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

What is your Body’s Score?

Written by: on April 14, 2023

The Body Keeps the Score

The Body Keeps the Score, written by Bessel van der Kolk, MD, is a groundbreaking work on trauma and its lasting effects on individuals throughout their lives. It sheds light on how traumatic experiences can cause physical, emotional, and neurological disturbances that are often deep-seated and complex to untangle. This book offers insight into how science has recently uncovered evidence about the brain’s plasticity in response to psychological distress and provides an overview of the various treatments available for those who have been affected by trauma.

Van der Kolk emphasizes the importance of understanding trauma not just as something that exists within an individual’s mind but rather as a pervasive force that affects one’s entire being – affecting emotions, memories, cognitions, behavior patterns, and even physiology. The author presents compelling research showing that traditional approaches such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) may be inadequate in treating these long-term feelings of helplessness or hopelessness stemming from traumatic events. He proposes instead that effective treatment must take into account body memory as well as mental processes and suggests novel methods for integrating body-oriented activities with psychotherapeutic techniques.

Overall this book serves as an invaluable guide for professionals looking to better understand their client’s unique needs when it comes to healing from trauma, as well as anyone seeking greater awareness of what lies beneath their own pain so they can begin to heal themselves. Through his comprehensive exploration of trauma’s impact on the human experience, Van Der Kolk invites readers to explore new ways of working through old wounds in order to build resilience against future traumas.

Mind/Body Detox + Prayer Therapy

We have an incredible spiritual connection to our bodies. Van Der Kolk and many other professionals as well as amateurs have made the connection and feel the positive and negative effects of mind, body, and spirit. Whether we recognize it or not, what we do, what we eat, and what we have been through (as van der Kolk would see it), is part of us. In serious cases such as PTSD, situations such as the “necessity to sedate” a patient mentioned in Chapter 2 with physical force, could be extremely damaging to a recovering victim of trauma. In his reflection, VDK realized the scenario involving force must have been like reliving the traumatic memory again, even if it was thought to be in her best interest.[1]

Bessel van der Kolk outlines his approach to healing trauma through a combination of psychotherapy and mind-body interventions. Although groundbreaking, I think in this step of therapy, Christian leaders and coaches can implement prayer and supplication in addition to the protocol VDK suggests. In this book, he emphasizes the importance of understanding how traumatic experiences are stored in the body and how they can be released safely with proper treatment. I believe there is a correlation here with sin, stress, anxiety, guilt, and unique obstacles that weigh on our psyche and heart. These negative positions take us off balance, damage our physical bodies, and disconnect us from the Spirit.

Similar to toxins that are stored in the body, it is important to release damaging contaminants, both mental and physical. As Christians, we know from countless scripture that prayer is our connection to God and there is power in our request and conversation. Even if we have not experienced trauma, sin is similar in that it will eat away at your soul. It will separate us from His Spirit, and can be physically detrimental in the forms of stress, sleep, and most importantly, our current walk of faith. If we want to stay on target or on the path that He is leading, we must reconcile our behaviors, free the toxins like a detox through repentance, and purify ourselves in a spiritual sense by being washed by His blood. Then continue with His guidance and ask for supplication.

When I think about getting right with God and inviting the Spirit into whatever it is that I am doing, I am often met with a roadblock of sorts. Similar to my last blog about being the “best me” which I call, “Jesus Fit,” I have to reunite with God before I have the audacity to ask him for anything. I have to recognize and own my mistakes and desire to make a change and protect myself from relapse. This process could be relatively quick, or unfortunately take a day or even a week at times. The process for me is twofold:

  1. Prayer – Intense, Meaningful, Solitude, Humble.
  2. Jesus Fit – Healthy Lifestyle; mind, body, spirit.

Sadly, our bodies are deteriorating every day (2 Cor 4:16) – from trauma, sin, age, and general lifestyle. I feel blessed to have not had serious trauma in my life but if that day comes, I believe that I will still apply these principles over almost any other therapy. I know we can do all things through Christ (Phil 4:13), so we cannot limit God and his plan for our life. We have the ability to slow the curve with healthy living but the end result is the same for us all. We have a responsibility to the spiritual and physical duties of living a fully devoted life to Jesus. Are we keeping his Temple (1 Cor 3:16) clean? Are we honoring our bodies as His image and His dwelling place inside of us (1 Cor 6:19)? We need to ask ourselves, what is our body’s score? And does our physical score correlate with our spiritual score with respect to being a representative of the unified body of Christ? The (physical and spiritual) body truly keeps the score.

