The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body In The Healing of Trauma written by Bessel van der Kolk systematically demonstrates for the reader why trauma research is valuable, particularly as it relates to the client-counselor relationship. Van der Kolk begins his book with a historical perspective: As a budding psychologist he recalls his experiences working with Vietnam veterans and their struggles with PTSD. His observations about the veterans and his curiosity about what causes the symptoms to manifest in the particular ways led him towards a career of helping trauma victims through research, applied neuroscience, and investigating modern psychological approaches to healing those with trauma.
Van der Kolk writes with surprising clarity and humility as he honestly shares his thoughts and concerns regarding his approach to counseling models. Providing a careful exploration into the science of trauma, Van der Kolk shares many stories and conversations he’s had with clients regarding their trauma which helps to underscore the credibility of each part in his book. The book is divided into 5 parts: (1) The Rediscovery of Trauma. (2) This is Your Brain on Trauma. (3) The Minds of Children. (4). The Imprint of Trauma. (5) Paths to Recovery. Additionally, the book has an Appendix entitled: Consensus Proposed Criteria For Developmental Trauma Disorder, which is then followed by a section devoted to resources and further reading.
Throughout his book, van der Kolk frequently references his experience in the medical field which is quite extensive. He is the founder and director of the Trauma Center in Brookline, Massachusetts, a professor of psychiatry at Boston University, and director of the National Complex Trauma Treatment Network. In The Body Keeps The Score, van der Kolk shares his life’s work with his readers and it is a worthwhile read for lay readers, students, and professors interested in the subject of trauma and psychology.
I read this book quickly, bouncing between reading the text and listening to the audio version (on occasion doing both), yet taking time to highlight and create notes. It’s such a dense book that I think I will have to go back and re-read it as some point. I found the content insightful and certainly feel that I know much more about the symptoms of trauma victims than I did before reading this book. However, I did find that content of the book disturbing at times, particularly as Van der Kolk recounts, at times, detailed accounts of trauma stories. Though the stories provide a contextual framework for the book, I think the next time I read it, I will take breaks between the sections to allow myself some breathing space.
The symbiotic connection between science and counseling methodology was exciting to read, though I must admit it is difficult to fully digest when spiritual norms—particularly relating to Christianity—are not present in such a resourceful book on trauma and the sociological impact it has on families and communities. This is perhaps one of the greatest problems with a culture bent on relativism and social constructionism, particularly when such philosophical ideals are prevalent within the counseling field. Science (objective truth) is held to the magisterial standard for “evidence based” counseling practices. Yet science is constructed in such a way that it cannot include within its hypotheses actions from God interacting with human beings, which Christians would argue fall within the domain of absolute truth (objective truth). Therefore, all spiritual notions from all religions are located within the domain of subjective truth, and once filtered through social constructionism, the inevitable result is the dropping of “truth”, leaving Christianity and all other religions to fight for relevance within the domain of non-truth, or pure relativism.
My point is that books like The Body Keeps The Score have a great deal to offer the Christianity community, and visa-versa, but until the scientific community is willing to lift the prevailing weapon of relativism it wields against religion, there will remain a gap between religion and science that creates a vacuum and division between the two worlds of counseling practice (pastoral and professional).
However, I have been forever altered in the way I see trauma by reading The Body Keeps the Score, but it makes me sad to think that professional counseling claims science for it’s evidence and in the same breath also claims philosophy (social constructionism) for its explanation for religious diversity. It seems there must be a middle ground, a way to bring the two groups together without scandalizing truth in the process.
Reading the book has inspired me to continue my studies in trauma treatments, particularly EMDR, yet it has also inspired me to do research into why there seems to be such skepticism amongst Christians regarding psychological and mental health problems and solutions. As mentioned above, Christians are being told (culturally) that their faith is relative, which may explain some of the push-back Christians have when it comes to psychological explanations for things like anxiety and trauma. However, there also may be other things at play, such as a lack of education in modern psychology which differs quite a bit from Freudian psycho-analysis.
In The Body Keeps the Score, the reader is invited into a history of how trauma has been viewed and treated over the last fifty years, how trauma impacts the brain and mind, and is provided with a variety of treatments backed by scientific evidence for treating trauma. The book is filled with many helpful illustrations including brain scans, which are helpful to understand the author’s perspective and well thought-out conclusions about trauma and the inner working functions of the brain. It is textbook worthy and I look forward to returning to it for further insight and guidance as I move through my professional journey as a counselor and researcher.
Van Der Kolk, B. (2015). The body keeps the score: brain, mind, and body in the healing of trauma. NY: Penguin Books.