A handful of books command central positions on my bookshelf. They have profoundly impacted my personal and professional journey. The Body Keeps the Score by Bessel van der Kolk is such a book.
One of the deep truths that drives the BodyWHealth® philosophy is the connectivity between body, mind and emotion. They are, for each of us, a single, integrated phenomenon.
Whereas previous models of wellbeing treated them as different systems, today we understand their profound interdependence.
When I advise WHealth Seekers to take 10,000 steps on at least 5 days of every week for the rest of their lives, it’s not simply because exercise is the foundation of physical health. It is also the foundation of emotional health. Calorie balance and good sleep don’t only nurture the body. These primary strategies also influence happiness.
So, it was with intense fascination that I discovered a book with the intriguing title “The Body Keeps the Score”.
Bessel van der Kolk is a highly-respected psychiatrist who has devoted his lifetime to the understanding and treatment of trauma. This book is a comprehensive account of the knowledge and insight he has accumulated on this modern epidemic.
One in five Americans has been molested or sexually abused. One in four adults were raised by at least one alcoholic parent. Domestic violence has emerged in one in three marriages. Twenty military veterans commit suicide every day. The media brings images of war and carnage into our homes more intimately than ever before.
The prevalence and burden of trauma is immense.
The author provides a comprehensive description of the science and wholistic impact of trauma. Having pioneered the use of modern psychiatric drugs, he is well-qualified to account for their limited value. With endearing candor, he implores his colleagues and patients to move beyond these (once) major discoveries to an appreciation that trauma simply cannot be viewed as a purely psychiatric or chemical phenomenon.
As he discovered through thousands of patients, what was previously considered to be an injury to our emotional health, is clearly far more extensive, including profound physical expression … the body keeps the score!
More exciting than this, the road to healing (especially in complicated or severe trauma) can commence in the body—a much safer place to start for all who carry these fearful burdens. Solid scientific research has proven the value of body-based treatment programs, such as physical movement like yoga and dance, non-drug interventions that impact brain function like Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR), and even modern computer tools that rewire the “fear-driven mind” like neurofeedback (often referred to as biofeedback).
The book is not an easy read. Van der Kolk entrusts his reader with detailed insight into biological structure and function. More than this, the subject is heavy. I felt painful personal resonance with many of his subjects, and deep compassion for the victims of horrendous torture and abuse he details under appropriate anonymity.
Fortunately, the kind, warm voice of a caring physician and teacher permeates the book, making both technical content and the alarming clinical descriptions easier to process.
Perhaps most striking for me was how I saw my own clients and patients peering at me through the many cases presented by the author. Don’t get me wrong—I’m not talking about the few that I’ve treated or coached who have experienced major trauma. I’m talking about them all!
It is increasingly clear to me that we are formed by trauma. Stress results in compensatory growth—whether physical, emotional, mental, or even spiritual in nature. The principles of major trauma are equally valid for those that escape it.
We should employ the same strategies van der Kolk recommends for recovering from trauma for normal growth and development.
And they start with the body!
I recommend The Body Keeps the Score not just to serious readers interested in the remarkable biology of trauma, but to everyone who desires (and is prepared to work for) health and happiness.
And although this seems somewhat inappropriate, I will insist on my customary greeting …
(The title of this article is the subtitle chosen by van der Kolk for his own book.)