[1] Van Der Kolk, Bessel, The Body Keeps the Score, Chapter 2

[2] Phil 4:13, 1 Cor 3:16, 1 Cor 6:19


About the Author

Michael O'Neill

Director of Operations / Executive Pastor at Kinergy, Inc. Federal 501c3 Non-Profit Organization. An experienced entrepreneur, leader, father, wellness professional, and owner of a multi-location medical practice with my wife, Nicole O'Neill, MD.

14 responses to “What is your Body’s Score?”

  1. mm David Beavis says:

    Hey Michael,

    First off, how’s Nicole, Zion, and the rest of the O’Neill family doing? I hope you’re able to get some sleep my friend. I hear that’s good for the body, right? 😉

    Secondly, when reading your post, I thought to myself “Ah, this is so connected with Michael’s NPO, and it has some side connection to my NPO.” We make too much of a divide between the body and the spirit. This reminds me of what theologian Raniero Cantalamessa says: “A human being does not have a body; a human being is a body.” Recently, I’ve started doing weekly “prayer runs” in which I pray while I run in the neighborhood. This has become one of my favorite things I do. I wonder what the effects are it has on dealing with my own internal trauma.

    • Michael O'Neill says:

      Thanks, David! The O’Neills are happy and healthy. Zion is as close to perfect as it gets. Thank you so much for asking.

      I love the prayer runs. I considered doing something like that in the future where a bunch of us map out our city and pray for the people who live on the street and see if we could cover the whole city in a day or week. I’m sure you’re getting some great reflection tim with God on those runs. Sorry it won’t be 26.2 miles though…

      I’m going to look into the Raniero Cantalamessa statement. I have always felt like we are renting this body. The flesh is part of us but separate from our Spirit and who we are. The way you stated it “A human being does not have a body; a human being is a body.” I really like this. I think it helps connect the dots that this body makes us human but there is also more to it. This current body will rot but we have a spiritual presence that still makes us alive even if we are no longer “human” after we die.

  2. Kristy Newport says:

    I enjoyed reading your post.
    I like your emphasis on prayer as a means of therapy for trauma.
    I would be curious to know if clients of yours have shared some of their trauma stories with you? I am curious when/if this has taken place-how did they begin to feel safe to communicate their story/stories? I know that emotionally laden information can be triggered when the body begins to move.
    I rarely get a massage but this past month was my husbands bday and this was his gift. While getting a massage, I shared with the massage therapist what I do professionally. The therapist said that through Covid, her clients sometimes would cry because they were being touched (body massage). She said she had clients who wanted their head/hair held.
    I am curious if exercise ever prompts clients to share about emotions. Do they ever share as a result of moving their bodies?
    There is a strong connection.
    I believe David’s prayer runs could only be beneficial.

    If you have greater insight on this, Id love to hear more.

    • Michael O'Neill says:

      Wow! This is huge and you asked a lot of amazing questions, Kristy. I should be asking you these questions, you are the professional in this department. I really don’t have a lot of experience with trauma however, in the years I spent personal training and coaching people to live the happiest and healthiest life possible, I realized that there is much more to it than eating clean and training hard. That’s the formula but people can’t get there unless they get out of their own heads. That’s when I realized God has to be part of this formula. There are blockers, trauma, history, embarrassment, scars, and motivation in weird ways. So many things are wrapped up in each client’s story. I am not trained in psychotherapy so I leaned on God and prayer for help. I have experienced people balling their eyes out in front of me many times when I pray with them. When we have that reality check moment. Usually, they open up once I do first. I share a little of my story, and my “aha moment” with the spirit and they want it too. When they “get it” that God lives in us and that they have abused their bodies. I love that moment and usually can’t help but cry right with them. I love that moment but it goes away fast unless we stay connected to the Spirit and it involves serious, hard, discipline.

