Readers Defend Van der Kolk

Bessel van der Kolk pic Trauma CenterI had the most comments ever last week, as readers spoke up to defend Dr. Bessel van der Kolk (left) and his ideas about somatic (body) healing for trauma, after the sideswipes against science by the New York Times May 22.  But the comments section got buried under all the footnotes I had to put in my letter to the Times to document their ignorance, so I’m posting the comments here where they’re easy to find.


Barbara Findeisen | June 7, 2014
Thank you, Kathy, you speak for many of us.  Did you see the “60 Minutes” show that Sunday? Most of my friends in the field do not think cognitive (therapy) is the way to go.

Some do. I have a hunch it is because they are afraid of their own trauma and need to be in control. As I am sure you know it an be messy when you are back in that pain and terror.

Kathy | June 8, 2014
Dear Barbara,
I’m grateful for your work on somatic healing and attachment trauma at Star Foundation (  A transcript of the May 25 “60 Minutes” show on PTSD is here.  Personally I was horrified by the VA forcing vets to do cognitive talk therapy, retelling their trauma over and over.
Not only Dr. van der Kolk but also somatic therapy experts Dr. Peter A. Levine, Dr. Pat Ogden, Belleruth Naparstek, Janina Fisher, and others with extensive vet experience warn that “just talk” about trauma only makes victims relive the trauma.  So it gets worse.
That’s why I took Dr. Levine’s somatic book “Healing Trauma to my therapist; he’s an attachment expert, but into cognitive talk therapy.  I said: “Sorry you’re not familiar with somatic work, but I got traumatized before I was 3 and had a thinking brain, so the trauma’s baked down into my body parts, where talk and cognition can’t get at it. This book is what we’re going to do.”  Our results were spectacular.  Levine’s results with vets are also spectacular.

Cheryl Sharp | June 9, 2014
While the coverage of van der Kolk’s work looked good on the surface, the innuendos throughout left me feeling that it was more of an attack.

It would have made much more sense for the article to go further and talk about why the way he works with people actually works, such as follow up with Bruce Perry’s work.

Only when people understand how the brain gets stuck and that the only way to that part of the brain is through the body, will they understand that healing and recovery is a real possibility.

Kathy | June 9, 2014
Amen when it comes to healing!  Dr. Bruce Perry, MD, Dr. Dan Siegel, MD, Stephen Porges and show that trauma shuts down higher brain functions like cognition. Instead, body parts and the primitive brain stem get “stuck” repeating bodily feelings from the past trauma events. Without higher brain functions, we can’t put the past trauma events into long-term memory. Instead, our body is reliving the past, now.
Siegel also says trauma memories can get so fragmented that we can’t gather them into a working picture at all; they sit scattered around the nervous system and body.
Perry says  “rhythmic regulation” by body movement can get the brain stem to calm long enough to let the higher brain functions come on line.
The Times ignores all this and repeats Richard McNally’s 2005 insistence that all trauma is remembered — though many said at the time that his work lacked proof. Lisa Najavits called McNally “disappointing… landing too forcefully on one side…by no means an end to the debate.”

Jane | June 9, 2014
Kathy, thanks for this informative post.  Several parents in my online support group have been discussing this very issue – body work to heal trauma – this past week.

Kathy | June 9, 2014
Thank you Jane!  Bruce Perry, Dan Siegel and others show even a normal child’s brain has no capability to remember much from conception to 36 months of age. Memories come in as discrete packets of sensory data from the eyes, ears, nose, etc., and sit in the body and primitive brain stem.
Only when the higher cognitive  functions like the hippocampus kick in around age 3, can we create real long term memory.
But if developmental trauma occurs from conception to 36 months, the primitive brain stem gets so traumatized that it harms the development of the higher brain lobes — which are outgrowths of the brain stem. The hippocampus, our ability to create long term memory, and many other higher brain functions can be badly damaged.
So we physically can not “think our way out” as van der Kolk says.

Rebecca | June 7, 2014
Excellent. Glad you wrote a defense. Have you heard back from them??

Kathy | June 8, 2014
No, nothing yet; frankly I didn’t expect anything.
They’re like King George or Marie Antoinette… They think they are Royalty at The Most Important Newspaper In The World – so they can just print anything they like, and the rest of us peons must cower.
Like I said, I grew up in New York and I’m not impressed.
When Thomas Edison invented the light bulb, they literally wrote an editorial denouncing him as a charlatan. I don’t have a copy of it anymore but maybe you can find it on the internet?


Kathy’s news blogs expand on her book  “DON’T TRY THIS AT HOME: The Silent Epidemic of Attachment Disorder—How I accidentally regressed myself back to infancy and healed it all.” Watch for the continuing series each Friday, as she explores her journey of recovery by learning the hard way about Attachment Disorder in adults, adult Attachment Theory, and the Adult Attachment Interview.

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