspect of the book deals with early childhood trauma and its ramifications for individuals and society. Van der Kolk discusses the importance of the ACE (adverse childhood event) study and notes a need for increased research and treatment devoted to this topic, pointing to the underlying issues that result in the many varying symptoms that emerge from developmental trauma: “pervasive biological and emotional dysregulation, failed or disrupted attachment, problems staying focused and on track, and a hugely deficient sense of personal identity and competence.”
As someone who has focused on the healing aspects of human-animal relationships in my counseling practice, I took particular note of van der Kolk’s anecdotes in this book on how animals can sometimes help when a survivor has been too traumatized to connect with other humans. He says, “Some people don’t remember anybody they felt safe with. For them, engaging with horses or dogs may be much safer than dealing with human beings.” The bond with animals has powerful potential to offer safety and healing.
The Body Keeps the Score is one of the key works of modern traumatology and has much to offer for individuals as well as for professionals interested in trauma as a public health issue.