We are Resilient Beings
After thirty years of clinical practice dealing with human trauma of all varieties, Dr. Bessel van der Kolk penned his 2014 book, “The Body keeps the Score.” The book is an intelligent guide to how the human body and mind deal with trauma. Although the book is packed full with science and neurological research, van der Kolk never loses sight of the humanity in his work as a clinical practitioner. He contends, “We must most of all help out our patients to live fully and securely in the present” (p. 73).
But with trauma so devastating, how does the body begin to heal itself? He sees this as his life’s calling and he is there to help his patients. He says, “The challenge is: How can people gain control over the residues of past trauma and return to being masters of their own ship?” (p.4) This is the guiding principle throughout the book and indeed his entire career. He never loses sight of the patient. Although his research is packed full of scientific research, he is always asking how can this be turned into better treatment for an individual. Alongside the technical aspects of his research are stories from real patients that he treated during his years of psychiatric treatment. He combines theory and practice beautifully.
Trauma effects the whole individual. Van der Kolk explains how trauma effects the biological functions in the body as well as neurological functions in the brain. The detail that he goes into was new information to me and the word resilient is the best adjective he used to describe humanity. It is incredible and fascinating what a human being can endure. When trauma strikes, we have a lot of our own healing mechanism already in place, we just need to be allowed to access them. Once an environment is created for an individual to heal from past trauma, the mind and body get to work. Van der Kolk states, “For real change to take place, the body needs to learn that the danger has passed and to live in the reality of the present” (p.21). Once this happens healing can begin.
The book falls into the broad category of psychology, but more specifically in the sub-fields of Therapy and Post-Traumatic Physiopathology. The book I have read this semester that most closely connects with van der Kolk’s work is, The Molecule of More by Daniel Lieberman. There is some overlap in discussing the latest neurological research on the human brain, but the two books are vastly different. Lieberman does not go into the issues of human trauma and how to heal it. Lieberman is more focused on the chemistry of the human body, van der Kolk is more practical on using the latest research to help people heal. Coupled together, they both provide fascinating insights in to the functioning of human mind and body.
I wondered how the findings of this book relate to any verses in scripture. Job 5:18 came to mind: “He wounds, but he also binds up; he injuries, but his hands also heal.” But this verse teaches that God can heal, and van der Kolk teaches us about the uncanny ability of the human body to heal itself. Maybe this is how God heals, through the built-in mechanisms that each of us have within our own bodies. But there is also something to be said about someone like Dr. Kolk who can help individuals with his expertise and assist in the healing of their trauma. Galatians 6:2 is relevant here, “Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way, you will fulfill the law of Christ.” We all have some brokenness inside of us and there are moments when we need healing. At the same time, we are able to be the physician and the friend to others God has placed in our lives—and we can provide a place where they can heal.
8 responses to “We are Resilient Beings”
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Troy, great job of summarizing the book. I appreciate how you connect trauma to all of humanity. Truly, we are all broken in so many ways. I’m not sure what your experience has been at your church, but we have seen more and more people who have survived abuse of all kinds. We now have a statement on staff that goes, “We have no idea what people are carrying as they walk through the church’s door.” This book also reminds me that those of us in ministry are not exempt from brokenness of some type. I believe that reality calls for the need for clergy to be honest about their weaknesses. Over the years, people have scolded me for doing so. Most often the accompanying statement said, “We need someone to be on a pedestal.” My response has been, “that’s Jesus, not me.” Does you church have specific ways in which you seek to help the broken to heal? Happy Easter to you and yours!
Thanks Roy: One of the favorite things about the church where I work and attend is their outreach to other sin need. Celebrate Recovery meets here, as does about 12 other similar ministries to people who are struggling. So glad and proud to be part of a church that stresses this. It is the church being ‘the church’ to the community where it resides.
Troy: The scriptures you mention in your post also make me think of Isaiah 61, a chapter in the middle of a section focusing on the rebuilding of Jerusalem. While the focus is on the rebuilding of the people and not necessarily the city, it makes me wonder how often the church when encountering trauma attempts to focus on the city/building more so than the people and in effect, misses the opportunity altogether. Would love your thoughts.
You bring up a good point and I do think people do miss opportunities like that. Focus is misplaced and a possible healing connection is lost. I hadn’t thought about Is. 61 in that context but I think that is perfectly relevant. I loved this book, one of my favorites of the semester.
Great post. I also like those Scriptures you point out and would affirm, in my opinion, that this kind of healing Van der Kolk refers to, is possible through the gospel. I have certainly witnessed that in the lives of those I work with, and even my own life to a large degree.
What is your biggest takeaway from the read on trauma?
Eric: My biggest take-away is the degree to which our bodies and minds can heal themselves. The individuals just needs to be in a safe place, feel secure and then our incredible bodies began to heal themselves. Resilient was the work Kolk used. So very interesting to me. Humans can endure the unimaginable and come out strong and healthy.
Troy thank you for your Galatians 6:2 reference.
You answered Eric’s question with a reference to being in a safe place. As a pastor, what ideas from our readings this year would you combine to curate a safe space for someone with PTSD?
Troy, thank you for your post. I appreciate your connections to Scripture. I think your challenge at the conclusion of your post for the church to be a place of Christ’s healing power is so critical. Do you have any insight how we might improve?