      The touch is so powerful. That is extremely interesting about the hair holding and such from the massage therapist.

      Thanks, Kristy. I will go read your blog. I am very interested in your professional perspective on this book.

  3. Kristy Newport says:

    After reading this post
    I have newfound direction for my syntopical essay.
    Thanks man

    Please let us know how baby Zion is doing and the big transition the family is making. I pray Nicole is enjoying being a momma in spite of the many demands. I hope sleep is being found and grace for this season!

    • Michael O'Neill says:

      I’m so glad I was able to help in some way.

      The fam is great. Everyone is healthy. Z is perfect. My daughter Lexi is the best big sister ever. The boys like her too. It’s really such an amazing blessing. Thank you so much for your prayers over the years.

  4. Michael,
    Great post. I believe what makes your post more impactful is because the life that you live. I appreciate how you took a complex subject and summarized in two impactful points.

    Prayer – Intense, Meaningful, Solitude, Humble.
    Jesus Fit – Healthy Lifestyle; mind, body, spirit.

    I appreciate the man and example you are.

    • Michael O'Neill says:

      Thank you, Greg. I think we tend to over-emphasize things too often or over-complicate them. I enjoyed this most recent book, Factfullness, and the understanding of this common phenomenon. I think we need to keep it simple and about Jesus. That is why I summed this book up with two key points. Pray and Get healthy.

      Thanks again!

  5. Kristy Newport says:

    I am noting how some people have balled their eyes out with you, when you pray for them. Right there…that’s it…you are probably stepping into emotional/tender…possible trauma areas. If you experience this again with someone, I encourage you to ask the person directly about their tears and what they are communicating. I know tears can “speak for themself” BUT…like Dr. Clark was talking about today-putting words to certain things gives meaning. Giving them this opportunity to hear the words they choose to describe their tears is powerful.

    I would love to consult with the cohort over prayer and praying for others. I am curious what position you take on praying for someone of the opposite gender (if you take a position)? Would you do this in a one on one context or in a group/mixed context?
    My daughter has recently sought deliverance (a new reality for her) and she was prayed over by men who laid hands on her. I believe this was not helpful as she has had some negative experiences with males.

    If Greg, David, Caleb, Chad or Deron reads this, I hope they might respond. Do you have any thoughts. Prayer is intimate and how we go about it must be done with discernment/leading of the Spirit.

    I hope you have more opportunities to help people connect their inner world with their bodies. Powerful stuff! Thank you Jesus for role modeling.

    • Kristy – I think it’s important to always ask permission to pray for someone, especially for permission to touch them. We never know what past experiences might be triggered. I’m sorry your daughter had a negative experience with that.

      • Michael O'Neill says:

        I agree, Laura. I do think it is important to ask. For many of us, it seems second nature to just stop and pray but for others, it can be intimidating and uncomfortable. I believe in the power of prayer and continue to try and implement it with others when the time presents itself. Have you ever been told no when asking to pray for someone?

    • Michael O'Neill says:

      Thank you, Kristy. I am so grateful for all of your advice. I will definitely try to add words and dig deeper with people when I run across traumatic or emotional situations. I am not trained at this but instead rely on the Spirit to help move me and say the right things. I think it is extremely important for Christian leaders to listen but also help individuals overcome their fears and find confidence in Christ.

  6. Michael – I love how you incorporated prayer into this summary of The Body Keeps The Score. It’s something I’ve been thinking about…ways to combine somatic realease of emotions with mindfulness and prayer. As we learn more about how the mind, body and spirit interact, I’m excited about the opportunities to support all aspects of human beings through daily habits and practices.

    • Michael O'Neill says:

      Thank you. Prayer is so powerful.

      “As we learn more about how the mind, body and spirit interact, I’m excited about the opportunities to support all aspects of human beings through daily habits and practices.” – Amen! Don’t ever stop!

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