The body knows: trauma and the body

I’ve posted several times now about Bessel van der Kolk’s work.

Below are some quotes from his book ” The Body Keeps the Score,” that Laura K. Kerr selected. She is currently reading the book. I look forward to her writing on her thoughts about the book when she completes it. She writes wonderful posts on trauma related topics on her blog.

A selection of quotes from “The Body Keeps the Score:”

If we look beyond the list of specific symptoms that entail formal psychiatric diagnoses, we find that almost all mental suffering involves either trouble in creating workable and satisfying relationships or difficulties in regulating arousal (as in the case of habitually becoming enraged, shut down, overexcited, or disorganized). Usually it’s a combination of both. The standard medical focus on trying to discover the right drug to treat a particular ‘disorder’ tends to distract us from grappling with how our problems interfere with our functioning as members of our tribe.


Isolating oneself into a narrowly defined victim group promotes a view of others as irrelevant at best and dangerous at worst, which eventually only leads to further alienation. Gangs, extremist political parties, and religious cults may provide solace, but they rarely foster the mental flexibility needed to be fully open to what life has to offer and as such cannot liberate their members from their traumas. Well-functioning people are able to accept individual differences and acknowledge the humanity of others.


Mainstream trauma treatment has paid scant attention to helping terrified people to safely experience their sensations and emotions. Medications such as serotonin reuptake blockers, Respiridol and Seroquel increasingly have taken the place of helping people to deal with their sensory world. However, the most natural way that we humans calm down our distress is by being touched, hugged, and rocked. This helps with excessive arousal and makes us feel intact, safe, protected, and in charge. Touch, the most elementary tool that we have to calm down, is proscribed from most therapeutic practices. Yet you can’t fully recover if you don’t feel safe in your skin. Therefore, I encourage all my patients to engage in some sort of bodywork, bet it therapeutic massage, Feldendrais, or craniosacral therapy.


Some psychologists have hypothesized that EMDR actually desensitizes people to the traumatic material and thus is related to exposure therapy. A more accurate description would be that it integrates the traumatic material. As our research showed, after EMDR people thought of the trauma as a coherent event in the past, instead of experiencing sensations and images divorced from any context.


Every major school of psychology recognizes that people have subpersonalities and gives them different names. In 1890 William James wrote: ‘[I]t must be admitted that … the total possible consciousness may be split into parts which coexist, but mutually ignore each other, and share the objects of knowledge between them.’ Carl Jung wrote: ‘The psyche is a self-regulating system that maintains its equilibrium just as the body does’ …. Modern neuroscience has confirmed this notion of the mind as a kind of society. Michael Gazzaniga, who conducted pioneering split-brain research, concluded that the mind is composed of semiautonomous functioning modules, each of which has a special role.  — (read Laura K. Kerr’s post)

More about Bessel van der Kolk’s work on Beyond Meds:

bodyAnd a collection on the general topic Trauma and your body

Link to the book on Amazon: The Body Keeps the Score — By Bessel van der Kolk

For a multitude of ideas about how to create a life filled with safe alternatives to psychiatric drugs visit the drop-down menus at the top of this page.  

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