The Body Keeps The Score Book Summary By Bessel van der Kolk

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The Body Keeps the Score is an award-winning, critically acclaimed book by legendary psychiatrist Bessel van der Kolk.

Published in 2014, it is a comprehensive and accessible overview of trauma in its many forms and how it can manifest throughout our lives.

This book explores the wide-ranging effects of being exposed to traumatic events – not only on individuals who have experienced trauma themselves, but also on those around them, such as family members and friends.

In addition, The Body Keeps the Score provides empowering advice on what steps can be taken to heal from these experiences.

It's a must-read for anyone looking to gain insight into the complex realm of trauma and healing.

The Body Keeps The Score Book

Book Name: The Body Keeps the Score (Mind, Brain and the Body in the Transformation of Trauma)

Author(s): Bessel van der Kolk

Rating: 4.5/5

Reading Time: 18 Minutes

Categories: Psychology

Author Bio

Bessel van der Kolk, MD is an esteemed doctor, renowned researcher, and trusted teacher in the field of post-traumatic stress.

He has not only written books on the subject such as Psychological Trauma and Traumatic Stress: The Effects of Overwhelming Experience on Mind, Body, and Society, but has helped broaden the public's understanding of trauma overall.

His most recent book, The Body Keeps the Score, is particularly informative when it comes to this topic.

Not only is Bessel van der Kolk a go-to source for understanding PTSD and its effects on individuals but he is also a professor at Boston University School of Medicine and ran the Trauma Center at Justice Resource Institute.

You can rest assured that his insights into how PTSD affects both individuals and society are certain to offer accurate solutions.

Exploring The Science Of Trauma: What Happens To Our Bodies And Minds When We Suffer From Traumatic Experiences

Science Of Trauma

We all know the stories of war veterans who are traumatized and start to struggle in everyday life.

But why does this happen and how can it be healed?

The Body Keeps the Score will help you understand why people experience trauma, how their bodies and minds react, and just what measures they can take to find relief.

You’ll learn why war veterans only trust other war veterans; why an ordinary picture in a magazine can trigger traumatic thoughts; and how yoga is one way to relieve traumatised people.

These sections of the book break down exactly what happens to the body and mind when people experience traumatic events and how it affects them day-to-day.

Knowing this will give you more insight into how trauma impacts your body, enabling you to find ways to heal from past traumas.

It Takes More Than Just Empathy To Understand Trauma And Its Consequences

You may not realize it, but trauma is incredibly common in our society.

We often associate traumas with war veterans and their experiences, but the truth is that anyone can be affected by these traumatic events.

Whether it’s from a violent crime or accident, trauma can happen to anyone at any time.

Rape and child abuse are two of the most traumatizing events that one can experience; however, reports reveal that 12 million women every year in the United States alone are victims of rape and more than 50% of those are under the age of 15 when the assault occurs.

Even worse, there are 3 million cases of child abuse reported in the United States every single year.

The effects of trauma can be long-term – often resulting in Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) which has been linked to depression and substance abuse.

Traumatized people may also find it difficult to trust even their own family members or loved ones, leading to estrangement or divorce.

These facts highlight how incredibly common trauma really is in our society today.

If you’re suffering from a traumatic event, please remember that there’s help out there for you; you don’t have to suffer alone!

How Being Reminded Of Trauma Can Affect The Brain And Body Of A Ptsd Sufferer

When someone with PTSD is reminded of their traumatic experience, they can experience a flashback and relive the mental and physical impact that the event had on them.

This was demonstrated by an experiment that the author conducted with his patient Marsha.

During this experiment, Marsha was played a script that took her back to her traumatic memory of losing both her five-year-old daughter and unborn child in a tragic accident.

When she heard it, her body immediately started to react – her blood pressure and heart rate rose sharply, activity in the left half of her brain slowed down and effectively “deactivated”, and her stress hormone levels shot up to dangerous levels.

It was even difficult for her to talk due to decreased activity in Broca’s area.

All these physical reactions showed just how real these flashbacks can be for those who have experienced trauma

The Long-Lasting Effects Of Trauma: How Childhood Experiences Shape Us Into Adulthood


Childhood trauma can be especially damaging, as the brains of children are still developing, and the long-term impacts of such trauma can be far-reaching.

This is demonstrated in an experiment which compared children with and without traumatic experiences.

When presented with cards featuring magazine images, those without trauma imagined happy stories that ended well – typically involving a father fixing his car or taking them to McDonald’s.

In contrast, those with trauma experienced a negative reaction – one girl interpreted the card as having one of the characters smashing their father’s head while another thought that their father would be crushed under a falling car.

The effects of this early trauma aren’t limited solely to childhood either; they have severe impacts on our lives well into adulthood.

Take Marilyn: a nurse whose story was shared by the author who had experienced sexual abuse as a child but claimed to have had a ‘happy childhood’.

But her traumas resurfaced decades later in adulthood – she lashed out when men touched her, even in her sleep, and developed autoimmune disease related to stress stemming from these events.

These cases demonstrate how traumatic events in our childhood can echo through all aspects of our life – no matter how much time passes.

Thus, it is essential for us to handle such situations properly so that we may avoid potential future complications stemming from it.

How Trauma Affects Our Memories And The Ways We Learn To Live With It

The Body Keeps the Score sheds light on an important truth about traumatic memories: They are vivid, unchanging and easily triggered.

Unlike normal memories which tend to fade over time and change as we tell them, traumatic experiences remain with us in detail.

