Book 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

This book took a long time for me to get from the library after I had requested it, and once I got it, it took a long time for me to read.  There are several reasons for that, one of which being that it happens to be a long (nearly 400 page) book on the subject of PTSD and its effects, by no means an easy subject [1].  The author’s approach does not make this any easier.  It is easy to read books where one wholeheartedly approves of the author and his/her approach, and where one is caught up in enjoyment in what they are saying.  This is not that kind of book, as there was much about this book that encouraged my wariness and suspicion of the author and his mixed motives.  On the other hand, it is also easy to read a book that one cannot wait to tear into, and this is not that sort of book either.  There was much about the author and his approach I found to admire.  My feelings and thoughts about this book are mixed, and those are, at least for me, the most difficult sort of assessments to make of a book.

The contents of this book are quite sprawling and the author inserts himself into the narrative often to show how he got involved and stayed involved in PTSD despite the frustration and difficulty it often brought him.  The contents of this book are divided into five parts and a total of 20 chapters and various supplementary material.  After a prologue about facing trauma, the author begins with a discussion about the rediscovery of trauma (I) through the post-Vietnam War experience (1), where there were various changes in how the brain and mind were viewed (2) and where neuroscience started taking off (3).  After this the author gives a painful look at someone’s brain of trauma (II) with a look at the anatomy of survival instincts (4), body brain connections (5), and the way that disassociating from one’s body has serious connections in terms of losing oneself (6).  The author then looks at the mind of children (III) with a discussion of attachment theory (7), the cost of being trapped in abusive and neglectful relationships (8), the role of love (9), and the hidden epidemic of developmental trauma among American youth (10).  The fourth part of the book looks at the imprint of trauma (IV) and examines the problem of traumatic memory (11) and the heavy burden of remembering (12).  The final part of the book examines various paths to recovery (V), including taking responsibility for oneself (13), using language (14), EMDR (15), yoga (16), self-leadership (17), creating structures (18), rewiring the brain through neurofeedback (19), and finding one’s voice in communal rhythms and theater (20).  After this the epilogue shows the author’s political goals and the book closes with acknowledgements, a proposed criteria for developmental trauma disorder along with resources, some suggestions for further reading, and notes and an index.

Ultimately, my viewpoint of this book is mixed.  The author is to be praised for his willingness to cheer on any solution that looks like it works with easing the burden of PTSD on those who have suffered trauma, his continual praise at the resilience of survivors who struggle mightily with the stress of life, and his openness about his goals and agendas with this book.  I do not necessarily agree with this book–his arguments for socialized health insurance strike me as particularly peevish and his belief that the DSM is going to recognize developmental trauma and risk their current economic windfall with scattered but profitable diagnoses seems particularly naive.  Likewise, the author’s hope that the United States is becoming trauma conscious and thus desirous of preventing and eradicating it seems far too optimistic.  Whether or not the reader finds more to appreciate in the author’s eclectic approach or more to lament in his quixotic political posturing depends on what the reader brings to the discussion.

[1] See, for example:

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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