I’ve had The Body Keeps the Score by Bessel van der Kolk, M.D. on my shelves (both analog and audio) for quite a few months. I suppose I put it off because trauma is such a heavy subject. However, I unexpectedly found the tone to be comfortable and almost conversational. Perhaps that’s the talent of audiobook narrator Sean Pratt and van der Kolk’s evident compassion.
The reason I picked up this book at this time was because I recently finished Hunger by Roxane Gay. As Gay told her story of gang rape at 12, along with subsequent disordered eating behavior, I wanted to understand more about how trauma affects people. Choosing The Body Keeps the Score was a perfect follow up.
Van der Kolk began his journey by working with Vietnam War veterans, and he references veterans repeatedly throughout the book. But he also tells the story of many other patients, individually and as research groups. It’s hard to hear the traumatic experiences, but each time van der Kolk infuses the telling with hope and positive change.
I appreciated the personal stories from the author as well. You can see why he’s been driven to help people with post-traumatic stress disorder and it’s related disorders. Van der Kolk’s advocacy for the PTSD diagnosis, as well as Complex PTSD and Developmental Trauma Disorder is groundbreaking and important.
The Body Keeps the Score covers how trauma affects our brains, how it changes children, and how traumatic memories can be hidden as well as revealed later. The science was clear and relatable, while also detailed and fascinating. I can imagine myself rereading part or all of this book in the future to revisit concepts.
For me, the most interesting part of the book was the final third. This section covers a variety of treatment methods including therapeutic theater, yoga, and eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR). I found myself wishing for more information, and also feeling curious about exploring some methods I’ve not tried.
As I said, this is a book to read and reread. I’ll use it as reference in the future, since I sometimes work with trauma survivors in my massage therapy practice. I highly recommend it to professionals and lay people.