The Body Keeps the Score | Bessel van der Kolk

Summary of: The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma
By: Bessel van der Kolk


In the book summary of ‘The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma’ by Bessel van der Kolk, readers will explore the ways in which trauma affects individuals and society. The summary highlights the complex nature of trauma, including how it happens to people who haven’t experienced war or violent crimes. The discussions examine topics such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), trauma-related memory processes, the impacts of trauma on children, and several healing methods, such as eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR), yoga, mindfulness, and neurofeedback.

The Far-Reaching Impact of Trauma

Trauma is not confined to war veterans but is prevalent in society, resulting from extreme stress or pain that leaves individuals feeling helpless. This trauma can lead to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression, substance abuse, and mistrust in those who have not experienced similar suffering. Traumatized individuals find it difficult to maintain close relationships with loved ones, leading to estrangement or divorce. The author emphasizes the need to acknowledge the widespread nature of trauma and recognize its lasting impact on individuals and their communities.

Impact of Trauma on the Mind and Body

The author conducted an experiment on PTSD patients to understand the impact of trauma on the mind and body. When reminded of their traumatic experience, the brain enters a high-stress mode, leading to flashbacks. The study revealed that during a flashback, the rational thinking side of the brain slows down, making it difficult to distinguish between reality and memory. Stress hormone levels stay high for longer in trauma victims, making it almost as horrifying as experiencing the event itself.

The Life-Long Effects of Childhood Trauma

Childhood trauma can have significant long-term effects on an individual, affecting their present and future lives. Traumatized children tend to expect bad things to happen. These thinking patterns persist into adulthood. One study showed that traumatized children imagined darker scenarios than children without trauma. Trauma also affects the body causing autoimmune diseases as in the case of Marilyn who was sexually abused as a child. Despite having a happy childhood, Marilyn continued to suffer as an adult because of her trauma. Many others like Marilyn who were traumatized as children continue to suffer in their adult lives.

How Trauma Affects Memory

The way we remember events is different for traumatic and nontraumatic experiences. While we tend to forget sensory details of nontraumatic events, we recall traumatic events vividly and consistently. Trauma affects both the body and the brain, and in some cases, memories of traumatic events don’t change over time.

Reshaping Traumatic Memories with EMDR

EMDR or Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing is a technique that integrates traumatic memories to help patients gain control over their lives. The process includes guiding the patient while moving a finger back and forth across their line of vision, allowing them to make new associations while revisiting the traumatic memory. The technique has yielded remarkable results, helping patients deal with PTSD and other traumatic events. Through EMDR, patients can develop a new and healthier relationship with their memories, gain agency over them, and integrate them into their past. The effectiveness of EMDR may still be a mystery, but it has proven to be a powerful tool in the hands of a skilled practitioner. The book recounts the story of Kathy, who was forced into prostitution by her father, gang-raped, and sexually assaulted with beer bottles. Through the help of EMDR, Kathy was able to repackage her traumatic memory and take control of her life. After eight sessions of progress, Kathy made a remarkable recovery and was leading a healthy and happy life.

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