Tag: Christianity

Jay Adams, and the Dangers of Biblical Counseling

Almost fifty years ago, in 1970, Jay Adams wrote his controversial book, Competent to Counsel, insisting that Christians reclaim counseling from psychologists and psychiatrists and redistribute humanity’s problems into categories using labels that maintained a theological tone: sin, disobedience, and rebellion. The Biblical Counseling movement, ushered into Christian culture by Adams and his followers, declares that humanism (secular ideals and philosophy) establishes the foundation of professional counseling, creating blueprints for unstable soul repair.  For present day professional counselors this idea, aside from the obvious affront to psychology as a field of study, may seem dubious since the field of counseling is more complex than simply lumping all who counsel professionally into the field of psychology, or even psychiatry.  Regardless, Biblical Counselors see counseling belonging to a different authority altogether:  “Central to his [Adams] vision was the notion that human life is meant to be lived under benign authority—parental, pastoral, ecclesiastical, and, ultimately, immediate theocratic authority as articulated in the Bible—whose purposes were to transform human nature, not actualize it.” [1]  What is interesting here is that the line being drawn in the sand is over human nature—who gets to define it, have its say over it, and counsel in relation to it.  

Undoubtedly to the dismay of the American Psychological Association, modern day professional counselors are not required to study large quantities of psychology, nor are they mandated to specialize or equip themselves with a particular psychological model (i.e. Freudian Psycho-analysis).  Rather, modern day counselors study evidenced based practices for recognizing mental health disorders [2] (assessments) and evidenced based interventions (methods for treatment).  What is important to understand is there is a division in the secular world between professional counseling as underscored by the American Counseling Association and psychology as indicated by the American Psychological Association.  The American Counseling Association (ACA) describes the purpose of counseling in the following statement: “Counseling is a professional relationship that empowers diverse individuals, families, and groups to accomplish mental health, wellness, education, and career goals.  The American Counseling Association (ACA) is an educational, scientific, and professional organization whose members work in a variety of settings and service in multiple capacities.” [3]

The problem, aside from the various idealistic approaches to counseling—or, even defining the objective of counseling itself, is that at this very moment there are individuals who are suffering from mental health related issues (autism, bipolar disorder, trauma, PTSD, abuse (sexual, physical, emotional, and psychological, etc).  These individuals have grown up to believe that pastors, elders, and Sunday school teachers have been equipped with enough training to provide counseling on these matters.  Most mainline seminaries only provide one or two required classes in pastoral counseling.  Some pastors and teachers in the church have become certified in Biblical Counseling, but that is not particularly impressive.  One website I perused recently proudly offers a Biblical Counseling certificate to individuals who can part with $100 and attend 30 hours of training.  

On the contrary, a professional counselor who is licensed with the ACA is required to have a Masters Degree in counseling and included in the masters degree education a minimum of 700 hours of practicum and internship training is required. After an individual graduates with his or her masters degree in counseling an additional 3000 hours of supervision are required before one can be fully licensed. Built into a masters in counseling are classes that teach counselors about assessments, research studies, diagnosis, and evidence based practices and interventions.

The licensed counselor will not be surprised or overwhelmed by trauma because he or she will have had the training needed to meet you where you are.

However, what is even more shocking, is that the Biblical counselor will first, want to convert you or your son or daughter to Christianity prior to treatment—since treatment at its very start includes conversion. “Adams did not think that either peace of mind or socially acceptable behavior prescribed an adequate goal for the “cure of souls.” He asserted instead that the church should understand the vast majority of problems in living in terms of an explicitly moral model. Given this diagnostic framework, he established goals for the church’s counseling that employed the ingredients of the traditional Christian message. First, because “man’s greatest need is forgiveness,” the forgiving grace of Jesus Christ was essential to solving problems in living.” [4]

The Biblical counselor will set the agenda, drive the conversation, shaping it into whatever he or she thinks is best for the moment. The licensed counselor will avoid imposing his or her values onto the counseling session [5], having unconditional positive regard for the client (regardless of what he or she believes) and allow the client to bring up what he or she is struggling with and address it, in tandem with the client. The client and the professional licensed counselor work together on setting the goals, the client and the professional licensed counselor work together through the issues—and together they find hope and healing.

