In the library: book review of ‘The Body Keeps Score: Mind, Brain and Body in the transformation of trauma.’ Bessel van der Kolk.

Libraries are one of safe places when I am in public. As a kid, I felt a rare sense of home in my local library and I still feel it among the shelves in my town library. Libraries are places where anyone can seek sanctuary. This is my virtual library, where I can natter with you about books. We can natter as loudly as we like. There is no virtual librarian here..

So, the Body Keeps Score. What does that mean?  I arrived in therapy with several low level physical ailments that I was ignoring (acid reflux, severe neck pain, injuries from accidents I had whilst dissociated) and these weird sensations. It turns out, they were painful or weird sensations that turned up when my PTSD was triggered, along with memories and flashbacks came migraines, vomiting, muscle pains, my body was keeping score. The premise of van der Kolk book holds true and I wanted to see what he suggested as a remedy.

This book is written by a psychiatric doctor whose practice has led him to seek treatments beyond medication and talk therapy to treat his traumatised patients. There’s an interesting tension in modern medicine about whether people should be treated primarily with meds/talk therapy and how to prescribe complementary therapies. The Body Keeps Score discusses the scientific evidence of how trauma affects us physiologically and then talks about treatments like:

Yoga

Sport

Drama

EMDR

Meditation.

Van der Kolk looks at each treatment and shares his experience of trials where it has succeeded or failed. He includes case examples of people with various kinds of trauma, which I found useful. It’s hard to make judgment calls on whether to try a treatment like EMDR or meditation and van der Kolk is honest about what types of people benefit the most. The distinction he draws between PTSD and complex PTSD – and the challenges of recovering – really helped me see what might work for me.

I learned about a few new approaches that may work for me. The book was well written, it included a lot of passion and personal experiences from the author about his own life. I find it easy to read along without getting muddled which I can do if a book becomes too clinical or detailed. It made me consider whether I would find some relief in yoga/dance and how I could better look after my body as it recovers.

It’s worth mentioning that the case examples of patients include a few harrowing accounts of war and abuse. Each one is relevant to the treatment discussed but if you are effected by reading others accounts, that’s worth knowing.

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