Introducing the August Good Reads Spotlight: The Body Keeps the Score by Bessel van der Kolk, M.D. I’m so excited to talk about this book today. This one is firmly on the list of books that made a significant difference to my healing journey. Understanding a tiny piece of the link between life experiences, mental health, and body health is nothing short of amazing!
I am not a licensed therapist or mental health professional. If you are suffering and need treatment please seek the help of a professional. This post may contain affiliate links, meaning, at no additional cost to you, I will earn a commission if you click through and make a purchase.
First Impressions of The Body Keeps the Score
Probably the first thing I need to observe is that this is a pretty intense book. There are self help books that are easy to read, humorous, and quickly progressed through. This isn’t that genre. It’s much more science based and that fact is simply wonderful, just be prepared. I read it in small pieces and keep a pencil handy to write in the margins because there is a lot to take in.
What makes it work is that as Dr. van der Kolk shares traumatic patient stories, he doesn’t just leave you sitting in the darkness. Over his career he came to realize that trauma often presents as disease and illness. The trauma may not even be fully remembered, but the markers of it show in how the body has broken down or adapted. This quote is really the thesis of the entire book:
“We have learned that trauma is not just an event that took place sometime in the past; it is also the imprint left by that experience on mind, brain, and body. This imprint has ongoing consequences for how the human organism manages to survive in the present.”Bessel van der Kolk, M.D. (author)
What is Trauma Anyway?
Although he starts off the book relaying experiences he had working with war veterans, he quickly broadens the concept of trauma. Vehicle crashes, abuse (emotional, verbal and physical), even disorganized attachment to our parents – so many potential scenarios that teach our brain the world is not safe. And our body responds accordingly.
The science in the book is fascinating and presented with explanations that don’t require a medical background. I do usually have to read over the sections a couple times to fully comprehend what he is saying, but I read in small sections anyway. This is a book that keeps your attention, but is also very much about teaching a new perspective.
My favorite chapters are the ones where he talks about different ways to heal the body and reconnect it with the mind for healthy regulation. He goes really in depth into the science behind ways to heal such as EMDR, yoga, even acting and theater.
The section on Rheumatoid Arthritis treatment was of particular interest to me since I have a similar autoimmune diagnosis. Exploring a potential link between trauma and autoimmune disease led to a study to see what could be done about that. The results showed that improving self compassion and other psychological health markers could also help with disease and pain management. He summarizes:
“Cognitive behavioral therapies and mindfulness-based practices have also been shown to have a positive impact on pain, joint inflammation, physical disability, and depression.”Bessel van der Kolk, M.D. (author)
That is very encouraging to think about during the times when living with an incurable, chronic pain causing illness feels incredibly overwhelming. I’m definitely sticking to this personal growth journey when I can see a path to feeling better both mentally and physically along the way!
2 Reasons to Pause before you read The Body Keeps the Score
I think this book is best suited to someone who isn’t at the very beginning of their healing journey. It’s not a light read. There’s a lot of science, and a lot of stories. It is worth it because the information is super helpful, however, I think I would have been scared off early on in my process.
I also wouldn’t recommend it immediately to someone who has heavy trauma to work through – unless they have already done work on it or are in treatment. Reading through these triggering stories and trying to process it alone can be unhelpful at best, and dangerous at worst. Please seek a professional therapist and see how it would fit into a treatment plan.
Why You Should Read It
Anyone curious about the mind/body connection will eat this book up! Whether you have an illness or mental disorder or not, understanding the neuroscience behind what has happened to us affects how we feel will really make you evaluate relationships and other parts of life. I also found his discussions of the freedom the characters found through treatment to be incredibly inspiring and hopeful!
I want to end with this quote from a doctor who endorses the book, which I really feel like sums it up well:
“This is an absolutely fascinating and clearly written book by one of the nation’s most experienced physicians in the field of emotional trauma. The Body Keeps the Score helps us understand how life experiences play out in the function and the malfunction of our bodies, years later.”—Vincent J. Felitti, M.D., chief of preventative medicine, emeritus, Kaiser Permanente San Diego; co-principal investigator, ACE study
You can grab your own copy of The Body Keeps the Score here on Amazon. Remember, the more we can learn, the more we understand this healing journey we are on. Knowledge is power, my friends! You’ve got this!