This post is part of an ongoing series about our lab’s fall book club. We’re reading The Body Keeps the Score by Bessel van der Kolk. We hope you can join us at our next meeting or share your thoughts in the comments below.

Chapter 2: Revolutions in Understanding Mind and Brain

The author began seeing trauma differently when working with sexual assault survivors. He emphasizes the importance of acknowledging the reality of trauma in order to be capable of healing. He describes how trauma affects the stress hormone system. The author discusses drugs and how they became the new norm for treating trauma, increasing serotonin levels, and helping patients restore a sense of well-being.

  • The author conducted a study of the effects of Prozac on PTSD. He found that everyone in the study improved, even patients that received the placebo. “Maybe their reward is only the attention paid to them, the opportunity to respond to questions about how they feel and think. But maybe the mother’s kisses that soothe her child’s scrapes are ‘just’ a placebo as well” (p. 35). How do you feel about this? Although drugs help patients, how do you think we could help patients restore the same sense of well-being without the use of drugs?
  • The author discusses how traumatized people return home regardless of whether it is safe or not. Similar to the questions the author asks, how can therapists help patients stay away from hurt and find places that are pleasurable? Is it possible that they have found comfort within their hurt?

Chapter 3: Looking Into the Brain: The Neuroscience Revolution

Technology advances, allowing psychiatrists to watch the brain as it processes memories, sensations, and emotions. The author conducted a study to see the effects of flashbacks on the brain and body. Traumatized people are triggered by sounds, smells, and thoughts that cause patient to feel as if they are reliving the moment. Trauma deactivates the left side of the brain, taking away the patient’s ability to organize experience into logical sequences and translate how they feel into words.

  • The author states, “I am continually impressed by how difficult it is for people who have gone through the unspeakable to convey the essence of their experience. It is so much easier for them to talk about what has been done to them- to tell a story of victimization and revenge—than to notice, feel, and put into words the reality of their internal experience” (p. 47). What could be done to activate the left side of the brain and help patients put their experience into words?

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