[1]  Powlison, David. The Biblical Counseling Movement. Greensboro, New Grow Press: 2010. p. 3. 

[2]  I am aware that there are many in the Christian community who do not believe that mental health disorders exist.  This warrants a separate post on the matter, but for now you may want to consider my post on the making of the DSM-V 

[3] https://www.counseling.org/about-us/about-aca/our-mission

[4]  Powlison, David. The Biblical Counseling Movement. Greensboro, New Grow Press: 2010. p. 2

[5]  Standard A.4.b of the ACA Code of Ethics 

Regarding Some Misconceptions Regarding the DSM-5


As a professional counselor in training, I have heard and seen some disconcerting assumptions asserted about the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (5th Edition). I have encountered Christian professionals, both counselors and pastors, who argue with some contempt, that the DSM-5 does not offer “Christian” solutions to mental health issues. I use the term “mental health” lightly here, because I know that many pastors and Biblical Counselors reject the idea that there are “actual” mental health problems, preferring to use words like soul problems, human problems, sin problems, martial conflict, and so forth. In any case, this post is dedicated to the making of the DSM-5 and what the DSM-5 is designed to do.

Before I address the history, it is first necessary to recognize what the DSM-5 is designed to do. If a psychologist in Sweden, a licensed counselor in Germany, a medical doctor in Montana, and a psychiatrist in Canada were to sit in a room and discuss particular clients that all share the same symptoms they would use the DSM-5 as a point-of-reference, since the DSM-5 is internationally recognized as a reference and diagnostic tool. For example, a person diagnosed with Post-Traumatic-Stress Disorder from the DSM-5 will have either the same or very similar symptomatology of any other person (regardless of where they are in the world) as long as that other person has also been diagnosed with the DSM-5. They key point that I am trying to get at here, is that the DSM-5 is a diagnostic tool, listing certain sets of criteria that have to be met before someone can receive a particular diagnosis.

History of the DSM-5

The history of the DSM-5 began in 1999, which was initiated by the American Psychological Association (APA). The APA wanted a significant amount of collaboration on this project, so they recruited professionals from many different fields: internationally recognized clinicians, scientific researchers, and professional organizations. “Through this wide scale collaboration, the DSM-5 development process has involved not only psychiatrists, but also experts with backgrounds in psychology, social work, psychiatric nursing, pediatrics, and neurology” (APA, 2013).

A task force was created that included over 160 mental health and medical professionals who were leaders in their fields. From these 160 professionals, 13 work groups were created which comprised over 90 academic and mental institutions around the world. More specifically, within the 160 professionals collaborating on this project: “Nearly 100 are psychiatrists, 47 are psychologists, two are pediatric neurologists and three are statisticians/epidemiologists. In addition, also included are a pediatrician, speech and hearing specialist, social worker, psychiatric nurse and consumer and family representative” (APA, 2013).

In addition to the 160 mental health and professionals who were collaborating on this project, an additional 300 advisors came along side the project to help inform specific areas requiring additional expertise.

The American Psychological Association partnered with the World Health Organization as well as the World Psychiatric Association to help with the organization of the DSM-5. “From 2004-2008, APA, WHO and the National Institutes of Health supported 13 additional conferences involving nearly 400 participants from 39 countries, including 16 developing nations. The work resulted in 10 monographs, hundreds of published articles regarding the current state of knowledge and recommendations for additional research in many fields” (APA, 2013).

Committees also helped in the process, such as the APA Board of Trustees, which overviewed the content for the DSM-5 along with A Scientific Review Committee and A Clinical and Public Health Committee.

Additionally, public feedback was also requested, which brought in about 11,000 comments which impacted changes. Lastly, thousands of additional clinicians and professionals volunteered their time to over up their expertise, contributing to the making of the DSM-5.

Final Remarks

It is important to understand that the DSM-5 is not a “Christian” document. It’s purpose is to function as a diagnostic tool. It is it true that the DSM-5 does not offer Christian advice for how to address mental health issues, however the DSM-5 does not offer any advice on how to treat or medicate mental health issues. It is not designed to do that.


American Psychological Association (2013). The People Behind the DSM-5. PP 1-2. Click here for page location.

