One of the books that is always on my desk is The Body Keeps the Score—Brain, Mind and Body in the Healing of Trauma, by Bessel Van Der Kolk, M.D. I was blessed to do several workshops with this psychiatrist who founded the National Trauma Treatment Network and is a professor of psychiatry at Boston University School of Medicine. Dr. Van Der Kolk teaches around the world, but while presenting as a gentle soul, easy to talk with and good at listening, he is a warrior for those who suffer from unresolved trauma, especially children.
Sometimes a client will come in for therapy who has had a wonderful childhood, full of pleasant memories and support. Some come in having come to terms with a difficult childhood by saying that it was “good enough” and that their caretakers “did the best they could.” And then there are those who have suffered a lifetime of disconnection, broken relationships, and pain that has not been resolved and maybe is not even recognized as part of their ongoing problems with life.
Dr. Van Der Kolk describes trauma work this way: “You need a guide who is not afraid of your terror and who can contain your darkest rage, someone who can safeguard the wholeness of you while you explore the fragmented experiences that you had to keep secret from yourself for so long. Most traumatized individuals need an anchor and a great deal of coaching to do this work.”
Dr. Van Der Kolk recognizes the courage required of both client and therapist to do trauma work. “Once you recognize that posttraumatic reactions started off as efforts to save your life, you may gather the courage to face your inner music (or cacophony), but you will need help to do so. You have to find someone you can trust enough to accompany you, someone who can safely hold your feelings and help you listen to the painful messages from your emotional brain.”
Successful trauma work is a miracle of recovery that frees a human spirit and humbles a therapist who is privileged to be a part of it. It is never too late to begin.