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Saturday, July 29, 2017

Review of "The Body Keeps the Score"

We are on the verge of becoming a trauma conscious society
This is the opening line to the epilogue of Bessel Ven der Kolk's The Body Keeps the Score. I think he is right, and I believe we need to shift from "on the verge" to "are" as quickly as possible. Furthermore, I think that the information in this book is going to be critically important for anyone who wants to work with other people. Teachers, pastors, public servants, councilors, and even simple friends of other humans will benefit from what is in here. This book—which I think was first recommended to me in a "Science" Mike McHargue podcast—resonated with me on so many levels. It is, truly, a must-read.

A little under a year ago I was at a small conference of church people who were and are trying to figure out what it means to be the body of Christ to the world both in and beyond Christendom. As a part of that process we heard from Angie Thurston an "Innovative Fellow" at Harvard Divinity who is doing research into the ways in which Millenials seek out and find spiritual community. During the question and answer time, she was asked (quite naturally I suppose) why Millennials are so rarely interested in Church and what churches might do about it. Her answer confirmed a lot of my own suspicions *pause to acknowledge the grain of salt* that it has a lot to do with the Western church's historic marginalization of people who are already oppressed by society. One of the hosts later summed the problem up neatly as "We need to recognized that we live in a society which has been traumatized by the church". I think he was spot on and speaking as a person who wants to see the church work to undo the harm she has caused, not to mention as a teacher who wants to do everything he can to help his students learn, I suspect that The Body Keeps the Score will be a critical resource in that effort.

As a thinker who is becoming more an more interested in developing a theology and discipline of delight in the physical world, this book spoke to me on a philosophical and theological level as well. In contrast to the common stereotypes of psychologists, psychiatrists, and therapists as focusing exclusively on the mental world (whether or not that is the mental world as structured in our brains or a mental world understood in less physical terms), Van der Kolk affirms the body as both the subject of, and a potential partner in healing, psychological trauma. He recognizes and affirms the diminished capacity of trauma victims to actually enjoy the exquisite goodness of life a tragedy of trauma and in doing so he makes it clear that the assorted drugs which are often used to treat trauma by "numbing" pain and experience, while sometimes utterly necessary, cannot be understood to provide a solution. Van der Kolk's vision is of a treatment for trauma which brings the traumatized individual back into the full experience of her life.

Van der Kolk organizes the book in a straightforward and accessible fashion. He deals with the causes, effects, and history of treating trauma and then goes on to discuss the various treatments he has used. The language is clear and the writing is compelling; the author mixes anecdote with statistics and research with compelling efficacy. The book does a great job of communicating on a popular level (I never felt beyond my depth while reading it) without seeming to compromise its relevance to professionals. As I am not a mental health professional and have no training in that field beyond a few undergraduate and a single graduate level developmental psychology course, I will not presume to comment on medical/psychological accuracy (here is a link to the professional positive reviews of the book) other than to say that I found his arguments and account compelling.

I would recommend this book to practically anyone, and I sincerely hope that you will read it.

The Liturgists: Spiritual Trauma Podcast
A powerful sermon a friend of mine gave on his own experience of Spiritual Trauma

If you have additional resources to recommend, please leave them in comments and I will take a look.

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