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Book Review of The Body Keeps the Score by Bessel Van Der Kolk, M.D.
Along with all the fun books I read, I try to throw in some learning once in a while. My son has conversion disorder, which means that his brain has a difficult time coping with stress, so it creates physical symptoms. He’s much better than he was six years ago, and he has learned how to have better coping strategies since then. When I saw The Body Keeps the Score by Bessel Van Der Kolk, M.D. There is a section of the book that describes somatic responses to stress like this, but the book is a much more in depth look at trauma and how it affects the body and mind.
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. Dr. Bessel van der Kolk, one of the world’s foremost experts on trauma, has spent over three decades working with survivors. In The Body Keeps the Score, he uses recent scientific advances to show how trauma literally reshapes both body and brain, compromising sufferers’ capacities for pleasure, engagement, self-control, and trust. He explores innovative treatments—from neurofeedback and meditation to sports, drama, and yoga—that offer new paths to recovery by activating the brain’s natural neuroplasticity. Based on Dr. van der Kolk’s own research and that of other leading specialists, The Body Keeps the Score exposes the tremendous power of our relationships both to hurt and to heal—and offers new hope for reclaiming lives.
My Book Review:
Wow! This book has so much information in it! I’m not great at reading technical books, especially if they are science related. Yeah. I’m more of a language arts and social studies kind of gal! I have gotten better since I taught sixth grade science, but technical brain stuff still confuses me a bit. Thankfully, Bessel Van Der Kolk does his best to explain things so that even I can understand them.
I may have needed to reread some paragraphs a couple of times, but I did finally understand it. Consequently, it took me several weeks to read this book. It was worth it. I’m so glad I read this book. Trauma is everywhere, including in my family. I also saw a lot of children suffering from trauma when I taught sixth grade (especially following the Covid-19 pandemic).
The Body Keeps the Score is so well written. Like I said, even I was able to understand it. The writing style may be more technical, but it is still usually easy to understand. I feel like it would help if you knew a little bit about the brain before you read this book. If you’re like me and know very little about the brain, you’ll be good too! He does a good job of explaining all the different parts of the brain and how trauma affects each of those parts.
I found the brain scans, charts, and other pictures interesting and thought they added a lot to the book. There is a ton of very detailed information in The Body Keeps the Score! It’s well thought out, well planned, and is usually easy to follow. He describes several different types of trauma and many different reactions to it. It seems like many of today’s mental health issues may stem from previously experienced trauma.
I learned a lot from the examples he shares of his clients and how they have reacted to traumatic experiences. It’s crazy how the same situation can cause such different reactions! In one person the experience can cause the person’s brain to pretty much shut down, while someone else’s brain in the same experience can cause more of a fight or flight response. I did find it fascinating to learn about these different responses.
One of the reasons I’m glad I read The Body Keeps the Score is so that I will be better prepared and be better able to help my friends, family members, and students who have suffered from traumatic experiences. One of my favorite parts was learning about all the different strategies that can be used to help people heal from their trauma. I knew about a few of them, but I learned about several unconventional methods that will help.
I love that healing focuses on body awareness and mindfulness. It’s all about separating the past and the present and becoming aware of your body. It seems strange, but apparently when you suffer from a traumatic experience, your past and present collide. When something triggers your mind in the present, you feel the same emotions as you did when you first had the experience. At that point it becomes difficult to discern if you are in the present or in the past. Fascinating, right?
“…recalling an emotional event from the past causes us to actually reexperience the visceral sensations felt during the original event.” p97
“Trauma causes people to remain stuck in interpreting the present in light of an unchanging past.” p307
Healing comes when you can separate the two and think of it as a bad experience that happened in the past, not something you’re still experiencing. Doing things like yoga, choir, or theater can help you become more aware of your body and help keep your mind in the present. EMDR and other therapy treatments can also help.
“Trauma is about trying to forget, hiding how scared, enraged, or helpless you are. Theater is about finding ways of telling the truth and conveying deep truths to your audience.” p337
Don’t worry! I’m not going to quit my day job to be a psychiatrist or psychologist any time soon! I am very thankful that there are great people out there who do these jobs, but I think I’ll stick to what I’m good at. Thankfully, smart people have put their knowledge onto paper, and we are able to learn from them. The Body Keeps the Score is a different book for me, but I’m so glad I read it! I learned so much and I feel better prepared to understand and help those around me who may suffer from trauma.
“Being able to feel safe with other people is probably the single most important aspect of mental health; safe connections are fundamental to meaningful and satisfying lives…social support is the most powerful protection against becoming overwhelmed by stress and trauma.” p81
If you’d like to learn more about Bessel Van Der Kolk or his research for The Body Keeps the Score, click HERE.
Content Rating: PG
- Profanity: None
- Intimacy: Low (Incest and abuse are noted as causing trauma.)
- Violence: Low (He does describe some traumatic experiences his clients have experienced.)
Age Recommendation: 16+
- It’s quite technical and younger readers may not fully understand the content or be able to apply the knowledge. It also has heavier themes that may not be appropriate for younger readers.
My Rating: 4/5