St. Augustine’s Literary Praxis and The Beautiful

*This is not a “counseling” related paper, rather a reflective theological paper written when I was in seminary.

St. Augustine’s Literary Praxis and The Beautiful
In what ways does Augustine’s view of beauty influence his understanding of God in relation to the Christian life in his Confessions?

When talking about beauty we can easily fall prey to discussing beauty abstractly rather than making the spiritual heart-felt connections between beauty and God that Augustine frequently makes in his Confessions. The polarity Augustine seamlessly intertwines between reflecting on his past and confessing his sins of unbelief while at the same time commenting on what he believes, post-conversion, illustrates for the reader a heart deeply moved by God’s love.

When Augustine began his Confessions, ten years had passed since Augustine’s conversion to Christianity in the year of 386 A.D., which allowed for him to write a reflection on his past and at the same time process his thoughts and questions in regards to Christianity. One such example of this is at the beginning of book 1. Augustine is quick to inform his readers what his spiritual questions are:

You stir us so that praising you may bring us joy, because you have made us and drawn us to yourself, and our heart is unquiet until it rests in you. Grant me to know and understand, Lord, which comes first: to call upon you or to praise you? To know you or to call upon you? [1]

For modern day Christians whose language for speaking about their relationship with God includes intimate words and consider this way of speaking a reflection of their “personal relationship” with God, Augustine’s Confessions may be surprisingly refreshing. Augustine writes beautifully and even poetically at times, to such a degree that one wonders if Augustine considered his writing of the Confessions as an act of worship in of itself. I submit that the ability to confess sin while at the same time acknowledging the character and supremacy of who God is as well as why He deserves to be praised is an act of worship. This kind of worship is modeled by Augustine for the reader and as a result reflects particular theological underpinnings in the way Augustine approaches God and thinks about Him. The question I want to explore further in this paper is: in what ways does Augustine’s view of beauty influence his understanding of God in relation to the Christian life in his Confessions?

Augustine’s sincerity in his Confessions affords him the ability to express questions to God in such a way that his transparency gives the reader room to consider why and how he thought as he did and if we also think or feel as he did. Consequently, we are in a way, invited to participate in Augustine’s journey, which makes the answerability of the above question all the more important for us as Christians. We have an opportunity to learn from Augustine’s past and personal struggles. It might challenge us to ask of ourselves if we have been complicit with a secular way of thinking about beauty in relation to God. We might also learn from the kind of intimacy Augustine has with God which demonstrates that our confidence may rest in the free gift of salvation from the God who lovingly pursues his children. Augustine phrases it this way, “You, my God, you it was who dealt so with me; for our steps are directed by the Lord, and our way is of his choosing. What other provision is there for our salvation, but your hand that remakes what you have made?” [2]

Until Augustine’s conversion—which we are privileged to read about nearly halfway through his Confessions—Augustine develops three themes that he consistently wrestles with, which in turn causes the reader to ask the following questions. Firstly, Augustine is unsure of what the nature of a human being is. Is man good or evil? Can man save himself by living in a particular way? Secondly, Augustine’s sensual experience with creation and beauty manifests within him desires to experience as much as possible (i.e. carnal pleasure). What is the nature of creation? In what ways is man similar to or distinct from creation? Why are there things that are beautiful and does that beauty mean anything? Thirdly, Augustine is unsure of what to do with the idea of God. Through Neoplatontism he would be able to philosophically construct a being called God, yet whether that God is personal or Creator is something that he would not reach clarification on until he reads Scripture. This in turn causes the reader to ask: in what ways does God reveal himself in Scripture? In creation? In beauty? In man? These three themes fit into a larger struggle to which I will refer to as Augustine’s internal-external dilemma. Roy W. Battenhouse, editor of A Companion to the study of St. Augustine, offers the following explanation:

The philosophical path that Augustine himself wishes to follow is clearly modeled upon the Neoplatonic ascent from the multiplicities of the material world to particular instances of rationality, thence to a contemplation of Reason itself, and — beyond all — to a vision of the Source of all. […] When properly understood, however, the life of reason permeates all the arts of man. […] In one of its efforts to ascend from particular instances of beauty to the Beauty which they symbolize, reason begets poetry. [3]

