Bessel van der Kolk on Understanding Trauma
by Bessel van der Kolk
Each year, thousands of people are traumatized, many of whom will seek relief through therapy. Learn from renowned and outspoken researcher and clinician Bessel van der Kolk how to improve your clinical effectiveness with these clients by remembering that “the body keeps the score.”
Our graduate training and clinical practice have taught us that trauma is imminently treatable with just the right balance of talk therapy and medication. But what if this recipe, as Bessel van der Kolk teaches us in this riveting interview, is shortsighted? What if our cherished notions about trauma’s impact have been unduly influenced by pseudo-science, therapeutic folklore and faulty diagnostic notions? And what if, in our zealous quest for the best evidence-based approaches, we have overlooked the importance of somatic interventions that have been successfully practiced for millennia?

Trauma, van der Kolk reminds us, is largely relational, a wound lived out day-to-day requiring focus on the body and the brain, not just the mind. His incisive thoughts gleaned from 40 years of research will help you to correctly diagnose trauma in both its singular and complex forms. By watching this video you will be able to move past an overreliance upon DSM diagnoses such as substance use disorders and ADHD that are not the problem, but the client’s attempts at solution. This reorientation will free you to embrace effective brain-based case conceptualization and treatment planning. You will be challenged to reconsider the faulty narrative around the absolute efficacy of cognitive and other talk therapies. In so doing, you will come to appreciate the therapeutic value of EMDR, Neurofeedback, yoga and even the healing nature of music and dance.

What therapists are saying…

“If you want to understand trauma then look no further. This video presents one of the most accurate and easy to understand descriptions of the very complex construct of trauma. Dr. van der Kolk does an outstanding job of describing trauma, its various forms, effects on the body and mind, and articulating treatment in a manner easily applicable to students in the helping professions, as well as clinicians working directly with trauma survivors. In my opinion, it is one of the most useful resources available to assist in the training of trauma-informed helping professionals.”

--Ken McCurdy, PhD, Associate Professor, Gannon University, Clinical Counselor, Disaster Mental Health Counselor, American Red Cross
"The interview broadened my understanding of trauma being an interpersonal issue. I will be able to apply the ideas of treating trauma into my work as a counselor. The concept of present awareness and understanding how past traumatic experiences can impact people in the present was extremely helpful, in relation to understanding how the body responds to trauma. I feel that I have added to my repertoire of both knowledge and clinical skills that I can use in my work as a therapist and Instructor of Record for my undergraduate classes."

--Rose Malcolm, MA, LPC
"This interview with Bessel van der Kolk provides an important overview of the evolving definition of trauma, emphasizing the brain-body connection and the physical impact of psychological trauma within the body. This video would be an excellent resource for students and counselors alike, highlighting the importance of moving beyond talk therapies to include somatic therapies."

--Courtney Evans, PhD
"A thorough overview of different components of trauma by one of the most significant contributors to our understanding and treatment of trauma. This would be very valuable as an intro video for use in a trauma and crisis class, as it highlights a basic definition, the impact of trauma on functioning and development, the neurobiology of trauma, and how this informs effective treatment. An essential component of this video is the emphasis on trauma as a somatic disorder, rather than a primarily cognitive dysfunction, and how this shifts treatment."

--Jennifer Werries, PhD, Clinical Director, New Pathways Counseling Services
“In just one hour, Dr. Bessel van der Kolk provides a foundational and necessary understanding of how trauma has been historically understood and how differently it ought to be viewed today. The recognition of, and emphasis on, the impact of trauma on both the body and the brain offers a lesson in the holistic nature of trauma and the need for holistic treatment. As a Counselor Educator, the lessons from this interview will shape how I teach this very important topic moving forward.”

--Brad A. Imhoff, PhD, Assistant Professor of Counseling, Liberty University
"As a Certified Trauma Practitioner, Understanding Trauma was an excellent video. I felt the discussion on the importance of including trauma in the DSM was right on point, and it is disappointing that this was not included in the DSM 5. Similarly, it is important to understand the difference between trauma and traumatic response, Bessel’s statement that 'trauma is the injury' is a fantastic description. Anyone wanting an understanding of trauma should watch this video!"

--Terra Howell-Muth, LPCC-S
"This interview is one I will really take my time with and watch again. One of the most exciting parts about it is that Bessel marches to his own beat and kept looking for what was working, despite it being unpopular. The information about what doesn't work was as exciting as what he says does work. It was really helpful, for example, when he explained that knowing the origin of your trauma may be helpful, but has its limits as a person may continue to have that trauma whether or not they know the origin--hence, working with the body and sensations. Fantastic!"

--Caroline Belli, Social Worker, San Francisco
In Depth
In this intimate and self-revealing conversation, Dr. van der Kolk demonstrates firsthand that we as clinicians must evolve to embrace new ways of thinking about and intervening in trauma recovery. Trauma-impacted clients have been halted in their personal evolution by horrific experiences beyond their control. You will be challenged to consider how clinging to familiar and often non-scientific methods of treatment merely parallels the client’s sense of feeling stuck. Once you listen to van der Kolk, perhaps several times, you will begin to see a path out of the frustration, isolation, powerlessness and hopelessness that often accompany trauma and its treatment.

Trauma is not solely the story about the horrific experiences that children and adults have endured, and treatment is not simply about telling that story. It is the person’s ability to integrate the lived sensory fragments of trauma into a healthier and richer existence. With this appreciation, van der Kolk encourages therapists to seek additional training in and/or make appropriate client referrals for somatic therapies. He proposes that this will help you to liberate your clients from a trauma/victim-based identity to live unencumbered by fear, anger, dissociation, dysregulation and disconnection. Trauma paralyzes those parts of the brain people need to move forward in time, and to effectively utilize cognitive resources such as logic, language and self-regulation.

Van de Kolk’s passion, wisdom and hard-earned clinical insights will help you to work with your most challenging trauma-impacted clients and to appreciate the importance of allying yourself with a strength-based and resilience-oriented approach centered around hope.

By watching this interview, you will:
  1. be able to describe the symptoms of single and complex trauma
  2. recognize the ways that the body “keeps score” of trauma
  3. explain the benefits of somatic therapies for trauma  

Length of video: 1:14:43

English subtitles available

Group ISBN-10 #: 1-60124-547-5

Group ISBN-13 #: 978-1-60124-547-2

Bessel A. van der Kolk, M.D., has been active as a clinician, researcher and teacher in the area of posttraumatic stress and related phenomena since the 1970s. His work integrates developmental, biological, psychodynamic and interpersonal aspects of the impact of trauma and its treatment. His book Psychological Trauma was the first integrative text on the subject, painting the far ranging impact of trauma on the entire person and the range of therapeutic issues which need to be addressed for recovery.

Dr. van der Kolk and his various collaborators have published extensively on the impact of trauma on development, such as dissociative problems, borderline personality and self-mutilation, cognitive development in traumatized children and adults, and the psychobiology of trauma. He was co-principal investigator of the DSM IV Field Trials for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. His current research is on how trauma affects memory processes and brain imaging studies of PTSD.

Dr. van der Kolk is past President of the International Society for Traumatic Stress Studies, Professor of Psychiatry at Boston University Medical School, Medical Director of the Trauma Center, and Director of the National Complex Trauma Treatment Network at Justice Resource Institute in Brookline, Massachusetts. He has taught at universities and hospitals across the United States and around the world, including Europe, Africa, Russia, Australia, Israel, and China. His latest book, The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma was published in September 2014.

He is currently teaching though an intensive online Certificate Program in Traumatic Stress Studies.  Click here for information.
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