Over my time as a counselor I have met many individuals, who, at one time or another, have experienced some sort of trauma in their lives. This can be death, war, assault, or a myriad of other circumstances. Because of these individuals I have made it a point to read and research what I can about trauma so that I can grow as a counselor to help those in need.
Part of my reading has included this book, The Body Keeps the Score. It is written by Bessel Van Der Kolk, a doctor who is the founder and medical director of the Trauma Center in Brookline, Massachusetts, as well as professor of psychiatry at Boston University School of Medicine. In this book he discusses at length the connection between trauma and the body. It is clear that trauma affects individuals psychologically, but the point he makes is that the physical body and its sensations also have a significant role in treating trauma.
Very often in trauma the brain works to protect itself from remembering the trauma. While individuals may forget or do everything in his or her power to forget the trauma, the body always remembers. This is clear in those who develop Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), when the body may react to sounds, smells, or sights that are triggers. The temptation for many is to bury the trauma with substance use, sex, emotional numbing to everything, self-harm, etc. While this may be effective for a while, it often just stuffs the trauma which resurfaces and affects the individual’s relationships and life functioning. It also deadens one’s capacity to feel fully alive.
This book discusses in depth the intricacies of trauma, the brain, and the body. It teaches individuals to be aware of the sensations one may feel such as tension, tightness in chest, stomachaches, headaches, and many other physical complaints that are associated in some form to the trauma. Dr. Kolk shares ways to become aware of these body sensations and how they are used to treat trauma in different forms including, EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing), yoga, neuroscience, and theater to name a few.
While this is just a cursory glance at this great resource, I would encourage all mental health professionals to give it a read, as well as anyone who may be interested in how one’s trauma connects to mind and body. I would recommend that anyone who has some sort of trauma get in touch with a therapist, who can assist in the journey to healing and understanding this great connection.
I would be remiss if I did not mention the awe I found in reading this book from a Christian perspective. The intricacies of the human brain and body and how it is all connected is just one example of the creativity of our incredible God and Creator. I am thankful to work in a field that allows me to see God in every facet of a person, physically, spiritually, emotionally, and mentally. If anything, it reminds me that God sees every part of us and wants us to take great care in how we treat each part. I am thankful that when He created mankind, He said it was good.
“For You created my inmost being; You knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise You because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; Your works are wonderful, I know that full well.” -Psalm 139:13-14