Book Review: The Body Keeps the Score: Mind, Brain and Body in the Transformation of Trauma by Bessel Van Der Kolk

Book Review: The Body Keeps the Score: Mind, Brain and Body in the Transformation of Trauma by Bessel Van Der Kolk

Publisher: Penguin

Genre: Non-Fiction, Psychology

Rating: ๐ŸŒŸ๐ŸŒŸ๐ŸŒŸ

This is a comprehensive guide to trauma. Unlike other guides, it places emphasis on the physical body and how past buried traumas are inextricably connected to the body, or in other words: ‘The Body Keeps the Score’.

Although this book is more of a clinical guide for psychologists, counsellors and people working directly with those affected by trauma, rather than those individuals who have lived through trauma in their lives.

To this extent I found the book’s language to be a bit stilted, formal and distanced from the subject of trauma. This is trauma as seen through the lens of highly intelligent, compassionate, non-judgemental professionals, rather than trauma as an experiential narrative from ‘one who knows about it’.

This is probably why I struggled for a really long time to finish this book.

This is an exceptional book in terms of its content, with many rich insights into various different effective therapies and interventions for people who are seeking to overcome traumatic memories, or who are experiencing Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

People can learn to control and change their behaviour, but only if they feel safe enough to experiment with new solutions. The body keeps the score: If trauma is encoded in heartbreaking and gut-wrenching sensations, then our first priority is to help people move out of fight-or-flight states, reorganise their perception of danger and manage relationships.

The Body Keeps the Score

However, this book highlights case studies from a distanced professional viewpoint. In this regard, it is not really a useful tool for healing your own trauma in your own life. Instead (at least what I found for me) was that the various different case studies and diagnostic tools in the book took me way back in time to where the kernel of my own trauma originated from and various buried memories that I had to wrangle with. This made it a rather emotionally confronting read.

Map Porn: The Most Beautiful Geological Maps on Earth

I would say, as a self-help guide for healing your own traumatic memories and their legacy on your current day life, this book leaves a lot to be desired. However for understanding the physiological, psychological underpinnings of trauma and also for understanding different therapies that are available to you, and also to understand different concepts and ideas around these therapies, this is an indispensable book. Here are some key insights for me:

Who can find a proper grave for such damaged mosaics of the mind, where they may rest in peices. Life goes on but in two different temporal directions at once. The future unable to escape the grip of a memory laden with grief.

The essence of trauma is that it is overwhelming, unbelievable and unbearable. Each patient demands that we suspend our sense of what is normal and accept that we are dealing with a dual reality. The reality of a relatively secure and predictable present that lives side-by-side with a ruinous, ever-present past.

The Body Keeps the Score
Comforting Thought: We are in a tight spot girl sitting on beach gif

Overall, The Body Keeps the Score is a classic book for mental health professionals, counsellors and others working with people who are needing help. However, as a book with practical, actionable help for people seeking to overcome trauma in their lives, this book meanders, gets side-tracked and bogged down in clinical detail. Still – I am richer for reading its insights and it was not a waste of time.

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7 thoughts on “Book Review: The Body Keeps the Score: Mind, Brain and Body in the Transformation of Trauma by Bessel Van Der Kolk

    1. Hi Lani I am so sorry I didn’t reply to this sooner for you! It’s a great resource if you are a psychologist but less so if you’re seeking advice on how to address trauma yourself. Yes the book title is incredible and I bet this alone is why people buy it and why it’s a bestseller. Much love

      Liked by 1 person

  1. Thank you , Athena, for this balanced appraisal. A struggling friend mentioned this book to me a while ago, and I’ve put off pursuing it. It’s a big step forward though, when we realise that we carry trauma with us – in our physical as well as our psychic selves if you can even divide the two realities..

    Liked by 1 person

    1. This book has a great reputation Tish but for me it wasn’t that helpful for going through my own memories and working things out I found Tish. It has some powerful quotes like this one and some very insightful philosophical moments. A better one that I’ve read recently is this one which gives more practical tips.

      The idea that trauma lives in the body is so powerful and that physical movement can unlock and heal trauma…pretty mind-blowing. It explains so much of why humans do what we do, why we sing and dance and why music and movement is a great healer and unifier.


      1. I’m also thinking that this is where EFT (emotional freedom technique) can have a role, tapping on meridian points. When I’ve used it with intent and consistently, it does shift stuff – Can especially recommend Brad Yates on YouTube. Thanks for the Sarah Woodhouse tip.

        Liked by 1 person

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