Augustine wants desperately for the world to make sense rationally, something that proves to be difficult as he works through the doctrines of Manichaeism, which claims that the material world is evil. However, pre-conversion Augustine is curious by what he sees; he delights in the beauty found in the material world, not realizing that carnal pleasure from these things were corrupting his thinking about God (see Book IV, chapters 15 and 24). It’s as if Augustine’s internal-external dilemma creates a kind of friction in his thinking about beauty. On the one hand beauty seems to point to something beyond itself. On the other, he is not able to fully grasp what beauty is. Consider Augustine’s reflection below:

[…] In Love with beautiful things below me, I was plunging unto the depths. To my friends I would say, “Do we love anything save what is beautiful? And what is beautiful, then? Indeed, what is beauty? What is it that entices and attracts us in the things we love? Surely if beauty and loveliness of form were not present in them, they could not possibly appeal to us.” [4]

In Book 5, Augustine parallels Romans 1 when he chides secular philosophers for distorting truth and worshiping creation rather than the Creator. I submit that Augustine’s theology of beauty begins to overshadow his introspective-reflection and eventually comes full circle as he thinks through his conversion. Commenting on Augustine’s earlier works Carol Harrison in her book, Beauty and Revelation In The Thought of Saint Augustine, makes the following observation:

The implications of these ideas on Augustine’s aesthetics cannot be overestimated: since beauty (forma/formosus) is thus inseparable from existence given by and orientated towards God, the whole of the Christian revelation—in God’s formation of Creation, His image or form in man, His forming and ordering of history and an aspect of beauty which is at once immanent within the temporal, mutable realm, but which yet belongs to and originates in transcendent Divine Beauty. […] The synonymity of existence, goodness, and beauty which Augustine’s idea of forma implies is obviously, in part, anti-Manichean. [5]

Divine beauty would haunt Augustine as he wrestled with man’s relationship to creation and in turn man’s relationship with God. As he reflects on his past, Augustine makes reference to a few books he wrote entitled The Beautiful and the Harmonious, dedicated to a man from an orator in Rome, named Hierius. Augustine’ desire to win the approval of Hierius was in part his motivation for writing these books, however Augustine also provides another reason, “But I continued to enjoy turning over in my mind the question of the beautiful and the harmonious about which I had written to him; I considered it with a contemplative eye and admired it, although no one shared my appreciation.” [6] As he continues his reflection he comments, “I did not yet see that the whole vast question hinged on your artistry, almighty God, who alone work wonders.” [7] Lastly in the same stream of thought he concludes:

I was about twenty-six or twenty-seven when I wrote those volumes. The materialistic images on which I was speculating set up a din in the ears of my heart, ears which were straining to catch your inner melody, O gentle Truth. I was thinking about the beautiful and the harmonious, and longing to stand and hear you, that my joy might be perfect at the sound of the Bridegroom’s voice, but I could not, because I was carried off outside myself by the clamor of my errors, and I fell low, dragged down by the weight of my pride. No joy and gladness from you reached my ears, nor did my bones exult, for they had not yet been humbled. [8]

There is something about the grandiose nature of creation that lends to thinking about it in ways that are greater than ourselves. In the above quotes Augustine readily admits that he was thinking about beauty incorrectly, not attributing to the God who created it and as a result trading joy in the Lord for the weight of pride. I submit that Augustine does not fault creation for his lack of inward resolution, rather he brings with himself a particular way of approaching creation, which hinders his ability to perceive God as Creator. After conversion Augustine would reconstruct how man should see beauty in relation to God. Carol Harrison phrases it this way, “Man’s attitude to Creation, Augustine observes, should therefore be dictated by the order he finds there; since it is divine ordained, it will lead him who follows it to God, its Creator and orderer.” [9]