This is clearly demonstrated by researching conducted at Harvard Medical School, which tested 200 men over the course of 45 years – some of whom were veterans suffering from PTSD.

While the memories of those who weren’t in trauma altered with time, the veterans’ recollections remained consistent all that time.

Further evidence speaks to the sensory experience involved with traumatic experiences; when recalling these moments, smell, taste, touch and sound play an incredibly important role for understanding what’s happened.

For example, one survivor of violence said that when smelling a particular scent of alcohol it reminded her instantly of her trauma – leading her to avoid such situations altogether.

When dealing with trauma it can be very difficult for people to move past such episodes in their life because as The Boy Keeps The Score reveals; our body and mind remember these experiences – without fail.

The Power Of Emdr: How One Technique Helped A Woman Reclaim Control Over Her Traumatic Memories

One of the most effective techniques used to help PTSD patients is EMDR, or Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing.

This simple yet powerful technique involves a finger moving back and forth across a patient’s field of vision as the patient follows it with their eyes.

Through this process, patients are guided through traumatic memories and encouraged to make new associations along the way.

EMDR helps patients control their relationship to traumatic events by allowing them to integrate it into their memories.

In doing so, it helps them gain a sense of control over their mind, body, and lives.

By observing traumatic memories from a different perspective, engaging in imaginative associations and embracing newfound agency, astoundingly positive results can be achieved.

The author shares an example of one successful recovery story – that of Kathy.

At 21 years old, Kathy had already attempted suicide multiple times in her life after being subjected to unimaginable trauma since childhood such as being forced into prostitution by her father, gang raped by her father’s friends and one incident that involved her being sexually assaulted with beer bottles.

With the help of EMDR sessions however, Kathy was able to observe her traumatic memories while incorporating new imaginative associations which helped provideagency over them instead of feeling powerless in their presence.

After eight positively transforming sessions with EMDR, Kathy finally achieved a healthy and happy lifestyle where she eventually went on to adopt another child at 37 years old – 15 years after completing therapy!

Through stories like these, we can learn how powerful EMDR truly is and how it allows patients to integrate their memories in order to restore a sense of agency over their mind and body – ultimately revolutionizing how they view themselves and how they live out the rest of their lives!

How Yoga Helps Trauma Survivors Cope With Uncomfortable Emotions


Yoga can be an effective tool for those who have experienced trauma and need a safe way to get in touch with their emotions.

This is because the practice helps them build a better understanding of how the body and mind are connected.

Annie, one of the author’s patients, was a rape victim and PTSD sufferer.

The first few yoga classes she attended were incredibly difficult for her because even something like a gentle pat on the back could trigger her brain’s alarm system.

But despite this, she persisted and gradually gained an understanding of how her body experiences emotions.

Even tough positions like ‘happy baby’ seemed to bring up strong feelings like pain, vulnerability and sadness – instead of pushing these away, Annie chose to explore them without judgement.

By practicing yoga, Annie soon realized that it was possible to deal with overwhelming emotions head-on – it enabled her to come to terms with whatever she was feeling in the present moment.

Mindfulness And Supportive Relationships Are Crucial For Trauma Recovery

Mindfulness and supportive relationships are an essential part of trauma recovery.

Mindfulness involves being conscious and aware of your body and emotions, even when it feels difficult to face them.

This can be a challenge when traumatic memories arise and we naturally want to repress the sadness, anger, or any other feelings that come up—but in the long run, denying those feelings is standing in the way of true healing.

By staying mindful and addressing these emotions head-on can alleviate both psychological and physiological trauma responses like depression, stress and chronic pain as well as balance out stress hormone levels.

It can even improve immunity responses by stimulating regions of the brain that help regulate emotions!

On top of this, supportive relationships from family members, friends, counselors or religious organizations cannot be undervalued on the road to recovery.

They provide a valuable safety net for patients who need someone they can rely on during recovery journey.

How Neurofeedback Is Helping Traumatized People Take Control Of Their Emotions


Neurofeedback is becoming increasingly popular as a way to help those who have been through trauma to recover and rewire their brains.

In this treatment, the patient’s brain waves are monitored and then displayed back to them in real time.

This allows them to regulate themselves and consciously put effort into relaxation – which can result in the production of alpha waves.

We’ve seen examples of this method being effective with people like Lisa, a 27-year-old woman who had endured serious trauama from her childhood, resulting in self-destructive behaviour.

What changed for Lisa after she began neurofeedback was dramatic.

She was able to talk about her traumatic experiences and work through them with the help of the neurologists.

With neurofeedback, individuals have the potential to recover from trauma or stress by retraining their brainwaves.

As more people become aware of mental health issues and its treatments, hopefully we will continue to discover how this possibility could benefit a wider variety of sufferers across different age groups and identities.

Wrap Up

The Body Keeps the Score: A definitive summation of this book is that trauma can happen to anyone, and its effects can be lasting, even decades later.

As such, it is essential to use mindfulness, support networks, EMDR, yoga and neurofeedback as tools to cope with and ultimately recover from traumatic experiences.

Each tool has its own strengths and weaknesses, but together they work in harmony to help survivors heal and live a healthier life.

This book shows just how these recovery tools can benefit those who have suffered trauma no matter the age or situation.

Arturo Miller

Hi, I am Arturo Miller, the Chief Editor of this blog. I'm a passionate reader, learner and blogger. Motivated by the desire to help others reach their fullest potential, I draw from my own experiences and insights to curate blogs.

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