As part of my Yoga Teacher Training course we were told about the book The Body keeps the Score by Bessel Van der Kolk (2014) as it discusses the benefits of yoga in getting in touch with the internal awareness of the body (interoception) and how this can be very helpful for people who have been traumatised.

I dutifully made a note of the title and, because I love books, I bought a copy on the way home from class. It seemed a very dense book and there were other tomes on my bookshelf that I needed to read for the Yoga course that took priority so it stayed on my shelf for a couple of months.  I have now read it and it is a very thought provoking book and very well worth the read for anyone interested in trauma and the body.  I will try to express a few thoughts on the subjects that the book covers, and any errors in my understanding are mine, and not the book.  I’m still processing this new information.

Bessel Van der Kolk is a dutch Psychiatrist working in the USA, who has practiced for over 30 years.  He has a lot of experience in dealing with War Veterans and victims of abuse (particularly those who have suffered abuse as children).  He describes the work it took to research and put forward the Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) diagnosis for war veterans.  He then also puts a strong case for Developmental Trauma Disorder, which he thinks is a better description of the cause of many childhood mental and behavioural issues.  However, he is carefully critical of the industry that is set up around treating named conditions (the research, the pharmacological bias) that creating a diagnosis can lead to.

In a very clear way, he describes the way the body responds when it is undergoing a traumatic experience.  He also clearly explains the process for how the body’s physiology is altered in those that are then traumatised by the experience.  It was very interesting to read about how the way the mind processes the memories themselves is altered by traumatic events and for those suffering from PTSD they are still stuck in responding to those thoughts as if they are still happening however many years later they are occurring.  He is also very clear that these changes are not always cured by taking a pill, that talking therapies can work for some people (but not all) and that therapeutically including the body in treatments may have a more  profound and long lasting effect than just intellectualising the events.

This book reinforces my view that we are all individuals and we will respond to everything differently.   These responses will be dependent on our own personal history, with a strong emphasis on the environment we grew up in (apparently the first 2 years is very important), and that things can change.  If we are all individuals then the solutions (ways to cope) are also going to be very individual and not a one size fits all. It also shows how resilient we can be to extreme events.

Elements that help recovery include, at the appropriate time, are a re-connection with the internal awareness (interoception) we all have, the power of a supportive physical touch, the role of stable social communities (such as can be fostered through singing, dancing, and acting groups) and helping people find a way to become a leader in resolving their issue.

The book does end with a thoughtful epilogue about the education system and how this might be revisited to be more supportive to allow the children to develop to their full potential.  Whilst this is aimed more at the US education system I could hear echoes of what I think is happening in the UK.  I think that all of our policy creators and politicians would benefit from reading this and having a really long think about where we can go from here.

Whilst the John F Barnes Myofascial Release approach was not mentioned, as a treatment option, I found there to be a lot to think about what can happen within an MFR treatment:

  • how beneficial the inner journey of listening to the body really is;
  • the role that disassociation from events can play in surviving traumatic events and how normal this is;
  • reconnecting with the body and the sensations it has is an important step in the recovery from traumatisation;
  • that the hypnogogic state allows us to safely access and re-organise the way memories are stored, possibly allowing us to resolve and release past events so we can put them into context.

This is one of those books that changes the way you think; and the lessons it teaches/shares will stay with me for a long time. I urge you to read it.

If you, my lovely Interonauts, want to read to get hold of a copy the book, it is available from Amazon and Wordery.  I feel I should say that the book is probably aimed more at therapists and practitioners who will come into contact with traumatised people, rather than members of the general public.  I should also say that there are lots of descriptions of the abuse that people have suffered and this can be really hard to read, if this troubles you I would humbly suggest this isn’t the book for you.

The Body keeps the Score: Mind, Brain and Body in Transformation of Trauma” by Bessel Van der Kolk (2014) published by Penguin Random House.

Main image is my own, taken at the Tout Quarry, Isle of Portland, Dorset, UK