Book review: The Body Keeps the Score by Bessel van der Kolk

What is trauma? All sorts of stressful experiences, over a short or prolonged periods, could have been traumatic. Sometimes you may not have noticed the effects, especially at the time. Later, you might be experiencing health or relationship issues and you may not know why. This book may be what you’re looking for.

Many people have recommended The Body Keeps the Score to me over the years but I never picked up a copy until last August. It took me a while to get round to actually reading it, though, due to other reading commitments and after so much anticipation I was slightly disappointed. Not because it’s a bad book but because it was neither what I expected nor wanted. I wanted a self help book and this is certainly not that.

Kessel van der Kolk is a little known pioneer of the study and understanding of trauma and PTSD. He has done remarkable work in this field and this in part is a very comprehensive autobiographical telling of his story. It is also a comprehensive explanation of trauma and the physical effects it can have over time. It also explains the types of activities and methods for combating and dealing with trauma. This is the problem I have with the book, it’s quite long and tedious. There is a lot to plow through to get to the bits you might want.

I’ve spoken to a number of people about the book and they rave about it- “it’s wonderful”, “such an amazing book”, “this book changed my life” but unfortunately, it didn’t light my fire.

The book is split into 5 sections. It starts with the development of the understanding of trauma  and developments in neuroscience using examples from Kolk’s work with Vietnam veterans, moves on to a more detailed description of the neuroscience and body-brain connection before then discussing childhood attachment, love and neglect and the possible hidden costs of developmental trauma. The fourth section deals with why it’s difficult to deal with trauma with conventional models of health treatment and finally the section on paths to recovery. This last section was the one I was most interested in but it’s just as long winded as the rest of the book.

Yes, it’s thorough, based on many years of experience and van der Kolk has a nice way of writing but I found it a tedious read rather than a page turner. The book is novel sized at around 350 pages of quite small typeface. I want to like it, I really do and I definitely recommend it if you’ve experienced trauma or difficulty because it will help you understand and work out how it has affected you and what you might do to recover.

You can find a copy at Amazon or AbeBooks


Therapy can help with trauma, if you’d like to talk about it you can get in touch with me or book an appointment online.


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