Treating beauty as if it were a kind of road map to God or like a mirror that reflects God in some is not entirely unique to Augustine. It would be somewhat of an injustice to not mention that Augustine has read Plotinus, who claims that symmetry and harmony of material forms are a reflection, as Harrison points out in her chapter on Augustine’s earlier writings. [10] For Augustine this reflection is deeply personal and not just purely an abstraction. The significance of creation and God as Creator, lies in what He communicates in and through his creation. In book 5.1.1 Augustine claims that creation never tires of praising God. [11] Later, in book 10.6.8, Augustine says, “I love you, Lord, with no doubtful mind but with absolute certainty. You pierced my heart with your Word, and I fell in love with you. But the sky and the earth too, and everything in them —all these things around me are telling that I should love you […].” [12]

There are two things we gain from Augustine’s view of beauty in creation so far. Firstly, beauty has a divine purpose, as it is divinely created. That purpose is to direct our gaze to God, the Creator and worship Him, not the creation itself. Additionally, creation celebrates the glory of God, by praising God intrinsically. Secondly, human beings were not created to worship the creation. We see this in book 5, as Augustine continues to chide the philosophers for they way they approach the creation:

This in turn leads them into an extreme of blind perversity, where they will even ascribe to you what is theirs, blaming you, who are Truth, for their own lies, and changing the glory of the incorruptible God into the likeness of corruptible humans, or birds or four-footed beasts or crawling things. They distort truth into a lie, and they worship and serve the creature instead of the creator. [13]

Augustine is evidently leaning on Romans 1:21, where Paul, in the prior two verses states, “For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse” (Romans 1:19-20, ESV). There is no doubt from what has been covered so far that Augustine desires to communicate the dangers of looking at the world through a lens that does not account for a Creator. Augustine’s own testimony reaches into his internal-external dilemma, prior to conversion, and exposes his own blindness by recognizing that Truth itself had to replace his faulty thinking by rescuing him out of a self-made worldview. At the risk of being reductionistic, I submit that for all Augustine’s philosophical training and Manichean influences, his overall struggle was between worshiping the creation rather than the Creator.

As I near the end of this paper, I want to focus on what it looks like for Augustine to worship the Creator through the beauty of Creation. Augustine makes two profound statements regarding his conversion, which is contextualized around his need of strength and enjoyment of God. The first quote comes from book 7, at a point where Augustine is looking at creation. He makes the following statement:

And then my mind attained to That Which Is, in the flash of one tremulous glance. Then indeed did I perceive your invisible reality through created things, but to keep my gaze there was beyond my strength. I was forced back through weakness and returned to my familiar surroundings, bearing with me only a loving memory, one that yearned for something of which I had caught the fragrance, but could not yet feast upon. [14]

Seeing God through creation created “a loving memory” that he longed to find again, if only he had the strength to rest in that state. The second quote shortly thereafter follows the one above. Augustine says, “Accordingly I looked for a way to gain the strength I needed to enjoy you, but I did not find it until I embraced the mediator between God and humankind, the man Christ Jesus, who also is God, supreme over all things and blessed for ever.” [15] Notice that Augustine says he looked for “strength” in order that he might “enjoy” God.

When we link the “loving memory” of perceiving God through creation to his finding “strength” in Jesus Christ—his savior—to enjoying God we are given a glimpse into what it means for Augustine to look through creation, to its Creator and ultimately to his Redeemer. Keep in mind that we humans are a part of God’s creation and once redeemed there all kinds of new possibilities at hand when it comes to participating in creation, and in a sense, demonstrating through our actions who God is to others. Explaining Augustine’s response to beauty in creation, Carol Harrison makes the following comment:

It is in the praise, awe, jubilation, and love of the Psalmist that Augustine finds a suitable response to the beauty of Creation. The psalmist, he comments, thereby becomes the voice of a mute Creation praising its Creator, and this through the month of a fallen man, who is in turn brought to acknowledge his Creator. He expresses these ideas succinctly in Confessions, ‘Let your works praise You that we may love you, and let us love You that Your works may praise You.’ [16]

Augustine’s play on words near the end of the quote reveals something about Augustine’s inner change. The internal-external dilemma that he consistently reveals to us as he struggles with his identity before God no longer cultivates a barrier in relation to the purposes of creation. In this way, creation cannot be properly understood apart from God, nor beauty, nor our purpose for existing. Augustine came out of a kind of narcissistic pride, where he reveled in carnal pleasure and deeply struggled with how to discern what was truth. In was not until he was saved by Truth itself that his eyes were opened and freed from the pains of living for himself.

