The Body Keeps the Score, A Book Review

The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma

by Bessel van der Kolk, M.D.

I was drawn to read The Body Keeps the Score because of what I knew intuitively about how the body stores all our hurts and heartbreaks from my own journey to make peace with my body. Dr. Van der Kolk writes, “Trauma victims cannot recover until they become familiar with and befriend the sensations in their bodies.” I had experienced this on a personal level. When I was writing love notes to my body’s parts, often what I wrote about were past emotional hurts that were connected on a visceral level to my physical body.

What an important book. Dr. Van der Kolk has synthesized his decades of experience working with people trying to heal from trauma. He’s written a text that poignantly and clearly explains how trauma affects our minds, our bodies, and our lives.

The book is divided into five distinct parts. Throughout each section, Dr. Van der Kolk shares scientific data interspersed with real stories about real people. Not only do readers learn exactly what happens in the brain when trauma occurs, they are exposed to what that looks like in people’s lives. This book humanizes trauma at the deepest levels.

I think it’s an important and worthwhile read, but it is heavy. I’m generally a fast reader, and I purposefully took a few months to read this book. The personal stories are handled with care and nothing is gratuitous, but they are heartbreaking. While reading, I often found my emotions stirred and had to practice self-care.

Is this a read for everyone?

No, especially if you’re someone who could be overwhelmed reading about others’ trauma.

That said, if you are a healer, a wellness practitioner, a doctor, and/or an educator, I think this is a powerful read. Not only will you gain a greater understanding of what trauma symptoms look like and how trama affects people differently, but you’ll be better equipped to serve the people who you are trying to help.

In Part V: Paths to Recovery, Dr. Van der Kolk offers multiple healing modalities that have helped people heal from their past traumas so they can live their lives in the present. I love that the possibilities are as varied as people are. There’s a chapter on yoga, one on theater, and another on neurofeedback, to name a few. This section closes the book with hope, hope that there is a healing modality for all who seek to heal their trauma.