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How Trauma Impacts Your Physical Health & How To Heal From It with Dr Bessel van der Kolk

by Dr. Rangan Chatterjee   /  February 15, 2023

CAUTION: This conversation contains themes of an adult nature and references to sexual assault.

My guest today is someone who I’ve been wanting to speak to for a very long time. Dr Bessel van der Kolk is a professor of psychiatry at Boston University School of Medicine and President of the Trauma Research Foundation in Massachusetts. He’s also the author of the wildly popular book, The Body Keeps the Score, which is a book about trauma that has been published in 38 languages and read by millions of people worldwide.

The central philosophy behind Bessel’s work is that traumatic, psychological experiences in life leave a physical imprint within us, which can result in physical and mental health problems.

We begin this conversation by talking about what exactly trauma is, how it differs from stress, and why it is important for all of us to have compassion and empathy for those affected. He explains the factors that lead to some people becoming traumatised by an experience while others aren’t. And we talk about the importance of family, support, and community when it comes to emotional resilience.

We discuss the variety of different medical conditions and symptoms that may have their root in trauma, from misunderstood illnesses like fibromyalgia to mental health disorders and autoimmune disease. Often, these are the conditions where western medicine really struggles to help.

Bessel has carried out years of research into trauma and studied the many modalities that can help us to finally heal. Because our bodies quite literally keep the score and store the trauma, it’s often body-oriented therapies that may prove most helpful. The goal of therapy, being to help us feel safe inside our bodies.

We discuss why yoga – the union of body and mind – can be such a powerful way to do this. And how dancing, singing and many other therapies could do the same. Movement, he says, is the opposite of being ‘stuck’ in trauma. It’s a somatic pleasure response, an expression of life, and can put vulnerable, traumatised people back in touch with their bodies. Likewise theatre, for its ability to let us play different roles in life – and he shares a powerful example of young offenders allowed to study Shakespeare rather than face a custodial charge.

Bessel also shares some fascinating evidence on the power of EMDR (eye movement desensitisation reprogramming), neurofeedback, and talks about his involvement in psychedelic therapy.

Such is the prevalence of trauma in society that, whether we have experienced it ourselves or we know people who have, it’s vital that we all learn about it and the various ways we can heal.

This is a powerful and insightful conversation with one of the world’s leading authorities on trauma. I hope you enjoy listening.

Disclaimer: The content in the podcast and on this webpage is not intended to constitute or be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment.*

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Watch the video version of this interview – click below.

'Trauma robs you of the feeling that you are in charge of yourself' Share on X

Connect with Dr van der Kolk:

Website      Facebook      Instagram

Trauma Research Foundation

Dr van der Kolk’s book:

The Body Keeps the Score: Mind, Brain and Body in the Transformation of Trauma

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#294 Dr Gabor Maté on Trauma, Illness and Healing in a Toxic Culture

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*DISCLAIMER: Always seek the advice of your doctor or other qualified health care provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have heard on the podcast or on my website.

†Disclosure: All books marked with a † are hyperlinked to an affiliate program. We take part in Amazon’s affiliate advertising program designed to provide a way for us to earn fees by linking to Amazon’s website. You are not charged any extra by using these links to purchase books.

Dr. Rangan Chatterjee MbChB, BSc (Hons), MRCP, MRCGP