Augustine knew he needed to covert when he read the following passage, “Let us walk properly as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and sensuality, not in quarreling and jealousy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires” (Romans 13:13-14, ESV). He was in a garden wrestling with questions and doubt, but when he read this verse it struck him at the core of his heart. The translator, Maria Boulding, in the Kindle Edition of the Confessions, makes the following statement, “Since Book VII the central issue for Augustine has been acceptance of Christ; this now crystallizes into the “putting on” of Christ in baptism, sacramentally symbolized by the clothing in the new robe.” [17] I submit that this revelation from Scripture functioned as the keystone for an entirely new modus operandi for Augustine. By “putting on” Christ, Augustine was able to understand his need for salvation what it meant to live in a way that reflected this redeemed life. He would never encounter beauty the same way, as if looking through a window he will be able to see the Creator as the one that creates and sustains life.

I have presented evidence to show that Augustine had three primary areas of struggle: man, creation, and God. Throughout his Confessions, Augustine intertwines these thematically, each with their own sets of concerns and frustrations, hindered by a stubborn heart fueled by lusts and carnal desires. Augustine was in love with creation and created things, he looked for hope in Manichaeism, solidarity in the company of philosophy, and joy in his own intellectual endeavors. Yet, he was not at peace until he surrendered himself to Christ. It was only then that he could delight in the Lord and discover the pleasure of God’s presence echoed by creation and manifested in Scripture.

Augustine’s Confessions offer to us a glimpse into a man who has been radically changed, renewed, and re-directed. His love of Christ permeates his writing and is a tribute to the personal and loving God we worship. We learn from Augustine that beauty should inspire us to worship the Lord and recognize it as something God created to echo his glory on earth. This means we have no room for complacency. We are missing something that is deep, true, and wonderful if we fail to see that the Creator of the universe has made us in his image, yet sinful, but also saved, having “put on” Christ. This means the Redeemer and the light of truth is able to shine through us to others and then back to himself, making us walking and talking beacons of God’s love and mercy. Because of Christ, we have the opportunity to participate in God’s creation in such a way that when we obey Christ, worship Christ, and delight in Christ we demonstrate the beauty of Christ to the world. Living in this way is an act of worship.


  1. Saint Augustine, The Confessions (New York: Vintage, 1998), 3.
  2. Ibid, 84.
  3. Roy W. Battenhouse, Companion to the Study of St. Augustine (Cambridge: Baker Book House, 1979), 105.
  4. Saint Augustine, The Confessions (New York: Vintage, 1998), 67.
  5. Carol Harrison, Beauty and Revelation in the Thought of Saint Augustine (Oxford: Oxford University Press, USA, 1992), 39. There appears to be a typo in the quote. The continuity of the text seems to flow better once the word “yet” is removed.
  6. Saint Augustine, The Confessions (New York: Vintage, 1998), 69. And the previous paragraph.
  7. Ibid, 69.
  8. Ibid, 71.
  9. Carol Harrison, Beauty and Revelation in the Thought of Saint Augustine (Oxford: Oxford University Press, USA, 1992), 23.
  10. Ibid. 5.
  11. Saint Augustine, The Confessions (New York: Vintage, 1998), 75.
  12. Ibid. 201.
  13. Ibid. 78-79.
  14. Ibid. 139.
  15. Ibid. 139.
  16. Carol Harrison, Beauty and Revelation in the Thought of Saint Augustine (Oxford: Oxford University Press, USA, 1992), 132.
  17. St. Augustine (2007-04-01). The Confessions (1st Edition; Study Edition) (Kindle Locations 4789-4790). New City Press. Kindle Edition


Augustine, Saint The Confessions. New York: Vintage, 1998.

Battenhouse, Roy W. Companion to the Study of St. Augustine. Cambridge: Baker Book House, 1979.

Harrison, Carol. Beauty and Revelation in the Thought of Saint Augustine. Oxford: Oxford University Press, USA, 1992.

St. Augustine (2007-04-01). The Confessions (1st Edition; Study Edition) (Kindle Location 20). New City Press. Kindle Edition.

The Body Keeps the Score, A Review

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.

Personal Reflection 

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.

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.