“Heal trauma? Start with the body”

Bessel van der Kolk by Matthew Woodson, NYT 5-22-14“Bessel van der Kolk wants to change the way we heal a traumatized mind — by starting with the body,” reports Jeneen Interlandi in the New York Times Magazine May 22. (Dr. van der Kolk in session drawn by Matthew Woodson for the Times.)

It features Dr. van der Kolk’s new approaches to healing trauma by group therapy, yoga, meditation, EMDR, and “rhythmic regulation.”  I’ve reported on this in these recent posts: http://attachmentdisorderhealing.com/developmental-trauma/  and http://attachmentdisorderhealing.com/developmental-trauma-3/

“Trauma has nothing whatsoever to do with cognition,” van der Kolk says. “It has to do with your body being reset to interpret the world as a dangerous place.” That reset begins in the deep recesses of the brain with its most primitive structures (brain stem), regions that, he says, no cognitive therapy (frontal cortex) can access.

“It’s not something you can talk yourself out of.”

It’s a great Friday read: “A Revolutionary Approach to Treating PTSD” by Jeneen Interlandi, New York Times Magazine, May 22, 2014 at: http://www.nytimes.com/2014/05/25/magazine/a-revolutionary-approach-to-treating-ptsd.html?smid=tw-share&_r=2#permid=11865712

OK, it’s a bit off my topic. The Times doesn’t mention attachment trauma, although van der Kolk talks about that constantly. As to healing, it focuses on adult war PTSD. It only speaks to child trauma by debating what a child abuse victim can and can’t remember (not much of a call to heal child trauma).

But Ms. Interlandi does let van der Kolk speak to his charge that there is a lot more trauma than we think, and that standard “cognitive” treatments are not working. “Patients are still suffering, and so are their families. We need to do better,” van der Kolk says.

“Van der Kolk says he would love to do large-scale studies comparing some of his preferred methods of treatment with some of the more commonly accepted approaches,” she points out. “But funding is nearly impossible to come by for anything outside the mainstream. In the wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, he says, he was invited to sit on a handful of expert panels. Money had been designated for therapeutic interventions, and the people in charge of parceling it out wanted to know which treatments to back.

To van der Kolk, it was a golden opportunity. We really don’t know what would help people most, he told the panel members. Why not open it up and fund everything, and not be prejudiced about it? Then we could study the results and really learn something. Instead, the panels recommended two forms of treatment: psychoanalysis and cognitive behavioral therapy.

“So then we sat back and waited for all the patients to show up for analysis and C.B.T. And almost nobody did.” Spencer Eth, then medical director of behavioral health services at St. Vincent’s Hospital in Manhattan, (later) gathered data on the mental-health care provided to more than 10,000 Sept. 11 survivors.

The most popular service by far was acupuncture. Yoga and massage were also in high demand. “Nobody looks at acupuncture academically,” van der Kolk says. “But here are all these people saying that it’s helped them.”

Out of 208 reader comments to the Times, I only found two that weren’t deeply grateful for his approach, as I am.  These two didn’t mention healing either.

Enjoy reading about Dr. van der Kolk today, but read carefully – the Times, ever a bit arrogant, puts in some gnarly innuendos I didn’t like, which the two comments made worse. So I had to do further research on this one.  My results to come next week…

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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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3 responses to ““Heal trauma? Start with the body”

  1. Thank you for this post! It turned up in a search for van der Kolk and acupuncture; I’m currently working on materials for a presentation on acupuncture in the journey of healing trauma. Any leads or references you think relevant would be greatly appreciated!

    Van der Kolk’s talk in 2011 “Putting neuroplasticity into clinical practice with neurofeedback: rewiring the brains of children and adults who lack safety, self-regulation, capacity for play, and executive functioning” is a very interesting one that addresses some of the issues with mindfulness and body awareness. It’s particularly interesting to me as an acupuncturist working with people who are in the “numbed out” phase of their journey. Several years ago I did a blog post on the talk (I’m well overdue for a follow-up post): https://healingfromthefreeze.wordpress.com/2011/08/18/the-vagus-nerve-and-the-difficulty-with-mindfulness/

    I’m looking forward to carving out some time to read more of your blog!

    Warmly,
    Tracy

  2. 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.

    • 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. See http://attachmentdisorderhealing.com/developmental-trauma/

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