By Chet Yarbrough
The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma
Written by: Bessel van der Kolk, MD
Narration by: Sean Pratt
Dr. Bessel van der Kolk argues that trauma has a neurological connection between mind, body, and time. Kolk offers numerous examples of patients who suffer from the trauma of war, rape, accident, and childhood experience to support a belief that “The Body Keeps the Score” and human consciousness pays the price.
In a limited sense, Kolk’s argument is convincing. The limited sense is in one’s definition of trauma. Trauma that clinically demonstrates disconnection between mind, body, and time, as proposed by Kolk, is a credible argument. However, in reading/listening to books by Steven Pinker, a part of Kolk’s argument seems overdrawn. Steven Pinker is an American psychologist, cognitive scientist, and linguist. He is a Professor in the Department of Psychology at Harvard University.
Pinker argues that human beings become who they are from genetics and life experience; largely exclusive of parenting. In contrast, Kolk suggests parenting plays a significant role in a child’s consciousness as a mature adult. Kolk argues that the trauma of parental abuse, neglect, and egoistic child’ indulgence form mind-body-time’ disconnects that profoundly affect mature adults. Kolk’s parenting arguments fly in the face of studies cited by Pinker that suggest less than one percent of a parent’s upbringing makes a difference in a child’s adulthood.
This may be a distinction without a difference if one accepts Kolk’s references to experience and sociological studies that show juvenile delinquency is credibly correlated with childhood trauma from incest, neglect of basic human needs like food or water, or hyper-vigilant (smothering) parental attention to children who sometimes just want to be left alone. Presumably, children in that type of hostile environment do not represent the general population.
What Kolk argues is that trauma often becomes an imprinted mind /body’ experience that disconnects from time. Modern acceptance of PTSD in veterans of combat offers evidence for Kolk’s argument. The generally accepted definition of PTSD by the American Psychological Association “…is an anxiety problem that develops in some people after extremely traumatic events, such as combat, crime, an accident or natural disaster.”
This broad definition is expanded by Kolk in two significant ways. One, those suffering from PTSD are riven with anxiety by a trauma that is stuck in time; i.e. time that stands still. Kolk explains that a PTSD sufferer recalls a past trauma as though it is happening now and his/her body reacts in the same way it did when the trauma first occurred. The body’s chemical and hormonal reaction is the same as though the past trauma is happening now.
Kolk’s second significant expansion is belief that children experience the equivalent of PTSD from parents’ psychological and physical abuse during their children’s childhood. A child’s chemical and hormonal response to recalled childhood trauma repeats itself. In some, time stands still when trauma is recalled and the body repeats its physiological response. However, evidence is more anecdotal than scientifically measurable.
Kolk infers that the psychological maladies of adults can be significantly reduced by better parenting. The difficulty one has in accepting this argument is that documentary proof is in anecdotal evidence from psychiatrist interviews of patients and sociological surveys of defined populations, both of which are inherently biased. Psychiatric interviews rely on patients’ remembrance of things past which are historically unreliable. Sociological surveys cannot be done without the bias of a person or group that designs the questions that are to be asked of the person that answers the survey.
Kolk may be correct but there is enough reservation in the Psychiatric community to deny Kolk’s request for a psychiatric diagnosis of Developmental Trauma Disorder for children. This is a frustrating issue because there are unquestionably millions of children that are abused and neglected in the world. These children are often not treated for their psychological problems because insurance is not available for un-diagnosed patients. If Kolk is correct, a diagnosis would be a first step in developing a course of medical treatment that is at least partially covered by insurance.
There is also the tangential argument made by psychologists like Steven Pinker that do not believe parenting has much to do with how children grow into adults. Nevertheless, one’s heart goes out to those children that are abused by their parents or are deprived of the basic needs of life.