141: The Body Keeps The Score with Dr. Bessel van der Kolk

How does trauma affect us?


Yes, we feel it in our brains – we get scared, frustrated, and angry – often for reasons we don’t fully understand.


But even if our brains have managed to cover up the trauma; to paper a veneer over it so everything seems fine, that doesn’t mean everything actually is fine – because as our guest in this episode, Dr. Bessel van der Kolk says: The Body Keeps The Score.


What he means is that the effects of the trauma you’ve experienced don’t just go away, and can’t just be papered over.  Your body will still hold the evidence in tension, headaches, irritability (of minds and bowels), insomnia…and all of this may come out when your child does something you wish they wouldn’t.


Perhaps it’s something your parent always used to resent doing, and made it super clear to you every time they did it for you.


Perhaps it was something you did as a child and were punished for doing (maybe you were even hit for it…your body is literally remembering this trauma when your child reproduces the behavior).


Lack of manners, talking back, making a mess, not doing as you were told, being silly…even if logically you now know that these are relatively small things, when your child does them it brings back your body’s memories of what happened to you.


Dr. van der Kolk helps us to understand more about how this shows up for us.  Sometimes understanding can be really helpful.  But sometimes you also need new tools, and support as you learn them, and accountability.


If you’re struggling with your reactions to your child’s difficult behavior – whether you’re going into fight, flight, freeze, or fawn mode, the Taming Your Triggers workshop can help. Join the waitlist to be notified when doors reopen.




Dr. van der Kolk’s Book:

The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma (Affiliate link).




Jump to highlights:

  • (01:00) Introducing Dr. van der Kolk
  • (01:58) Invitation to the Taming Your Triggers Workshop
  • (02:56) A note on some technical difficulties we had while recording this episode
  • (03:14) People often want easy answers: Talking about why we feel like we need pills and alcohol to deal with trauma and not make use of other methods which seem more beneficial
  • (08:16) “We become who we are based on the experiences we had and these early experiences really set your expectations”
  • (11:53) Dr. van der Kolk’s ongoing research on touch and trauma that looks into the virtually unstudied field of touch
  • (14:42) To effectively deal with trauma, people need to discover who they are and find the words for their internal experiences
  • (16:10) On mindfulness and yoga: the physical focus on movement in yoga may open up some space for mindfulness
  • (20:45) Rolfing : opening up the body so that it is released from the configuration it adopted to deal with trauma
  • (23:07) The importance of words and finding somebody who can helps you to find words as cautiously as they can, without inflicting too much of their own value system on you
  • (25:31) Dr. van der Kolk’s current agenda for kids to be taught to have a language for their internal experience
  • (28:27) Two of the most important scientifically proven predictors of adult function
  • (31:26) Dr. van der Kolk talks about Developmental Trauma Disorder
  • (38:31) The power of peer and community support in healing trauma
  • (41:32) Wrapping up








D’Andrea, W., Ford, J., Stolbach, B., Spinazzola, J., & van der Kolk, B. (2012). Understanding interperonsal trauma in children: Why we need a developmentally appropriate trauma diagnosis. American Journal of Orthopsyhchiatry 82(2), 187-200.

Goessl, V.C., Curtiss, J.E., & Hofman, S.G. (2017). The effect of heart rate variability biofeedback training on stress and anxiety: A meta-analysis. Psychological Medicine 47, 2578-2586.

Haines, S.K. (2019).The politics of trauma: Somatics, healing, and social justice. Berkeley: North Atlantic.

Menachem, R. (2017). My grandmother’s hand: Racialized trauma and the pathway to mending our hearts and bodies. Las Vegas: Central Recovery Press.

Miller, A. (2006). The body never lies: The lingering effects of hurtful parenting. New York: Norton.

National Institute for the Clinical Application of Behavioral Medicine (n.d.). Frontiers in the treatment of trauma: how to target treatment to help patients reclaim their lives after trauma. The Main Session with Bessel van der Kolk, MD and Ruth Buczynski, PhD. NICABM.

Tippet, K. (2019, December 26). Bessel van der Kolk: How trauma lodges in the body. On Being. Retrieved from: https://onbeing.org/programs/bessel-van-der-kolk-how-trauma-lodges-in-the-body/

van der Kolk, B. (2017). Developmental trauma disorder: Toward a rational diagnosis for children with complex trauma histories. Psychiatric Annals 35(5), 401-408.

van der Kolk, B. (2016). The devastating effects of ignoring child maltreatment in psychiatry: Commentary on “The enduring neurobiological effects of abuse and neglect.” Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry 57(3), 267-270.

van der Kolk, B.A., Stone, L., West, J., Rhodes, A., Emerson, D., Suvak, M., & Spinazzola, J. (2014). Yoga as an adjunctive treatment for Posttraumatic Stress Disorder: A randomized controlled trial. Journal of Clinical Psychiatry 75(6), e559-e565.

van der Kolk, B. (2014). The body keeps the score: Brain, mind, and body in the healing of trauma. New York: Penguin.

van der Kolk, B., Stone, L., West, J., Rhodes, A., Emerson, D., Suvak, M., & Spinazzola, J. (2014). Yoga as an adjunctive treatment for Posttraumatic Stress Disorder: A randomized controlled trial. Journal of Clinical Psychiatry 75(6), e559-e565.

van der Kolk, B. (2006). Clinical implications of neuroscience research in PTSD. Annals – New York Academy of Sciences 1071(1), 277.

van der Kolk, B., & van der Hart, O. (1989). Pierre Janet & the breakdown of adaptation in psychological trauma. American Journal of Psychiatry 146(12), 1530-1540.


About the author, Jen

Jen Lumanlan (M.S., M.Ed.) hosts the Your Parenting Mojo podcast (www.YourParentingMojo.com), which examines scientific research related to child development through the lens of respectful parenting.

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