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

Suffering From Memories

Written by: on April 23, 2023

Trauma is Prevalent

“I think this man is suffering from memories.” This paraphrase of Sigmund Freud was used by Dr. Bessel Van Der Kolk upon hearing the story of the unique and misdiagnosed symptoms of a war veteran.[1] This quote is quite poignant when it comes to the conversations around trauma and its presence in the lives of more people than most of us realize. Trauma is the result of exposure to extremely stressful and emotional experiences that leave suffers in a heightened emotional and physical state[2]. Further, these traumas not only affect the person who suffers from trauma, but it affects those closest to the person even being passed on to future generations[3]. 

Breakthroughs in Understanding 

“People cannot put traumatic events behind until they are able to acknowledge what has happened and start to recognize the invisible demons they’re struggling with”[4]. This is the contribution that Kolk makes to the understanding of trauma. It is a recognition that these experiences continue to impact the mind and body of those who experience traumatic events. Kolk begins his book with a startling statistic from the CDC: “one in five Americans were sexually molested as a child; one in four was beaten by a parent…one in three couples engages in physical violence. A quarter of us grew up with alcoholic relatives, and one out of eight witnessed their mother being beaten or hit.”[5]. The prevalence of traumatic events and the effects it continues to have on the mind and body is a startling reality that needs to be recognized. As Kolk explains, traditional story-telling approaches to therapy do not work with trauma because, “In contrast, when people fully recall their traumas, they ‘have’ the experience: They are engulfed by the sensory or emotional elements of the past”[6]. The physical aspect of trauma has led to new insight to the way that traumatic events shape the lives of those who continue to carry these events. 

Treatments for Trauma 

Developments in neuroscience has led to breakthroughs in how trauma can be treated. One of the treatments that Kolk highlights is EMDR[7]. Kolk defined the strengths of EMDR treatment as: “rapid access to loosely associated memories and images from past…heal from trauma without talking about it…and [treatment] even if the patient and the therapist do not have a trusting relationship”[8]. Kolk also shares his own experience as a patient and learning this new technique and how it unlocked childhood memories associated with his own recent traumas[9]. One of the interesting features of this treatment is the connection between EMDR and Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep cycle and how people who have experienced trauma are not able to enter into REM sleep, yet EMDR allows patients to recover this important sleep cycle, which is critical to the healing process[10]. 


Trauma is a concept that is familiar to most people, and often comes up in casual conversation, yet the prevalence of trauma is quite startling. It made me wonder how the extend of trauma is shaping the lives and daily decision making of people all around us, even in ways that most people may not truly realized. It made the old adage, “people are fighting battles that we don’t know about” more true than I realized. It also made me wonder what experiences are shaping the choices I have made in my life. How have my own experiences shaped who I am today in ways I know and ways I have not named? Since this is the case, how can we help more people gain access to treatments that can help them live whole and resilient lives that can bring healing to the generations that will be impacted by the healing of one person? 

  1. Kolk, Bessel van der. The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind and Body in the Healing of Trauma. New York, New York: Penguin Books, 2014, 15. 
  2. Ibid., 46. 
  3. Ibid., 1. 
  4. Ibid., 221. 
  5. Ibid., 1. 
  6. Ibid., 221. 
  7. Ibid., 250. EMDR is acronym for “eye movement desensitization and reprocessing”
  8. Ibid., 255.
  9. Ibid., 254. 
  10. Ibid., 261-263. 

About the Author


Chad McSwain

Chad is a systematic creative serving in pastoral ministry for nearly 20 years, Chad is a professional question-asker and white-board enthusiast, who enjoys helping people discover their own passions and purpose. A life-long learner, he has a B.A, Philosophy - Univ. Central Oklahoma, M.A Theology - Fuller Seminary, M.Div. Perkins School of Theology at SMU and is pursuing a Doctor of Leadership - George Fox University. He is an ordained Elder in the United Methodist Church, currently serving as Lead Pastor of Whitesboro UMC. Chad and his wife, Brandi live in Prosper, Texas along with their three children, two pugs and a chameleon.

3 responses to “Suffering From Memories”

  1. Excellent summary, Chad. Your questions at the end of the blog are even more critical when we realize that if someone isn’t part of the staggering statistics you mentioned, they still likely have unresolved trauma in their life–everyone does. I hope that part of the solution to your questions is that educational institutions (and perhaps even religious institutions) find a way to incorporate trauma training and healing into their curriculum. If we truly want to educate the whole child (or student) we must take a holistic mind, body, spirit approach. It’s exciting (if not overwhelming) to think about all the creative ways this could happen.

  2. Alana Hayes says:

    I have heard EMDR is excellent!!!!

    “How can we help more people gain access to treatments that can help them live whole and resilient lives that can bring healing to the generations that will be impacted by the healing of one person?”

    To expand on your last question: What strategies can be used to help individuals cope with the psychological effects of trauma that are both affordable and accessible? I know lots of people that want to try EMDR in particular but cost is in the way! Its just not accessible to all!

  3. Chad, my husband has often said the quote you mentioned. “It made the old adage, “people are fighting battles that we don’t know about” more true than I realized.” It is so true that we have no idea what we are each dealing with. Having worked in Child Protective Service, I was amazed and traumatized by the hidden nature of abuse and neglect. My unconscious bias was also in the way as I was shocked at times of who were the perpetrators. No all of them were living in poverty.
    This is an important concept to remember, especially when we have learned that trauma can be sneaking in how it manifests in our bodies and behaviors.

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