Doctor of Leadership in Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

Embodied Healing

Written by: on April 23, 2023

Trauma is an urgent public health issue and one that Dr. Bessel van der Kolk has dedicated his career to addressing. In The Body Keeps the Score, van der Kolk describes his intent for this book “to serve as both a guide and an invitation—an invitation to dedicate ourselves to facing the reality of trauma, to explore how best to treat it, and to commit ourselves, as a society, to using every means we have to prevent it.”[1]

Trauma impacts the body, mind & spirit.

The central theme of The Body Keeps the Score is that trauma not only impacts mental and emotional health, but it also impacts the body in numerous ways. This explains why traditional talk therapy or cognitive behavioral therapy alone doesn’t always help people with post-traumatic stress disorder. “The act of telling the story doesn’t necessarily alter the automatic physical and hormonal responses of bodies that remain hypervigilant, prepared to be assaulted or violated at any time.”[2]

If trauma is stored in the body, it makes sense that trauma must also be released from the body. This is where exciting developments have taken place over the past few decades regarding new options that help people heal from traumas of all kinds, as der Kolk explains in part five of The Body Keeps the Score.

Paths to Recovery

Thanks to neuroscience and non-traditional therapies for processing trauma, there are more options than ever to help those who feel trapped inside a body that no longer feels like their own. Somatic treatments such as EMDR, yoga, neurofeedback, dance, and even acting out scenes in theatre have all been shown to help the body release stored memories and reestablish homeostasis. While not yet mainstream, these approaches are showing great promise with more and more practitioners utilizing them. Unfortunately, my experience has been that these treatments are largely not yet covered by insurance and therefore there is a great discrepancy in terms of who has access to them. As more research is conducted to determine the efficacy of such treatments, I predict that advocacy will be necessary to ensure they are accessible to all.

Relation to NPO Research

There is an interesting connection between releasing stress and trauma through the body to the research I have done over the past two years on resilience. In researching the most effective ways to teach resilience-promoting skills to early adolescent females, I discovered the following statistics regarding how much information we retain when learning:

  • What we read: 10%
  • What we hear: 20%
  • What we see: 30%
  • What we see and hear: 50%
  • What we are shown/explained/experience (see/hear/say/do) 90% [3]

In both learning and healing of trauma, embodied experience is important. We learn best by doing. And we heal best by doing. This makes me think about how Christ became man to dwell among us–as though God was showing us the importance of our bodies in the human experience. Perhaps a shift is beginning to take place away from the intellectually-focused era of the past to a more holistic approach to life on this side of heaven. In fact, I see a clear evolution of consciousness as I ponder the history of human beings. Fom a physical focus of the first humans, a spiritual focus of the early civilizations, an intellectual focus of the renaissance, industrial and technological age, and now perhaps a growing awareness that all three aspects of humanity are important and necessary. In fact, that they are so intertwined they cannot be separated from one another.


A holistic view of humans is both biblical and practical. As we learn more and more about the ways that the body, mind and spirit interact, we are going to need more and more creative ways to encourage a holistic approach to leadership, ministry and life. Just as the treatment of trauma is incorporating creative and integrative approaches for healing, I hope that churches and organizations will be open to embodied experiences that promote faith and growth, as well.

[1] M.D, Bessel van der Kolk. The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma. Reprint edition. New York, NY: Penguin Publishing Group, 2015, 23.

[2] Kolk, 45.

[3] Colverd, Sue. Developing Emotional Intelligence in the Primary School. London ; Routledge, 2011, 74. https://doi.org/10.4324/9780203833162.

About the Author


Laura Fleetwood

Laura Fleetwood is a Christian creative, certified Enneagram Coach, doctoral student at Portland Seminary and Creative Director at her home church, Messiah St. Charles. As a published author, national faith speaker, podcaster and self-described anxiety warrior, Laura uses storytelling to teach you how to seek the S T I L L in the midst of your chaotic life. Find Laura at www.seekingthestill.com

9 responses to “Embodied Healing”

  1. Laura, I so appreciate your statement about experiential learning. “In both learning and healing of trauma, embodied experience is important. We learn best by doing. And we heal best by doing.” This is so true in some many contexts! During my research around risk I have been asked if the use of play could translate to processing trauma. It is a great way to build in safe experiential learning.

  2. mm Becca Hald says:

    Laura, I love that you brought your NPO into this blog. It is amazing to me what scientists are learning about the brain and resilience promoting skills are so important. It is sad and frustrating that so many treatments are so unavailable or not covered by insurance. I am grateful that we were able to find a place that worked for me and was covered by our insurance and that we could afford the copays for my treatment. Too many people are not able to get the help they need and it breaks my heart.

    • Becca – I’m so glad you were able to receive the services you did. It’s frustrating how long it takes for some of the more “non-traditional” therapies to become covered by insurance. I don’t pretend to understand how that works, but it definitely prevents many people from getting the help the need and deserve.

  3. Laura,
    I am interested in learning more on your research. Helping others recover from past traumas is my passion. Dr. Bessel van der Kolk’s work is great contribution. Have you had interaction with his work before this doctoral program?.

    • That’s good to know, Jean. I’ll be happy to share with you. I read van der Kolk’s book several years ago when I was struggling with my own physical systems from past trauma. It was very different reading it this time and thinking about it in a more intellectual way. I agree that it’s excellent!

  4. mm Shonell Dillon says:

    It is amazing how we think. My charity is providing holistic care to individuals that have experienced trauma. Let me know if I can be of help with your NPO.

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